Take Some Time to Learn More About Clocks

With a presence spanning over 600 years, it is fair to regard the clock as one of the oldest human inventions. This Edwardian English sterling silver gilt mantel clock is available at AC Silver for just over $6000.

History of the Clock

With a presence spanning over 600 years, it is fair to regard the clock as one of the oldest human inventions. With the creation of the clock came the creation of society as we know it- one where we can track time, produce schedules and control our daily routines (and get in trouble for being late!). Other ancient timekeeping devices include:

  • The sundial, which utilized shadows on sunny days to estimate the hour.
  • The candle clock, popular in ancient China, Japan and Mesopotamia.
  • The timestick- widely used in India and Tibet.

Clocks have come a long way since they were first invented; progressing from the mechanical clocks of 14th century Europe to the digitalized versions we carry with us now in the 21st century.  However, there have been many different variations from then to now, and we’re going to talk you through some of them below.

Mantel Clock

Mantel clocks were traditionally placed upon the shelf (aka mantel) above the fireplace. This gorgeous 19th century French gilt bronze mantel clock sold for $31,000 in March 2017.

First up is the mantel clock. Originating in 18th century France, mantel clocks are relatively small house clocks traditionally placed upon the shelf (aka mantel) above the fireplace.  The image above and at the top display the various decorative forms these clocks can take. They can be highly decorative and ornate (shown above), or delicately engraved like the one displayed from our collection at the top of the article. Materials used to construct mantel clocks include silver, ormolu, porcelain and wood- all create different, but equally striking, effects.  

Boudoir clock

Boudoir clocks are often highly decorated with hand painted enamel or intricate metalwork like the one shown here. This particular clock sold for $999 in August 2018.

Ooh la la! The boudoir clock takes us once more to 18th century France, where a style was born that influences how we imagine the “boudoir” today. This term can refer to the private bedroom of a lady, which at this time was often luxuriously and ornately decorated- much like the ornamentation of the boudoir clock. Decorations can include hand painted enamel or intricate metalwork; see the stunning selection in the photo above for examples of this artistry. This busy style may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly is impressive.

Travel Clock/Compass

Travel clocks were made for adventure! This antique Victorian sterling silver travel clock is available at AC Silver for a little over $5000.

Perfect for the worldly travelers among us, travel clocks or compasses were made for adventure. A scaled down version of the home clock, this form possessed all of the function with none of the frivolity. Inventions such as the chronometer or “deck watch” could also fall into this category. First established in 1855, chronometers are considered to be one of the most accurate instruments ever made for measuring time. They were once used to determine longitude at sea using celestial navigation; however, now they also function as a good antique collectible.

Grandfather Clocks

Perhaps the most well-known of timepieces is the grandfather clock. This Ridgeway grandfather clock sold for $381.75 in July 2018.

Perhaps the most well-known (and imposing) of timepieces, the grandfather clock is a tall, freestanding, weight-driven pendulum clock. Developed in 1770 by the English clockmaker William Clement, grandfather clocks can be 6-8 feet tall- a real step up from the travel clock! Decoration on a grandfather clock typically revolves around the case, which can feature elaborately carved ornamentation, as the image below demonstrates. Once coveted for their function as well as fashion, grandfather clocks are today mainly kept for their decorative and antique value.

Carriage Clock

The carriage clock is a small clock originally designed for travelers in the 19th century.  This gorgeous carriage clock by Tiffany and Co. sold for $10,000 in 2016.

A carriage clock is a small, spring-driven portable clock, designed for traveling people in the 19th century. Emperor Napoleon was the first to keep time by a carriage clock, the first one having been invented for him by Abraham-Louis Breguet in 1812. This style found popularity amongst the rich, eventually earning itself the moniker “Officers Clock” due to the officers of noble descent who favored it. Stylistically, the rectangular case of the carriage clock is usually plain or gilt-brass, or silver. It features carrying handles and is often set with glass, or, more rarely, porcelain or enamel panels. The popularity of the carriage clock filtered its way through to the masses, eventually becoming a traditional gift from employers to retiring or long-serving staff.

Wall clocks

One of the earliest and most popular styles of wall clock was the 18th century cartel clock. This 18th century cartel clock sold for $8125 in 2015.

Finally, we have the humble wall clock, which represents the largest category among timepieces old and new. The wall clock entered France in the early 17th century, and quickly became a common piece of furnishing among the majority of France’s finest houses. One of the earliest and most popular styles of wall clock was the 18th century cartel clock. Cartel (meaning “frame” in French) clocks were housed in elaborately decorated frames, usually cast-bronze or gold leaf on wood. Wall clocks are very versatile, being as practical as they are stylish!

Alas, time has now run out on our very brief history of clocks. From the tiny travel clock to the statuesque grandfather, there really is something out there for everyone- could you possibly pick a favorite?


Andrew Campbell, founder and owner of AC Silver, has been dealing in antique silver and antique jewelry since 1977. In addition to a premier retail premises in Newcastle, north-east England, Andrew has developed an internationally recognized online store, serving both new and return customers nationally and worldwide.

Andrew personally sources a wide range of items, including antique jewelry, antique diamond rings, and antique gemstone rings. Andrew has also developed a fine and comprehensive inventory of antique silverware, AC Silver is a respected and trusted specialist in its field.

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