Analog Clock

Richard of Wallingford pointing to a clock, his gift to St Albans Abbey.

16th-century clock machine Convent of Christ, Tomar, Portugal
Besides the Chinese astronomical clock of Su Song in 1088 mentioned above, in Europe there were the clocks constructed by Richard of Wallingford in St Albans by 1336, and by Giovanni de Dondi in Padua from 1348 to 1364. They no longer exist, but detailed descriptions of their design and construction survive,[22][23] and modern reproductions have been made.[23] They illustrate how quickly the theory of the mechanical clock had been translated into practical constructions, and also that one of the many impulses to their development had been the desire of astronomers to investigate celestial phenomena.

Wallingford’s clock had a large astrolabe-type dial, showing the sun, the moon’s age, phase, and node, a star map, and possibly the planets. In addition, it had a wheel of fortune and an indicator of the state of the tide at London Bridge. Bells rang every hour, the number of strokes indicating the time.[22] Dondi’s clock was a seven-sided construction, 1 metre high, with dials showing the time of day, including minutes, the motions of all the known planets, an automatic calendar of fixed and movable feasts, and an eclipse prediction hand rotating once every 18 years.[23] It is not known how accurate or reliable these clocks would have been. They were probably adjusted manually every day to compensate for errors caused by wear and imprecise manufacture. Water clocks are sometimes still used today, and can be examined in places such as ancient castles and museums. The Salisbury Cathedral clock, built in 1386, is considered to be the world’s oldest surviving mechanical clock that strikes the hours.[24]

Main article: Torsion pendulum clock

Renaissance Turret Clock, German, circa 1570

Spring driven Matthew Norman carriage clock with winding key
Clockmakers developed their art in various ways. Building smaller clocks was a technical challenge, as was improving accuracy and reliability. Clocks could be impressive showpieces to demonstrate skilled craftsmanship, or less expensive, mass-produced items for domestic use. The escapement in particular was an important factor affecting the clock’s accuracy, so many different mechanisms were tried.

Spring-driven clocks appeared during the 15th century,[25][26][27] although they are often erroneously credited to Nuremberg watchmaker Peter Henlein (or Henle, or Hele) around 1511.[28][29][30] The earliest existing spring driven clock is the chamber clock given to Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, around 1430, now in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum.[4] Spring power presented clockmakers with a new problem: how to keep the clock movement running at a constant rate as the spring ran down. This resulted in the invention of the stackfreed and the fusee in the 15th century, and many other innovations, down to the invention of the modern going barrel in 1760.

Early clock dials did not indicate minutes and seconds. A clock with a dial indicating minutes was illustrated in a 1475 manuscript by Paulus Almanus,[31] and some 15th-century clocks in Germany indicated minutes and seconds.[32] An early record of a seconds hand on a clock dates back to about 1560 on a clock now in the Fremersdorf collection.[33]:417–418[34]

During the 15th and 16th centuries, clockmaking flourished, particularly in the metalworking towns of Nuremberg and Augsburg, and in Blois, France. Some of the more basic table clocks have only one time-keeping hand, with the dial between the hour markers being divided into four equal parts making the clocks readable to the nearest 15 minutes. Other clocks were exhibitions of craftsmanship and skill, incorporating astronomical indicators and musical movements. The cross-beat escapement was invented in 1584 by Jost Bürgi, who also developed the remontoire. Bürgi’s clocks were a great improvement in accuracy as they were correct to within a minute a day.[35][36] These clocks helped the 16th-century astronomer Tycho Brahe to observe astronomical events with much greater precision than before.[citation needed][how?]


The Dutch polymath and horologist Christiaan Huygens, the inventor of first precision timekeeping devices (pendulum clock and spiral-hairspring watch).[37]

From its invention in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens until the 1930s, the pendulum clock was the world’s most precise timekeeper, accounting for its widespread use.
The next development in accuracy occurred after 1656 with the invention of the pendulum clock. Galileo had the idea to use a swinging bob to regulate the motion of a time-telling device earlier in the 17th century. Christiaan Huygens, however, is usually credited as the inventor. He determined the mathematical formula that related pendulum length to time (about 99.4 cm or 39.1 inches for the one second movement) and had the first pendulum-driven clock made. The first model clock was built in 1657 in the Hague, but it was in England that the idea was taken up.[38] The longcase clock (also known as the grandfather clock) was created to house the pendulum and works by the English clockmaker William Clement in 1670 or 1671. It was also at this time that clock cases began to be made of wood and clock faces to utilize enamel as well as hand-painted ceramics.

In 1670, William Clement created the anchor escapement,[39] an improvement over Huygens’ crown escapement. Clement also introduced the pendulum suspension spring in 1671. The concentric minute hand was added to the clock by Daniel Quare, a London clockmaker and others, and the second hand was first introduced.

In 1675, Huygens and Robert Hooke invented the spiral balance spring, or the hairspring, designed to control the oscillating speed of the balance wheel. This crucial advance finally made accurate pocket watches possible. The great English clockmaker, Thomas Tompion, was one of the first to use this mechanism successfully in his pocket watches, and he adopted the minute hand which, after a variety of designs were trialled, eventually stabilised into the modern-day configuration.[40] The rack and snail striking mechanism for striking clocks, was introduced during the 17th century and had distinct advantages over the ‘countwheel’ (or ‘locking plate’) mechanism. During the 20th century there was a common misconception that Edward Barlow invented rack and snail striking. In fact, his invention was connected with a repeating mechanism employing the rack and snail.[41] The repeating clock, that chimes the number of hours (or even minutes) was invented by either Quare or Barlow in 1676. George Graham invented the deadbeat escapement for clocks in 1720.

Marine chronometer
A major stimulus to improving the accuracy and reliability of clocks was the importance of precise time-keeping for navigation. The position of a ship at sea could be determined with reasonable accuracy if a navigator could refer to a clock that lost or gained less than about 10 seconds per day. This clock could not contain a pendulum, which would be virtually useless on a rocking ship. In 1714, the British government offered large financial rewards to the value of 20,000 pounds,[42] for anyone who could determine longitude accurately. John Harrison, who dedicated his life to improving the accuracy of his clocks, later received considerable sums under the Longitude Act.

In 1735, Harrison built his first chronometer, which he steadily improved on over the next thirty years before submitting it for examination. The clock had many innovations, including the use of bearings to reduce friction, weighted balances to compensate for the ship’s pitch and roll in the sea and the use of two different metals to reduce the problem of expansion from heat. The chronometer was tested in 1761 by Harrison’s son and by the end of 10 weeks the clock was in error by less than 5 seconds.[43]