Interior design Rik 17 oktober 2022

History of the domestic clock

Clocks - what would we do without them? We use clocks in different shapes and sizes, such as the one on our mobile phone, which many of us also use as an alarm clock. The grandfather clock, which can be found as a centrepiece in many homes. Or the station clock, which tells us all the time at the train station. But how did these complicated machines actually originate?

First forms of the clock

One of the first forms of a clock was the sundial. This instrument used sunlight and shadows to give an indication of time. Although these are not often used anymore, we can still find some in the Netherlands, such as the sundial in Groningen's Prinsentuin. This is also still known as the most beautiful sundial in all the Netherlands.

The clepsydra, or water clock, is also one of the oldest kinds of clocks. By means of flowing water, the water level could be determined, and this in turn could help in determining the time. Super accurate, the water clock was not, which is why it was most often used for short time measurements.

The inspiration behind the clock we know today

The 13th century saw major developments in time measurement, and the first mechanical clock was born. This clock, called a turret clock or tower clock, used specific parts such as gears and weights that allowed the clock hands to move. Making the first clock of its kind took over 10 years, and because of its cost and size, it was seen as a prestige object. In fact, it was so prestigious that not every major city could have one.

The pendulum clock

Although it was already a great development that a mechanical clock existed, this was not good enough for the Dutch Christiaan Huygens. Because of the mechanics behind mechanical clocks, they were running as much as 15 minutes behind each day. In the 17th century, Huygens created the model for the pendulum clock, in which this lag was shortened to 15 seconds per day. After a few years, this model was put into operation by the British William Clement. This rather major development in the field of clocks made the clock accessible to households.

Portable clocks

Because of the sensitivity of the pendulum, clocks were not portable, and so the demand arose for portable clocks that could be taken on ships. The first development in the field of watches came with the development of the spring mechanism, which used a balance spring. The inventor of this mechanism, German Peter Henlein, worked on it for 10 years, developing the first portable clock.

The biggest problem with these first watches was keeping them synchronised. For that, Jacob Zech, and then the Swiss Gruet developed the snek. A few more years later, in 1675, Christiaan Huygens and the British Robert Hooke separately came up with the idea of rotating the spring over a balance wheel. This made the watch even more accurate.

Watches - from jewellery to working machines

Already through Zech and Gruet's developments, the watch became more than just an ornament, but it was only much later that the watch as we know it today - as a wristwatch - was developed. This was done at the request of Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte's younger sister. The watches we know today are not substantially different from hers. The biggest development happened in 1957, when the first electric watch was made. We still use these to this day.

With modern technology in the 20th century, and developments in this technology since then, the atomic clock and the digital wall clock came into being. These two types of clocks are the most accurate types to date, but this may soon change due to the rapid development of technology.

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