Vintage vs. New Movements

Discussion in 'General Clock Discussions' started by GCabot, Feb 14, 2020.

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  1. GCabot

    GCabot Registered User

    Feb 14, 2020
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    I’m interested in getting a nice table clock (under $10,000), but I’m unfamiliar with them. My impression from browsing the forums is that vintage clock movements are generally held in higher regard than modern ones. Does this mean a new clock from a reputable manufacture (e.g., Kieninger) would be of poorer quality than a vintage clock for the same amount of money? Are there any modern clocks manufacturers that still make movements of the same quality as found in good clocks in the past?

    Thanks for any help!
     
  2. Uhralt

    Uhralt Registered User
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    In general a good antique clock is better quality and will last longer than the modern ones. For the amount of money you are willing to spend you should be able to get an extremely nice, high quality, antique clock, especially at auction.

    Uhralt
     
  3. GCabot

    GCabot Registered User

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    Got it. What would be a good starting point in finding out more about which makes to look for, and are there any particular retailers/auction houses that are recommended sources? I'm rather familiar with wristwatches, but given their short history, it is comparatively much easier to figure things out as opposed to the vast number of past clock manufacturers -- I'm slightly overwhelmed.
     
  4. Uhralt

    Uhralt Registered User
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    I am personally more interested in the repair of antique clocks and collect just clocks that I find interesting or unusual. I often buy clocks that are challenging to repair. You seem to be more interested in acquiring a high end, working piece in very good condition. I suggest that you wait for some recommendations from other members who have similar interests as you. We have several of them. There are online auction houses that could be interesting for you to observe for a while to give you an overview of what is on the market and what likely price ranges are. There are many different styles of antique table clocks (or mantel clocks). French, for example, are quite different from English ones. Find out what you like most and wait for a good opportunity.

    Uhralt
     
  5. Willie X

    Willie X Registered User

    Feb 9, 2008
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    You should be able to buy a truckload of clocks for 10K ... Willie X
     
  6. zedric

    zedric Registered User

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    Or half of one..

    It really depends on what you want. Do you want a table clock from the 1500s, once owned by a prince, or a clock from the late 1600s, near the time of the invention of the pendulum, or an American revolution clock, made by someone with a connection to the founding fathers, or a nice looking clock that tells the time properly and chimes only on the hour?

    With your budget, many of these are possible, so it might be worth stepping back from the dollar amount and what you have, and focussing on what you would like to get. There are plenty of folk here who can help you on that journey, as can many a respected clock dealer.
     
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  7. Chris Radano

    Chris Radano Registered User

    Feb 18, 2004
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    A good antique clock can be found for a couple/few hundred dollars, or several thousand for the same clock. Really, it boils down to timing, and the buyer's education/experience. My most important suggestion to someone who is new to antique clocks, is to do research and find what appeals to you. In the age of the internet, this process can unfold without too much effort. Books are a valuable resource, and even books can be found on the internet. Until you decide what you like, there are many good clocks that can be viewed as "entry level" clocks. I would also suggest not spending a large amount of money right off the bat.
    I'm mostly a clock collector for almost 20 years. When I first became interested in clocks, the prices were higher than the last few years. Prices have bottomed out for many types of clocks. As a result, I look for the best value for the least amount of money. But I was not able to get to where I am now without research, and even some mistakes (we all make them). I have also found, there are still so many good clocks out there, that there is no hurry. My space is telling me I have too many clocks. I like a wide variety. People say variety is the spice of life.
     
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  8. Kevin W.

    Kevin W. Registered User
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    I am with you Chris on variety, that is what i like as well, and my collection really shows it, from a 30 day American made cottage clock up to a Atmos clock. It never is boring for me.
     
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  9. GCabot

    GCabot Registered User

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    My primary criteria would be a clock that is as well made as possible, but that is also highly functional (i.e., will not require excessive maintenance or be overly delicate). My original thought was to buy an Atmos, but from everything I have read, they seem to be more fragile and temperamental than I would like. Assuming that Jaeger LeCoultre's clock movements are similar to their watch movements, I would ideally be looking for something of that level quality or higher.

    I like timepieces that are as accurate as possible, yet have artistry to them. I would like a chiming clock and, ideally, something with a calendar and/or moonphase function, if possible. I also have a strong preference for Roman numerals and Breguet hands. Beyond that, I'm pretty open.
     
  10. Artillero

    Artillero Registered User
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    Four years ago I was able to snag a 1978 vintage Atmos in superb condition at a local clock shop. It had just been serviced for the first time by the clock shop owner who loved working on Atmos clocks as he found them a challenge and a welcome change of pace from from the more garden variety clocks that he would have to deal with. It has run flawlessly since my purchase, keeping excellent time, maintaining between 17 and 19 sections of rotation per cycle. Nothing has been done to it since purchase except level it and release the pendulium lock. I only paid $600 for the clock and with its glass case, it is very interesting to watch. These clocks are well made and finished. I think that the biggest problem is that people forget to to lock the pendulum when moving the clock or they attempt to do their own repairs. Either one of these actions will lead to expensive repairs or even ruin the clock. The clockmaker told me the story of a client who sprayed his clock with WD 40. It ran for a while and then quit and he didn't know why. The clockmaker disassembled and cleaned the clock numerous times and still could not get it to work well. These clocks are not oiled like a regular clock. If you could find one of those in excellent condition and recently serviced, I think that you will find them fascinating.
    Chelsea made some very nice table clocks and they use robust in house movements on their "Ship's Bell" series. I have had a Ship's Bell clock since the early 1980's which has performed very well and is a timeless addition to our mantle. Depending upon the style, condition and vintage these can run into the several thousand dollar range. They also have the advantage that they are consistently in demand.

    Artillero
     
  11. jmclaugh

    jmclaugh Registered User

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    As with any mechanical clock you ought to consider maintenance costs when buying but if I had $10k to spend on buying one I'd know what it was I'd be after and I might even heed what I just wrote, oh and it would be old.
     
  12. GCabot

    GCabot Registered User

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    A few other questions:

    1. How common are vintage clocks with chiming and calendar functions? Are there any particular manufacturers to look for for these?
    2. What should one look for in a vintage clock movement? For example, I've seen a number of clocks with fusee movements, which, from my understanding from wristwatch movements, are desirable from a timekeeping perspective. What other movement characteristics should I look out for that would indicate a high-quality and precise movement?
    3. Who are considered the best modern manufacturers? For example, how do the quality of companies like Kieninger or L'Epee compare to each other and to older manufactuers?

    What kind of regular maintenance costs would we be talking about with a higher-end vintage clock? I don't necessarily want to be spending a fortune on regular maintenance, given that I have a couple of wristwatches that already cost an arm and a leg to service.
     
  13. Artillero

    Artillero Registered User
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    #13 Artillero, Feb 24, 2020
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2020
    I have run into quite a few vintage clocks with chiming and calendar features. The challenge with many of these is to find one that functions properly and which hasn't been handled by some ham fisted, wannabe, kitchen table "clockmaker". These features add complexity to the mechanism and cost to maintenance. Because of the additional maintenance cost, I think that the tendency was often to extend the interval between regular maintenance periods. With higher quality pieces there may be less of a tendency to forego maintenance because these were more likely owned by families with greater means, at least initially. With that said, I have seen some high end movements that have suffered badly at the hands of people who had no business touching a clock movement. In the case of chiming clocks, I am partial to old Viennas from the early 1800's and Chelseas from the early 1900's.
    When assessing the movement, I would pay attention to telltale signs of mismatched parts (different patina, odd/different metals), buggered screws, odd holes drilled in the cabinetry, evidence of worn pivots and gears, dirty movement etc. When you look at enough older clock movements you will start to see that the higher quality ones have highly polished pivots and a lot of attention to detailed finishing even in places that the average person would not normally see. The gears will all be cut and all will look to be of the same high level of quality in terms of materials and finishing. To improve accuracy, different materials were used for the pendulum rods to include compensated pendulums and specially treated woods to reduce the effect of temperature and humidity on timekeeping. You will also encounter different types of escapements. I saw one clock last weekend that had what was called a grasshopper escapement. Never saw or heard of it before but it looked very interesting in its glass case and came with a very "interesting" price as it was one of only two such movements made by this particular maker. Apparently Harrison derived this escapement. Clocks that have been maintained in their lifetimes will often have a paper sticker or scratched initials with a date to record the date of service. If it is an old clock, I would expect some older dates to be evident. Listen to the sound of the movement running and the complete set of chimes and strike. Look out for hands and cabinetry that don't match the time period.
    Concerning current manufacturers, I haven't been too impressed by most of the new stuff on the market although I am aware that there are some very high quality, niche makers out there who are justifiably proud of their craft. The one notable exception is that I have been impressed by my Jaeger LeCoultre Atmos.
    For the most part, if I had up to $10,000 to spend on a clock I would definitely like to have something with a history and obvious evidence of hand work. Quality clocks from the 1700's to early 1900's generally exhibited a higher level of craft and more robust materials. I have a Seth Thomas mantle clock from the mid-1960's and a Howard Miller Grandfather's clock from the early 1980's. Both have German movements of average quality. The current crop of German made movements work but they don't excite me. They will remain in the family because of the memories that they bring me of my parents and grandparents. In comparison, my Vienna regulators, E Howard Banjo, Chelsea Ship's Bell from 1981 and Chelsea Radio Room clock from 1942 are in a different category because of their high quality and their history.
    With regards to maintenance cost, I would expect to pay $300-$600 dollars for basic maintenance on a time only clock done by a reputable clockmaker. Strikers or chiming clocks will cost more. Beware of those who are just going to "dip" the movement in an ultrasonic cleaner without taking it apart. You would need to plan on doing this once maintenance every 10-15 years. You can certainly get away with less frequent intervals but you may have to do some bushing work to take care of the additional wear that you will incur. If you have pets or live in certain types of environments, you may need more maintenance. I caution you not to go with the cheapest quote for maintenance as you do not want to have your special clock irreparably damage by someone who doesn't know or doesn't appreciate your clock.
     
  14. MartinM

    MartinM Registered User

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    If you're looking for a chiming clock, you should be sure the sound is agreeable with you and others who have to live with it. The difference in sound between bells, combs, bars, tubes, rods and gongs is significant. As are the variations on each (usually as a scaling factor of form for the clock's case size).
    I'd suggest going to YouTube and listening to various chimes on a loop and see which you tolerate best over an extended period. Some of the English bracket clocks are amazing works of mechanical engineering, with their gongs and bells, but even though they may play very elaborate tunes and are well tuned, I can only stand a few of them for more than an evening.
     
  15. GCabot

    GCabot Registered User

    Feb 14, 2020
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    I'll have to read up more on the development of clock escapements. That seems like a perfectly reasonable amount for maintenance -- certainly cheaper than what I need to pay for wristwatch maintenance anyway. I don't plan on skimping on maintenance regardless.

    I'll keep this in mind.

    This may be a stupid question, but do all vintage clocks make audible ticking noises? I have a friend with a vintage Seth Thomas that ticks audibly all day long, and while I'd like something that chimes, I don't necessarily want a clock that will create background noise all the time. Are there any that run relatively silently? Does an Atmos make any noise under normal operation?
     
  16. zedric

    zedric Registered User

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    American clocks are known for being loud, and all vintage clocks rely on an escapement mechanism so there will be some noise as the escapement releases, as there is with a watch if you put it to your ear. Clocks that use balance wheel escapements tend to be quieter on the whole, and anniversary clocks, or Atmos clocks, tick less than others. But if ticking bothers you, you will need to see the clock in person and decide.
     
  17. MartinM

    MartinM Registered User

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    Atmos are very quiet. You only hear them when you're within a few feet in a quiet room.
    I'm not aware of any Atmos clocks with strike or chime functions. But, there probably are out there, somewhere.
    There were a lot of vintage clocks that ran on electricity. Most of those were/are essentially silent.
    As they age, some of them are not what many of us would call, "quiet", though.
    And for what you're looking to spend and end up with, the electrics generally wouldn't be a good fit.
     
  18. Artillero

    Artillero Registered User
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    My wall clocks from the 1800's all have an audible ticking sound with the E Howard Banjo being the most notable. I do not find the sound unpleasant but then again, I have significant hearing loss from my time in the artillery. The Seth Thomas makes less noise, the Chelseas are about the noise level of a watch and the Atmos is virtually silent. It also has a very slow beat as does the 30 day Vienna.
     
  19. GCabot

    GCabot Registered User

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    Thank you to everyone who provided advice. I ended up getting an Atmos. I decided I really wanted something that ran silently, and the idea of not having to wind the clock appealed to me. I also ended up deciding that chiming and calendar functions were a bit superfluous. I also found an Atmos with a mahogany enclosure, which makes it look much more understated than other models, as well as the Breguet hands and roman numerals I was originally looking for. So far I am quite happy -- it literally makes no noise at all, even when I put my ear right near it.

    20200318_210018.jpg
     
  20. zedric

    zedric Registered User

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    very nice clock
     
  21. Isaac

    Isaac Registered User

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    A very nice clock! I love the dull-finished case in contrast to the shinier brass. Enjoy it!
     

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