What cuckoo clock is right for you?

People often approach me to buy cuckoo clocks and are quite surprised when I say I dont sell them, only repair them.

Thats not really a choice for me because despite my efforts to slow the earth and create a 30 hour day (where is Superman when you need him) I really dont have time to sell and fix. Selling clocks is….mostly administration. Its boring. I have no idea what the profit margins are and if I were to sell a cuckoo clock Im the sort of person who would start a cuckoo clock building company. I know exactly the sort of clocks I would make and they would be put together in a way that addresses the problems Ive seen with cuckoo clocks over the years. And heres the thing. Ive just realised I probably know more about cuckoo clock repairs than anyone else in the UK. You might think that the people who sold the clocks you can buy would be the same people that you would go to in order to service the clock every few years but people who sell cuckoo clocks generally dont have a clue on how to service them. Its a peculiar sector or the market because most clocks are bought on holiday and cant be taken back to the original source of purchase independent reapairers like myself take on this role.

Loestcher actually rung me and asked me to become their UK service Centre after seeming some of my blog posts about Antique cuckoo clock restorations. The older clocks are more complicated and we do those. Wooden cage movement clocks dating back to the mid Victorian period often make up a lot of what we do in any given month. I think the best one we have done so far is here…

Anyway this article isnt about bragging or emphasising a specialism, its about what I would think about if I was asked to recomment a cuckoo clock bought new from retail / online

Ive seen, I think, evey type of cuckoo clock made since 1850. Through that I have learned the evolution of this strange branch of Horology. Cuckoo clocks were the first clocks made more for looks than time keeping. You dont need a bird popping out every hour or half hour advising you of the time. You have a watch or a phone.

So cuckoo clocks are about fun. Its really is as simple as that. They are delightful for grandchildren to visit . Interestingly the two most connected things between cuckoo clocks (and their repair) is children, due to the fact that they get exited about the cuckoo coming out and will actually wait, on the hour, to see the bird come out and cuckoo. If the cuckoo doesn’t come out exactly on the hour a lot of children get impatient and try and encourage it by pulling the weigths shaped like pine cones (not exactly discouraging).

Because the clocks are mounted quite high on the wall to allow the chain to drop through 24 hours use, the children pull the chains.. This results in the clock either being wound up so that it jams because the chains are pulled to hard (stretches or breaks the chains), or the clock coming off the wall and smashing to bits (and I get sent a puzzle of bits). About 1 in 8 clocks are sent to us after a child has played “Tarzan” on the chains. What amazed me at first was that no child got injured but then it dawned on me that so see the cuckoo, if your only 2 to 4 feet high, means standing back so you can see the cuckoo door. It also means you are not directly in the path of the falling clock. Its got to the point where if a customer tells me the “clock just fell off the wall” I will ask if the grandchildren have visited recently.

Sorry I am going off at a tangent. I will now tell you about cuckoo clock types and why you should buy each dependent on budget and circumstance.

By far, the best cuckoo clock you can buy is a two weight (275g per weight) small cuckoo clock for up to £500. If you buy a 3 weight clock then it means its got a music box. If you put a music box in a craft clock built by a few people in a Bavarian shed then you can be pretty sure they have either guessed at the power requirement to drive two machines (the movement and the music box). You cant do the torque calculations that will lead you to the theoretical power required to keep the clock going and the music box every half hour. The gearing is not precise enough and the mechanics that lift a bar allowing the cuckoo to go off and then start the movement are pointless to calculate. There is too much variance in the hand building process. So what happens is that somebody designs a clock around standard components and their own styling and they build it. On day one it works find but then if they have cut costs by specifying a music box with a platic worm gear (for instance), while it all works on paper, after a few years it doesnt work. Repairing clocks with music boxes is twice the price of repairing one without.

If you want something a bit more exotic then there is a huge choice of various machines and makers. In terms of clock hierarchy there are three main brands. Loetscher, Huber Herr, and Schnieder. There are others of course but in terms of industry prescience I would say these are the top three. These companies produce some truely impressive machines with dancers, wood cutters, water wheels and moving animals. The only problem is that each of these features are driven bu the weights and Ive noticed some clock manufacturers balance the quantity of power to drive them, plus the power to keep the clock going, quite closely. This means that any reduction in efficientcy via fouling or dust build up stops the clock much more easily than the same amount of fouling on a much more cheaper and equally as fun cheaper two weight.

Servicing every seven to ten years on one of these big 3 weights is…heavy. £400 or so and many larger and more complex clocks have components that are out of production in a few years if he model doesnt sell well. This means paying more, much more, for a fix. Also as you can imagine, all this extra functionality comes at the additional cost – wear. Movement manufacturers, as a general rule, do not produce a movement specific to a power rating (the weight of your pine cone weights), so an arbor and plate thickness is designed to hold “an average” weight”.

Anything running more than 1kg weights will simply wear out more quickly. If the manufacturer cant provide spares then you have to effectively “re-purchase” half the mechanics once the clock is worn, generally after far less time than that of a 275g 2 weight cuckoo only based machine.

Up to 420g will give an average lifetime of 20 to 30 years whereas an unserviced big 1500g 3 weight clock is a third of that. My clock is about 140 years old, double fusee driven 8 day machine and I can tell you for a fact that if I did not love it more than anything else I own apart from my vintage watch (oh and my kids), I would not entertain it. Its too expensive to wear down. I dont run it – I just gloat over it.

The size of your clock is all about the size of our clock. Bigger clock, bigger cost. Such is life.