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Mechanical clocks now a niche for decadent home decoration

Old-fashioned clocks for your home still have appeal, says Su Jia Xian.

Timekeeping began with clocks, starting with large ones the size of a building, then to progressively smaller timekeepers, with the advance of technology. But today, mechanical clocks are anachronistic, even more obsolete than mechanical wristwatches. Because they are always on the wrist, wristwatches have evolved to become status symbols or fashion accessories. Clocks have been done in by the proliferation of time-telling devices in the home and office.

Yet, old-fashioned clocks have a quirky appeal. To start with, mechanical clocks inject a reassuring routine into the lives of their owners (or their servants for the lucky few). Most clocks have to be wound on a regular schedule, either once a week or monthly, to keep them going. Keeping the clock going becomes a familiar action, like tennis on Saturday or gym on Friday.

(RELATED: MB&F’s The Wall Machine is more about the meditative moments than passing minutes.)

Many such clocks also function audibly, with the tick-tock of the escapement becoming apparent in a still room. Most clocks work on the same principle as mechanical wristwatches, except on a larger scale, so the sound generated by the escapement is actually the same as that of a watch. It’s white noise for the watch connoisseur.

And clocks, like wristwatches, are no longer strictly functional objects, which is why they have become more unusual in style and shape.

The most avant-garde clocks that still operate on old-school mechanics is the series produced by Swiss clockmaker L’Epee 1839 that’s designed by wristwatch maker MB&F.

Shaped like spiders, rockets or even a 30cm-tall robot, the MB&F clocks make traditional clocks interesting, becoming the sort of conversation piece that can take pride of place in a home.

For strict traditionalists, there are still clockmakers in operation who produce clocks in the same manner as craftsmen did a century ago. Matthias Naeschke, along with his son, makes high-end mechanical clocks by hand in a small town south of Stuttgart. And self-taught Bosnian craftsman Miki Eleta makes clocks that resemble looping and revolving mechanical sculptures in his Swiss workshop.

Ironically, one of the best-known clock types is produced by a company best known as a watchmaker. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos is famously the clock that runs on air, thanks to a metallic drum inside that expands and contracts with minor changes in air temperature. This keeps the Atmos running for years, sometimes even decades on end, making it one of the most efficient, low-energy mechanical creations ever.

While still an object with narrow appeal, mechanical clocks can appeal to more than just watch enthusiasts, being intriguing and unusual objects for the home. Moreover, sophisticated clocks are truly private pleasures that are eminently discreet, since they are made to be enjoyed in the privacy of a home or office.

Read more of Su Jia Xian’s incisive commentary at his website, WatchesbySJX.com.