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01 August 2005

rock crystal clock by Joost Bürgi, circa 1623

Rock Crystal Clock by Joost Bürgi, Swiss clockmaker (Europe's best) and co-discoverer of logarithms.

Prague circa 1623
Gilt brass, silver, rock crystal
mechanism: brass
height: 18.6 cm


Anonymous Jim Olson said...

Oh, I bet it has the most satisfying tick.

My husband and I share a passion for mechanical clocks...there are three in our house right now, and the parts to a kit clock modeled on a very very early weight-driven wall clock in a box on the floor of my office that I am saving to build some snowy weekend.

When we were in Montreal, we saw beautiful wood can seem them here...

The Builder's name is Andre Landry.

Some day, I want to go to Greenwich to see the Harrison clocks that helped the British Navy solve the Longitude Problem.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Did you catch pat's pub's mention of Dava Sobel's book "Longitude"? (I think there's a later edition, a "coffee table book," richly illustrated.) It's a beautifully written story all about the search for the solution of the problem of finding the longitude at sea -- i.e., the Harrison Chronometers.

I've stood just a foot away from them, ticking away just as they did in the 18th century on test voyages to Lisbon and Jamaica. Though gorgeous gleaming machines of brass and steel, their "hearts" are actually of wood -- self-lubricating lignum vitae. Nor does it hurt that they're housed in the Old Royal Observatory built by Christopher Wren. The whole Greenwich campus and immaculate park and everything you can see from its hilltop -- it's like Paradise.

I have to confess that a clock like Burghi's or the Harrison chronometers -- they make my heart race with desire to possess these material objects, these machines. Why? They promise what? To master Time? To control Time? (They promise, but of course can do no such thing.) To tell accurate Time? Why on earth should this have so powerful an emotional effect on a human being? Even a fine, attractive railroad pocket watch on a chain, a $75 reproduction, makes me smile and gives me an inner feeling of satisfaction like some magical chocolate bar that never disappears, but can be delicious dozens of times a day, just by glancing at it.

The Tin Man wanted a Heart. The Wizard gave him a heart-shaped pocket watch. Tick Tick Tick.

Isn't it so that in some religious traditions, you stop all the household clocks when someone dies? I wonder how that started or why?

The first great "push" for mechanical clocks was for more reliable ways to calculate the times for daily Christian prayers. And yet even those ancient, primitive machines seemed instantly to capture the imagination. Tempus fugit. We have a reproduction of a Colonial 18th-century tombstone with a skull and crossbones -- Fugit Hora, it says -- the Hour Flies.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

Okay, okay maybe this is a part of it, and doesn't have much to do with magic or mysticism surrounding Time ... but these machines ... so well-made, so well-thought-out, so ingenious, so nearly perfect (as judged by how accurately they perform their Time-keeping) ... I guess part of their power over the heart and imagination is that they show how clever, how imaginative, how craftspersonlike human beings can be. Great clocks -- are they primarily an Occidental notion? Do Oriental people thrill to magnificent clocks and watches as much as Occidentals?

In New England you're always running across people who fix ancient Town Hall or church tower clocks for free, as a hobby, as a labor of love. And in fact when the old Town Hall clock breaks down and stops telling time, people in town get sad, worried, anxious, and when months later the guy has fixed it again, they get happy again. Now why should that be?


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