Monday, April 11, 2011

Watches and clocks: Part 1


I gathered material for this blog and in the end, found it to be too lengthy for a single sitting. So I broke it up into three parts in separate posts.  Click on the pictures if you like to see the enlarged version.  There are some links in changed colour of words.  Click on them to visit the link.
In this, the first part you will find something about
Wall clocks. Read on, "if you find time"!

My late old friend Mr.Brown was fond of telling this: "Time will not find you, you have to find time."


Wall Clocks

The clock has always been a curious object wherever it is.  I grew up admiring a few of them at home as they ticked and showed time, effortlessly. I also used to wonder how they worked and what made them tick.  When I was old enough I discovered it when I laid my hands on them.

The vintage Ansonia Gothic Clock, manufactured by Ansonia Clock Company, New York had adorned  the wall in the hall majestically.  It was the main clock for the house and visible from the kitchen also, but not from the street as in many houses. It was patented in 1882 and I guess this is one of the earliest possessions of my great grandfather. No one knows when and where he bought it, but in all likelihood it should be before 1900.

This is an eight-day/30-hour clock, meaning it runs for a week on one full winding of the spring.  In my time, my father did this without fail, every Sunday.  It had a bell inside to strike the hours and half hours.  I do not know if some clock smith had removed the original gong which could have been a spring gong because I had seen such a one in a relative's similar and older Ansonia.  I was wondering why ours was fitted with a 'cycle bell'!  I dreamed of finding a spring gong for our Ansonia. This dream got to fruition 20 years later when I found one with a clock smith cum dealer of old clocks.  Without second thought I bought for Rs.175/- and replaced it myself.  Picture below.  By then, I had learnt to meddle with clock mechanisms also.

Watch a video clip of its working and striking.

This Ansonia also had a alarm feature. But it was never used.  I have removed this separate unit as it came in the way of  the new spring gong.  This little dial in the centre could be adjusted.  Here, the alarm is set to 10 O'Clock.

As far as I knew it never asked for repair. Oiling this lovely machine is such a pleasure as its design is so beautiful too.  In 1998 when I moved to the old ancestral house, an old relative visited us reminiscing his younger days in the same house.  He showed me the place where this Ansonia was kept originally.  So, I placed it at the same spot.  (See picture below).

It continues to be a few feet away from the place even now after some changes that took place. In all likelihood, the clock was on that wall ever since the house was built and occupied in 1911-12.

The swaying pendulum and the striking of the gong have always impressed me.  It was/is my habit to observe these wherever I see this.  There was one in my friend Gopi's house - a 'Scientific' (brand) clock. It was beautiful.  There was another in my grand uncle's house in Bangalore.  I was delighted to watch these almost no end.  Almost hypnotic!

Just a trifle away from the subject - Ansonia had other products too, like this nail clipper with 'button lock' (lock not seen here - it is on the other side).

There was another large round clock which was mostly idle.  This was showing time correctly 'only once every twelve hours' if you see what I mean.  One fine day, my grandfather gave it to a clock smith sometime in 1974-75.  We had no clue whatsoever about who that smith was because my granfather also suddenly departed in 1976 and my father had no further information on it.  It machines are problematic, they tend to keep it for months and years as is their wont!

That clock looked very similar to the picture below, borrowed from the net. It had a pendulum inside as well.

Below is the picture of my grandfather in about 1930 with his trophies.  Observe the medals there. This rosewood 'medal display stand' was no longer serving its purpose by 1970.  It was lying here and there with its hooks as the medals had been transferred to the rosewood showcase he got made in the 1940s. 

In 1991, I thought of converting it as a clock.  By then quartz machines were available.  A machine was procured with the help of a friend from Delhi for as cheap as Rs.45/-.   I used my carpentry skills to fit the little machine at the back.  I marked the dial accurately and stuck plastic numbers I found in 'trash' at the workplace.  It is almost 20 years now and this is still working nicely competing with Ansonia for accuracy.  After a nice polish to this lovely rosewood plank, it has added some more beauty to the wall!  The tiny hour and minute markings in yellow are stickers I cut up from a sticker strip.

In olden days, not all houses in the street had clocks or watches. So those who had, used to put it on the wall in such a position to make it visible from the street for passers by who wished to know the time. Doors also used to be kept open in those days as the houses were seldom locked.  Someone or other used to be present at any given time.  One example of this in our street was at late G.Sachidananda's house. 

I must now tell about the 'Big Ben of Mysore', the Jubilee Clock Tower.  It was built in 1927 to commemorate 25 years of the golden reign of Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar.  The clock tower was built in a prominent place to enable people to see the time because that was the main market area at that time.  The original dials had lovely Roman Numerals (my favourite) till 'forces' replaced it with Kanarese Numerals around Y2K. It is a landmark monument of the city and I cannot forget the melodious vibrations that filled the air when its huge bell struck the hours or half hour. It was heard for miles when it was silent before dawn or late in the night.  In recent years, engineers noticed some cracks on top of the tower and decided to stop the striking of the bell sensing that vibrations from it would further damage the tower. It is a very heavy bell.

 Below is the picture showing Kanarese numerals on the dial (2010). The bell is also seen.

My grandmother made a model of this tower using paddy around 1950. She had made one before 1931. It is a unique and eye-catching craft that won her many prizes in various exhibitions. My uncle had tried to put a real clock in this model (picture below), but this proved to be unfeasible and cumbersome.

Bronze Medal (Certificate) awarded in 1931.

This prize was for the first model she made for Dasara Exhibition in 1931.


The famous vintage French Clock at Jagan Mohan Palace Museum is another impressive object esp. when it strikes12.  Visiting people flocked around it to watch the spectacle.  This clock has a mechanism that makes the miniature doll soldiers to parade at 12 O'Clock, a drum beating soldier marks the seconds and another with a bugle marks the minute, all having movements in little dolls.  I only hope it is still there and functional!  I had seen this many years ago.  Also at Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad there is a similar clock but not as grand as this one in Mysore.  I saw this in the mid 90s.

There are some impressive clocks at other places.  Switzerland is a renown clock producer. See a few unique designs from a few different places:

 This is a most impressive dial in gold, black and red!

Kloster, Engelberg, Switzerland

I was visiting the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi a couple of years ago.  A friend who worked there took me to the 'Atomic Clock' which is one of the most accurate clocks in the world and they are the time-keepers of the nation.  Here is a picture I took with their permission:


We had other clocks also at home.
 Go to Part 2 of this series and have a dekko.

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