Ive been busy. Apogies to those who follow this blog. Vienna regulators.

Ok so Ive been rather busy for ages and Ive not pubished to this blog for some time. I enjoy writing it and I know it helps people who want to get into clock mechanics. Education within my community has always been a fundemental from the beginning and I have neglected you. I apologise.

So I feel obliged to pubilish something useful to somebody. That somebody is the person who owns what is known as a regulator, Vienna or otherwise.

These clocks are the devil incarnate. They operate on a very low power consumption and will refuse to work if you speak to them innapropriately (we all talk to our clocks….dont we?. Ok forget I said that).

The longcase clock was developed for accuracy. To cut a long story short the pendulum as a regulatory device spawned the long case clock, however, the prinicple of a long pendulum delivering increasing levels of accuracy comesurate with its length, then began to exetend to other types of clock. Furthermore, with the increase in engineering precision it was possible to not only have a long pendulum providing accurate beat consistency, but it did not really matter what type of clock had that long pendulum. It could be a wall clock for instance. Or a tower clock with the vertical space available.

Because clocks were the top tech of their time, at least that available to the public buyer, there was an almost unstopable market force towards convenience, price and refinement. That is where Vienna regulators come from. Those simple design propositions driven by knowledge and experience. With the development of the regulator you no longer had to have the granfather clock which was essentially a large wooden butler standing in your hallway hicupping every second. You could have a wall mounted piece of techno beauty on your study wall, quietly advising you of the EXACT time.

What a lot of Vienna Regulator owners these days dont appreaciate is why these clock were practical, accurate, and advanced. They were the Tesla Phone of their time. Ill qualify that. A Tesla phone works from a sattelite. Not through wires in the ground. This means it is a step change in the engineering of communication. It doesnt suffer from terrestrial problems of physical “connection” or the frailty of borders or law. It sends your words to the sky and returns them to your desired destination without the majority of connection predjudice (wars, power outages, idiots, profit) and is worthy becuase it is indescrimate. It provides the same simple connection architechture that seems to define successful modern communications.

In the same way the regulator took the basic priniciples of the pendulums newtonian regularity in oscillation to the wall, not the floor. You have to remember that at the time these were produced the only reliable accurate time could be obtained by clumsy floor standing devices or a church. Or a very expensive pocket watch.

To take this accuracy out of the chapel or hallway some adjustments to the ratio of things were required. Firstly, you cant hang 25kg of weights onto the wall withou the whole clock ripping itself from its fixings and becoming modern art on the floor. To achieve the same, or better accuracy, from a wall clock would mean a long pendulum interfaced to a movement that required far less power (think KG) to work. So the regulator was born.

These devices are accurate. They are also particularly low power consumption per tick and tock. Compare the shaving foam cannister sized weights on a regulator with the massive 12kg plus weights on a long case clock. There is a massive degree of difference. So to make what is effectively a wall mounted grandfather clock, something had to be changed. This was the refinement of the mechanics to provide a low friction and energy consumption device.

As a clock repairer this presents problems. With a Gradfather clock you have a huge amount of grunt available to drive the gearing. This means that the cogs dont have to mesh exactly, the friction generated within the mechanism is almost incidental and of no great importance because there is so much power. With a regulator this is turned on its head. The machines are designed to almost conserve power. They operate as accurately as a long case clock but at 20% of the power on roughly the same dial size (all things considered).

Fundementally Vienna regulators use loads of refinement and vectors and spectors/indian shamam spirits and angles to achieve the same thing as a long case. The cost is complexity and low wear tollerances.

I probably get one call a week from someone asking me (as a last resort because they have attempted a home fix),”why does it only run for 3 hours, all it did was change the cables”. The answer is that the clock is so accurately balanced between perpetual motion with a tiny power input, and a clock that consumes more potentail and kinetic energy than the drive (weights) provide.

You may well have taken your regulator apart. You found a relatively low quantity of gears and simplistic engineering design overall. You probably didnt notice just how thin or small the connecting components connection points are. You wont have noticed that the pallets are two bits of carbon steel with screw down variable settings so that you can adjust very precisely how much pallet connects with how much escape wheel tooth. You probably thought it was just another variant of standard clock gearing and functional modules (power, gearing, regulation).

It is hard to overstate the importance of these physical ratios in a regulator. It really is beyond mathematics. With a regulator everything is pushed to the edge of its performance within the power available from two relatively small weights that run the clock for EIGHT sodding days.

Repairing these clocks or servicing them is an absolute nightmare. Its near impossible to quote for these jobs because, potentailly, it could involve re-refining all the gear train components as well as setting the pallets to the right level above the escapement to within thousands of an inch. All of which has to be done by test. There are no manuals. There is no other knowledge on the engineering settings of your clock other than that contained in your service partners brain.

So, if you want your 4ft regulator fixed there are a few things worth considering.

Fistly, if youve already tried yourself because your reckon you know what you are doing and you worked in engineering, but are now retired, you probably quadrupled your repair bill. Your service partner will have no indication of “what was” because youve changed settings, and effecively erased the original settings, by buggering around with it. This means the repair will be based on a first pass of replacing wear, and a much longer phase of working out how all the forces in the gearing deliver a result.

Secondly, do not let anyone touch your precious clock who does not have considerable experience in working with these machines. When I started I lost a shed load of money spending rediculous hours working out what worked and where the likely weaknesses in an machine were. What will probably happen if you give one of these clock to anyone that is less than “advanced”, is that you will not seee your clock for at least a year at which point you will eventually have the “errr.. we cant do it” discussion.

I love all clocks but there is special place in my heart for these time keepers. It is a black bit. Yes you read it right, I dont like these machines simply because its just so easy to underplay the potentail costs and problems.

Thats the negative view of a stressed out clock repairer. My view is that they are beautiful fantastic machines that will keep better time than your Rolex. I know that for a fact. BUT you have to respect the design and principles of these incredible machines before owning one or you will not budget for maintenance at the correct level and end up with a clock you can not bear to lose but cannot afford to fix. Like a hanging corpse.

I may need to go back and redo that “making your business attractive to potential clients” course.