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 "oeil 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    

Superb Antique Mantel Clock - French Gilt Ormolu Regulator 4 Glass Mantle ClockWonderful Antique Mantel Clock Figural Gilt & Bronzed French Mantle Clock C1890Superb Antique Mantel Clock - French Gilt Ormolu Bulle 4 Glass Mantle ClockAntique Ormolu Bronze Mantel Clock - Stunning Cubed French Mantle Clock C1870Superb Original Mantel Clock Walnut French Striking Mantle Clock C1870Superb Antique Mantel Clock Gilt Sevres Ormolu Spelter French Mantle Clock C1880Rare Antique French Bronze & Blue Serves Grande Sonnerie Alarm Carriage ClockAntique 19th C French 8 Day Bell Mantle Clock With Stunning Sevres PorcelainAntique French Bronze Ormolu & Blue Sevres Cherub & Lady Figural Mantel ClockAntique Large French 19th C Solid Gilt Pierced Bronze 8 Day Palace Mantle ClockGenuine Antique French Repeating Carriage Clock Circa 1880 Movement Stamped L.f Fine French Bronze & Champleve Enamel Mantle Clock Ca 1860 No ReserveAntique Early 1800's French Empire Gilt Bronze Figural 8 Day Bell Mantle ClockRare Antique French Bronze Ormolu & Ornate Porcelain Cube Style Mantel Clock SetAntique Clock - 19th C French 8 Day Gilt Ormolu Bronze Mantle Clock & BaseChinoiserie Mantel Clock French Antique Miniature Bracket Carriage Clock C1910Antique 1860's French Gilt Ormolu Bronze & Sevres Porcelain Figural Mantle ClockVintage French Brass Carriage Clock - WorkingFrench Bronze Portico Clock With Knife Edge Suspension Antique Ormolu Bronze Mantel Clock - Stunning Cubed French Mantle Clock C1870Fine Antique 19thc French Japy Freres Silvered Bronze & White Onyx Mantle Clock19th Century French Japy Freres Inlaid 8 Day Chime Portico Clock - Good WorkingLovely Antique 19th C French 8 Day Mantle Clock With Twin Figural CherubsAntique 19thc French Solid Gilt Pierced Bronze Cartel Wall Clock -very BeautifulAntique French Gilt Metal & Blue Sevres Classical Lady Figural Mantel ClockTop Quality Small Antique French Bronze & Champleve & Glass Carriage ClockAntique French Mantel Clock Movement 17.5cm French Clock 8 Day Movement Working1920's French Art Deco Fireplace Clock Set With GarnituresAntique French Empire Gilded Ormolu Ebonized Portico Pillar Column Clock.c.1860French Repeater Carriage ClockLarge Antique French Samuel Marti Gilt Brass Crystal Regulator Clock ... NrBeautiful French Carriage Clock Fully Restored Case & Movement Circ 1890Wonderful Antique Mantel Clock - Gilt Ormolu Ornate French Mantle Clock C1880Antique French Wb Promoli Douillon Paris Mantle Clock Silver Horse SculptureAntique French Mantel Clock With Egyptian Sphinx In Gilt Brass & Marble RestoreBeautiful Original Antique French Hand Painted Meissen Porcelain Mantel ClockRare Unusual Antique French Fruitwood & Bronze Oriental Designed Bracket ClockVery Impressive Large Antique French 2 Tone Warrior Knights Figural Mantle ClockSuperb Antique French Solid Bronze Ormolu Pierced Palace Designed Mantle ClockAntique French Figural Mantle Clock, 8 Day, Striking, Michelani & LaligantAbsolutely Stunning Antique French Red Shell & Bronze Mounts Boulle Mantel ClockAntique 19th C French Japy Freres Brass Mantel Clock Du Moulin Neuf Paris C189019thc Antique French Victorian Figural Cavalier & Hunting Dog Old Mantel ClockWonderful Antique French Style Brass Mantel Clock With CandelabrasBeautiful Antique French Rosewood Marquetry Inlaid Miniature Tower Mantel ClockBeautiful French Carriage Clock Fully Restored Case & Movement Circ 1890Antique French Japy Freres Crystal Regulator Clock Large Antique Wall French Clock Henry Ii 1890th CenturyFrench Gorge Cased Quarter Hour Repeater Carriage Clock @ 1890 Tiffany AlarmAntique French Victorian Brass Repeater Chiming Carriage Clock Circa 1897Beautiful French Engraved Case Carriage Clock 1890 By Duverday & Bloquel Mint!!Antique French Carriage Clock 8 Day Time And Strike With Alarm 19th CenturyAntique Miniature French Victorian Screen Enamel Painting & Brass ClockLot #5 Antique Vintage French Mantle Wall Clock Keys Various Sizes Steampunk NrRare Antique Bronze Ormolu French Candelabra For A Mantel Clock Candle SticksSuperb Rare Antique French 4 Dial Solid Oak Lighthouse Style Mantel/table ClockSmall Antique French Brass Carriage Clock. Key. Manufactured C1900. Antique French Figural Mantel Shelf Clock With Beautiful Floral Porcelain FaceFrench Repeater Carriage Clock No 2Antique French Black Slate Mantel Clock