We take telling the time for granted these days – there are reminders all around us: watches, clocks, phones, and digital displays on ovens, microwaves, tvs ec. But how did people know what time it was before the invention of these gadgets? Well, it was the good old sundial!

24-hour time was invented by the Egyptians. The first clock as we know it was invented in 1656 by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens and featured a pendulum mechanism. Mantel or shelf clocks were designed by the French in the 1750s and were very ornate pieces, some made from a combination of porcelain and wood.

I recently had the privilege of valuing a collection of magnificent clocks for a client. The collection, which is still growing, was acquired by my client through an interest in all things mechanical. They purchased the clocks through many different sources including at auction and through specialist retailers.

The earliest clock dated from the late 16th century through to the present day meaning the collection really represented a potted history of clock making and made for a very noisy household!


This wall clock dating from circa 1590 is the earliest type of clock I have come across in a valuation and is quite amazing. This type of clock does not always have a case – the dial is attached to the movement and then the whole thing is attached to the wall using a spike pushed into the plaster. The clock has a foliot escapement – a mechanism that allows the gear train to release at regular intervals, thus creating a regular ’tick’.

There is still something quite enchanting about the tick and chime of an antique clock, isn’t there?!

Originally published in the Purbeck Gazette 21st August 2023