The southern German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, along with Germany’s neighbor Austria, have been an important center for European clockmaking since the Renaissance.
Bavaria is home to Augsburg, which was a locus for clockmaking in the 16th and 17th centuries. Baden-Württemberg encloses the Black Forest, the birthplace of the cuckoo clock and Junghans, which at the turn of the 20th century was the largest clockmaker in the world, and Austria has Vienna, where in the 19th century, regulator clocks set standard for accuracy.
The Vienna regulator wall clocks are a particular source of pride for Austrians, and with good reason. Vienna regulator clocks gained such a reputation for accuracy that they were routinely used in public places such as railway stations and post offices.
During the Empire period (1800-1835), Vienna regulator clocks were designed to hang on the wall. They were typically made of wood, which was either polished or gilded. The laterndluhr clocks of this period resembled three boxes—the upper box housed the clock’s movement and was capped by a roof, the clock’s weights dangled in the center of the case, and at the bottom swung the pendulum.
The conservative Biedermeier period (1835-1848) ushered in the dachluhr clocks, which were simpler in style than the ones of just as few years before. The clocks were elegant but rigid in their design, except for the "piecrust" bezels around the clocks’ faces.
The revolution of 1848 expanded the middle class, which made luxuries like regulators more accessible to more people. Newly affluent Viennese embraced revivals of Greek, Renaissance, and Gothic styles—straight cases quickly gave way to ones with wavy, serpentine sides. The ornamentation continued into the 1850s with more finials and fancier woodwork throughout—walnut, cherry, and other veneers replaced the faux-grain finishes of previous periods.
The Vienna regulator wall clocks from about 1870 to 1895 are the most common today. They are also some of the most ornate and beautiful examples of the form. Signatures of these ...
At the turn of the 20th century, the overlapping impulses of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts ushered in the Jugendstil style. It was a return to the box regulators of almost a century before, but this time the lines were softer, the boxes somehow less boxy. Beveled glass was now the norm, while the hardwoods used for the cases ranged from maple to walnut.
Meanwhile, in the Black Forest of Germany, 18th-century clockmakers were going cuckoo. In 1730, Franz Anton Ketterer started the cuckoo-clock craze when he created the first example of this beloved novelty clock. Since then, the Black Forest has been synonymous with cuckoo clocks, as most antique cuckoo clocks were made there.
Cuckoo clocks have weight-driven movements. Unlike other clocks with weights, the ones in cuckoo clocks are often made to appear as part of the design—they are frequently shaped like pinecones, for example.
On the hour, every hour, a door on the clock opens and a figurine pops out as a "cuckoo" sound is made. This noise is produced by wind rushing through two pipes, each creating a different syllable. One "cuckoo" is made for each hour that has passed (one call at one o’clock, two calls at two o’clock, etc.).
In the 1850s, architect Friedrich Eisenlohr designed a cuckoo clock that looked like a little house. Inspired by the look-out buildings constructed by railroad workers, this style of clock became known as Bahnhäusle—it was so popular that it is still one of the most commonly used cuckoo clock designs today.
Black Forest clockmakers such as Hubert Herr, Gordian Hettich and his son Hermann, and Helmut Kammerer prided themselves on their craftsmanship, so each cuckoo clock was handmade to the highest standards. To this day, each individual piece of wood from native Lime trees (they are also known as Linden trees) is hand-cut and engraved, right down to the shingles on a clock’s roof and its ornamental leaves.
More sober was the output of Junghans Uhren GmbH, which today is Germany's largest watch and clock manufacturer. Although the company focused in pocket watches and wristwatches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it collaborated in the 1950s with the Swiss architect, artist, and industrial designer Max Bill on a series of deceptively simple wall clocks for the home and office.
Particularly charming is Bill’s upside-down teardrop-shaped Kitchen Clock, which incorporated a timer into the bottom section of its clean design. Today, institutions from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London have a Junghans/Bill Kitchen Clock in their collections.