French clockmaking came into its own in the 17th century, when highly ornamented clocks covered in gilt bronze, known as ormolu, were produced to keep pace with the new standards for opulence set by King Louis the Fourteenth’s Palace of Versailles.

There were two general styles of antique French clocks during this period. One was known as boulle, which refers to a clock cased in tortoiseshell and inlaid with brass, pewter, porcelain, and ivory. The second type was called religieuse, in which brass and pewter overlays were set in ebony veneers on oak.

During the Regency period (from roughly 1715 to 1723), bracket clocks, which had been popular a century before, came back into prominence. A bracket clock could be hung on a wall or placed on a table, making it a flexible timepiece compared to, say, the longcase clocks that were also being produced at that time. Rococo pendule, for pendulum, clocks featured curvaceous profiles and seemingly endless decorative detailing.

By the time Louis the Sixteenth assumed the throne (he reigned from 1774 to 1791 and was executed in 1793), clockmakers were producing highly accurate regulators, skeleton clocks whose exposed works were protected from dust by glass domes, and mantel clocks festooned with everything from bronze Greek and Roman statuary to cherubs.

This was also the era of cartel clocks. Housed in elaborate cast-bronze or gold-leaf-on-wood frames (cartel is French for frame), these French wall clocks often featured Roman numerals on white dials surrounded by gilt garlands and figurines. One of the many makers of these sorts of clocks, as well as other styles, was Frederick Japy, whose Japy Freres would become the leading French clockmaker in the 19th century.

From the 18th century onward, longcase clocks were made in Normandy at Saint-Nicholas-d'Aliermont, near Dieppe. This was a localized industry, and these clocks rarely made it outside of Normandy. Tall, thin, and key-wound, Normandy clocks had short pendulums, were rope driven, and featured enamelled faces and ornately carved hoods.

Comtoise clocks, the name given to the standard variety of French longcase clocks found all over France, were made in the Jura region of Franche Compté. A spring-wound variation ...

The French wall clocks from this period are known as "aeil de boeuf" (bull's eye). Some have movements that are versions of the "Pendule de Paris," the movements found in marble and standard French mantel clocks. These clocks, most of which have a sort of flower shape, are often decorated with mother of pearl and have lift-up fronts.

Until the end of the 18th century, the French clockmaking industry had been centered in the Jura region because of its proximity to the Swiss and the German clockmaking industries in the Black Forest, as well as the skilled craftsmen who worked there. In the early 19th century, a couple of makers moved closer to Paris, where they made standard mantel clock movements. One clockmaker moved to Saint-Nicholas-d'Aliermont, which was attractive because like Jura, it offered a pool of local craftsmen.

The black marble cases used by French makers were assembled in Rance, using marble from the Dinant area. This practice changed slightly, however, when Belgium became independent—the French grabbed a piece of the Dinant marble fields and imposed import tariffs to undermine the industry in Rance.

In the 1800s, Gothic revivalism swept France. Now French antique clock cases began to resemble Gothic cathedrals. Other clocks featured objects animated by the clock’s movement. Some of these even incorporated a music box to give the clock and its animated elements its own soundtrack.

During the 19th century, two types of French antique clocks in particular were manufactured in large numbers. The mantel clocks from the middle of the century were produced for both the local and English markets. The design of the English versions was naturally more sober than the bronze ormolu, white-marble base, porcelain dial, and gold-handed clocks made by clockmakers such as Raingo Freres for French customers.

French carriage clocks were also produced during this time, mostly for export to England. One of the leading makers of carriage clocks was Henri Jacot of Paris. Some of his company’s clocks had engraved brass cases decorated with spiraled columns crowned with cast capitals. Others were notable for their use beveled glass and porcelain dials. Many chimed on the hour.

At the turn of the 20th century, French clockmakers incorporated the aesthetics of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts into their finished products, but the era when they really shined was Art Deco. French mantel clocks from this period were routinely made of marble, onyx, brass, glass, and chrome. Many of these clocks sported columns on their sides and Roman numerals on their faces.

Figurines and statues, which had been favorite devices of French clockmakers in the 18th and 19th centuries, continued to flank the faces of French clocks during the Art Deco era. Bronze human forms from myth and history were popular, as were animals—from lovebirds to springboks.

French Art Deco clock designers included Edgar Brandt, whose hand-wrought, forged iron clocks typically sat on marble bases, and Cartier, which made all sorts of clocks, including square travel clocks with gold hands and black enameled handles. Compagnie Industrielle de Macanique Horelogere sold clocks under its JAZ brand. Its line of Art Deco clocks, introduced in 1934, were usually geometric (round faces in horizontal cases), colorful (blues, greens, and gold), and often incorporated mirrors into their designs.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clockhistory.com

Clockhistory.com

Bill Stoddard's clock history site offers a trove of great reference information on clock and watch makers includin… [read review or visit site]

National Maritime Museum

National Maritime Museum

Check out this sampling of nautical and maritime items held by the U.K.'s National Maritime Museum and Royal Observ… [read review or visit site]

Dan and Diana's Lux Clock Collection

Dan and Diana's Lux Clock Collection

Dan and Diana Lockett's amazing collection of several hundred novelty Lux clocks made by the Lux Clock Manufacturin… [read review or visit site]

Detex Watchman's Clock Album

Detex Watchman's Clock Album

Philip Haselton's guide to watchmen's time recording equipment. Includes 19th century German portables, 20th centur… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Exquisite 19thc Solid Bronze Ormolu French Mantel Clock Original Antique ClocksTremendous 19thc Solid Bronze Ormolu French Mantel Clock Original Antique Clocks19c French Bronze & Beveled Crystal Regulator Mantle Clock By Vincenti & Cie Large 19thc Antique French Gilt Bronze Ornate Mantle Clock W/ Lions & UrnAntique French Serves Type Porcelain Panel Gilded Striking Mantel Clock Antique Ebonised French Portico Striking Mantel Clock Antique French Orb & Gilded Bronze Cherub Marble Mantle Clock Circa 1880Vintage Art Deco French 1930's Jaz Chrome & Bakelite Mantel Alarm Clock + BoxAntique French Brass Carriage Clock. C 1910 With Key & Original Travelling Case.Superb 19thc Farcot Mantel Clock - French Swinging Cherub Pendulum Mantel Clocks19c French Mystery Clock With Figural Standard & Opaline Glass Dial Dial No ResExcellent Genuine Antique19th Century French Boulle ClockExcellent Antique French Carriage Clock - Fully Cleaned And ServicedFrench Striking Mantel Clock Movement24k French Industrial Style Water Wheel Clock --beautiful !!Antique French Clock Bracket Clock Japy Frer Stunning Large Antique French 19th Ormolu Mantel Clock, 17.7'' InchesA Good French Baroque Style Brass Mantle Clock By HermleAntique Clock French 19th C Gilt Bronze 3 Piece 8 Day Mantle Clock Garniture Set19thc Bronzed Musician Gilt Bronzed French Mantel Clock Original Antique ClocksStunning Vintage Brass Carriage Clock In Excellent Condition - Probably French C1790 French Guex Verge Fusee Watch Clock In 18k Gold & Rock Crystal Base NorAntique Mantel Clock French Bell 8day Th 1890 By Ernest Rancoulet Zamak MarbleAntique Round German Or French Clock Porcelain Dial Clock Round Glass Solid Wood1800s Antique French Gilt Bronze Bell Strike Mantel ClockAntique Clock French 19th C Ormolu Bronze & Polished Black Marble Mantle ClockAntique Clock French Large 19th C Pink Sevres Porcelain 8 Day Bell Mantle ClockAntique French Mantel Clock And Garnitures SetAntique Vintage Old French Four Glass Plastic Mantel / Mantle Clock See VideoAntique French Table/mantle Clock/pendulum - 1860- Free ShippingAntique French Clock Set (clock + 2 Candelabras) 1893 - Free Worldwide ShippingAntique Brass French 8 Day Carriage Clock Iwo No ReserveBayard Luxe French Antique Boudoir Desk Alarm Clock Fabulous Brass In CaseBeautiful Gilded French Sevres Japy Freres Mantel Clock- 1880 FranceBeautiful Antique French Metal Blue Sevres Swinging Cherub Portico Mantel ClockFrench Carriage Clock - For RepairWwi French Airplane Cockpit Clock Military Aviation Swiss Made Allion VersaillesGorgeous Antique Rajaud A Monteau Les-mines Comtoise French Wall Clock- 1870Gorgeous Antique French Bronze Japy Freres Mantel Clock- 1880 FranceRare Striking French Mantle Clock Movement By Fexacta With Backdoor Platform EscBeautiful Antique French Gilt Metal & Green Sevres Porcelain Mantel Clock SetAntique French Carriage Clock. Key. Fully Restored And Serviced In Sept. 2014.Three Piece Antique French Marble Figural Mantle Clock With (2) Matching StatuesJapy Freres French Crystal Regulator Clock-marcus & Co-bow Front- Dial W Floral Pair Of 19th C French Gilt And Red Sevres Porcelain Mantle Clock Garniture UrnsAntique French Drum Alarm Carriage Mantle Clock/timepiece For Restoration C1890Large French Empire 4 Column Clock @ 1870 ProjectSpectacular French C1890 Bronze Rococo Clock Made For Tiffany & Company Ny NoresAntique French Porcelain Clock 8 Day Perfect Original Pendulum & KeyAntique Brass Ch Charles Hour French Carriage Shelf Clock Parts RepairAntique Clock French 19thc Japy Freres Gt & Sevres Porcelain Mantle Clock & BaseElliot London Deco English French Lacquer Chinoiserie 8 Day Mantle Chime ClockExcellent Small French Clock Slate/marble Trim Fully Working 1880 "good Present"Gorgeous Antique French Empire Style Clock- Madam Of SBeautiful Gilded Medaille D'argent French Mantel Clock- Double Signed Movement-19th C French Brass Carriage Clock Good Working Order With Original Case + Key Circa 1900 French H&h Carriage Clock, WorkingNice Antique French 8-day Carriage ClockAntique French Carriage Clock With Origial Travelling CaseVintage French Vedette Wall Clock For Parts Or Repair