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There are many disciplines involved in antique clock restoration that demand a knowledge of the history of the specific timepiece. Some of these include early carpentry methods, lacquering, dial restoration, silvering and gilding, wheel cutting and bushing, reconstructing broken or lost parts, cleaning and lubricating, dismantling and re-assembly, and of course thorough testing.

Competent restoration is a methodical and time consuming process. Where possible, traditional methods, contemporary materials and parts in keeping with the original timepiece are used.

Dial Restoration (click here for examples)

Restoring Antique Clock Dials

Dial Restoration - Click here for examplesAntique clock dials were made in a variety of types and styles, the country of origin can also greatly influence the type of dial and the materials employed. Antique clocks may have brass dials often with some parts silvered and others either painted or gilded. Older dials, particularly those with attached chapter rings, subsidiary dials or date dials will usually have their numbers, either Roman or Arabic, first engraved into the brass base, and then the engraving is filled with black wax (shellac).

Many later dials are painted. This is a process that first began in the early 1770’s. An iron base plate was coated with a whitish base then the numbers and signature would be inked as appropriate for the dial. Painted dials, usually called white dials often had decoratively painted scenes to the corners, and where included, to the arch at the top as well. Some dials had a moon phase dial where the moon disc would be decoratively painted with two moons and two scenes. Longcase, Bracket, mantle and shelf clocks often had painted dials.

Some dials, usually but not exclusively of French origin, employ white porcelain dials, some with painted scenes. The porcelain is fired onto a copper dial base. As with painted dials, the numbers and signature are then inked in. Unfortunately porcelain dials, if not carefully handled, have a tendency to crack or chip. Chipping will often be seen by the winding holes or on the outer circumference of the dial. Cracking may be just a very faint hairline, or more substantial.

Dials may be finely engraved or decoratively cast, chased and gilded, or silvered, some with applied enamel numerals or painted numerals. Other dials can be of paper attached to an iron base; still others are made of wood, some with applied numbers.

Whatever the form of dial, it can be partially or fully restored to improve its legibility, aesthetics, and value or to be more compatible with the condition of the movement and case.

Movement Cleaning (click here for examples)

Restoring Antique Clock Movements

Movement Cleaning - Click here for examplesAll antique clock movements will have been serviced several times in their lives; this is particularly true with clocks that are more than 100, 200 or 300 years old. It is also likely that these same clocks have been repaired several times due to failures or broken components.

As styles and preferences changed through the years, many owners may also have had their clocks altered, such changes could include removing quarter chiming components, converting from a verge to an anchor escapement, removing bells and replacing with gongs or adding musical mechanisms.

As clocks changed hands over the years, or owners moved, parts became lost. Typical lost items might include finials, keys, pendulums, weights and so on. These were then replaced with whatever became available and worked. In some instances complete movements, dials and cases became separated from one another, or faulty movements were discarded and a more recent functioning movement replaced it.

Movements that failed often found their way to less skillful or less knowledgeable repairers, or the owners might improvise and attempt the repair themselves. In many instances the correct parts were either not available, could not be found or were considered too expensive. The clock would then be made to work by fitting wrong or inappropriate parts, or with incorrectly or wrongly repaired parts. An amateur may well have used copious amounts of soft solder in an attempt to repair a broken or fractured part. Unfortunately, most of these repairs will be short lived and the clock will quickly fail again. One common issue with antique clocks is that the owner expects them to run forever without servicing, cleaning or adequate lubrication. Dirt quickly builds up and old lubrication dries and thickens and becomes black. Running a clock in this condition quickly wears the pivot bearings and other moving parts. Many clocks have not been serviced in decades. Clocks need to be lubricated every three to five years, depending upon its environment, and cleaned every eight to ten years, again, depending upon the environment. Some clock movements have been stored in an attic, a damp basement or a garage. The brass plates and wheels may have started corroding, a green powdery surface or pitting indicates bronze disease, and a reddish color indicates brass rot. Corroding brass components must be treated and stabilized to prevent further loss or the total destruction of the timepiece.

My preferred restoration methodology is to first examine the clock and note its general construction, identify obvious faults, previous repairs and if included, all inappropriate parts and materials now being used in the clock. The movement is then stripped down to its individual components. All parts are then carefully cleaned by hand then examined individually noting all problems and items that need repair, correction or restoration. Wrong parts are best removed and the correct parts either acquired or made. Solder repairs should be corrected and all identified faults corrected. The movement is then assembled, lubricated and put into operation on an appropriate test stand. The working movement is observed and adjusted as needed. The escapement is correctly set for drop and impulse, and striking and chiming mechanisms are correctly adjusted. The movement is usually run for two weeks while observing and making additional fine adjustments. Finally the dial is replaced and the movement is placed back into the clock case.

Sympathetic Restoration (click here for examples)

Sympathetic Restoration

Sympathetic Restoration - Click here for examplesSympathetic restoration may be taken to imply the painstaking and sympathetic correction of all mechanical faults and wear, observing wherever possible the craft traditions employed in its original construction – Definition by the British Horological Institute (BHI).

In evaluating each clock I always evaluate the three major components of the clock individually; the case, the dial and the movement.

I prefer restoration that is in line with the definition of Sympathetic restoration using appropriate materials and methods.

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