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]

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    

19thc Antique French Japy Freres Victorian Era Boy & Eggs Figural Mantel Clock19thc Antique Aesthetic Period Cast Iron & Spelter Figural French Mantle ClockAntique French Gilded Striking Mantel Clock , Alabaster Superb 19thc Ormolu Hunting Sevres French Mantel Clock - Bronze Antique ClocksAntique 8 Day Ts French Marti Crystal Regulator Clock Ornate Columns & PendulumFine Cherub 19thc Gilt Red Sevres French Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksAntique French Carriage Clock By Douverdrey&bloquel. Key. Louis Xv Doucine Case.Super Miniature Vintage French Gilt Carriage Clock With Platform Escapement Rare Quality Early 19thc Engraved 1 Piece Case French Striking Carriage ClockBayard 8 Day French Brass Carriage Clock - Duverdrey & Bloquel - Fully ServicedAntique Louis Xvi Style Gilt Metal French Mantle Clock No ReserveGorgeous French 19thc Striking Repeat Carriage Clock - Repeating Antique ClocksAntique Signed Horiot French Gold Gilt Egyptian Revival Bronze Mantle Clock, NrAntique Louis Xvi Style Gilt Metal French Mantle Clock No ReserveAntique Clock French 19th C Gilt Pierced Bronze 8 Day Mantle Clock Garniture SetA Fine French R Ashworth & Co Harrogate Brass Oval Carriage Mantel ClockFantastic Rare 19thc French Bronze Ormolu Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksAnsonia Metal/mantel French Cir 1880 Antique Clock Antique French Wall Clock 8 Day Wall Clock Japy Freres Movement ClockLow Reserve Good Original1880 Antique French Black Slate And Marble Mantle ClockGorgeous 19thc Champleve 4 Glass French Mantel Clock - Original Antique Clocks19thc Antique Victorian French Jules Isaac Marble Clock & Garniture Mantel SetBeautiful, Large Medaille D'argent Vincenti French Bronze Mantel Clock- 1870Pair Of Antique 19th C French Roccoco Bronze Mantle Clock Candelabra GarnituresLovely Antique 19th C French Japy Freres Bronze 8 Day Bell Strike Mantel ClockRare Primitive French Mobier Comtoise Grandfather Farmers Repeater Wall Clock !!Antique French Mignonnette Remontoir Miniature Carriage Clock Japy FreresLarge Brass Antique 1855 French Mantle Clock Medaille D'argent Vincenti5 Pairs Of Genuine Antique French Clock Hands Fleur - Moon -spade HandsOut Standing 19thc Ormolu & Sevres French Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksAntique 19th C French Brunfaut Samuel Marti Gilt Metal Figural Mantel Clock 1883Superb Antique Fine White Porcelain French Mantel Clock + Stand C1855Vintage French Clock Cupid Pendulum.Very Impressive Large Antique French 2 Tone Bronze Knight Figural Mantel ClockVery Nice Antique 19th C French Solid Pierced Gilt Bronze 8 Day Mantle ClockWonderful Silver & Bone French Boudoir Carriage Clock - Original Antique ClocksFrench Clock Movement With Amazing Dial, Sold By A. Stowell &co Boston NrBeautiful Original Antique 19thc French Gilt Metal Ormolu Figural Mantel ClockGorgeous Silver & Bone French Boudoir Clock - Original Antique ClocksAntique Clock French 19th C Brass & Silvered & Gold Mantle Clock - Relief ScenesSuperb 19thc Blue Sevres Porcelain French Mantel Clock - Original Antique ClocksRare French Boulle Clock On Bracket Japy Freres Paris -- Video !!!French Rare Antique Little Bo Peep Bronze Ormolu Statue Clock Looks/runs Great! French Clock Garniture " Les Vendances Per Francois Moreau ( Med D'or )Antique 19th Century French Mantle / Boudoir Figural Gilt Metal Alarm Clock Antique French Striking Clock , Porcelain Panels Antique French Clock 19th C A.d.mougin Sienna Marble & Bronze Mantle Clock SetQuality Antique French Bronze Ormolu,white Marble & Sevres Drumhead Mantel ClockAntique Heavy French Gilded Metal Mantle/ Boudoir Clock Rhinestone Bezel RunsAntique 19th C French Solid Gilt Brass Portico 8 Day Bell Striking Mantle ClockGorgeous 19thc Etched 4 Glass French Mantel Clock - Crystal Regulator ClockAntique French Spelter -golden Antimony Coats Shelf ClockAntique French Carriage Clock Alarm Function Porcelain Dial Bevelled Glass WorksAntique Emanuel Southhampton French Carriage Clock W Leather Carrying Case Antique Lg French Bronze Rococo Figural Clock Garniture Egyptian Revival Superb Antique 19th French Solid Embossed Bronze & Sevres Porcelain Mantel ClockGorgeous Louis Pesquet Paris French Boulle Clock With Boulle Stand- 1880 FranceAntique Duverdry & Bloquel French Carriage Clock Enamel/cloisonne Oriental MarksBeautiful Antique French White Marble & Gilt Mounts Balloon Style Mantel ClockBeautiful Gilded Antique French Mantel Clock- Signed Movement- 1880 France