Shared Features of Modern Grandfather Clock Movements 2018-11-15T17:32:14+00:00

Shared Features of Grandfather Clock Movements

A gear train in a clock refers to a set of gears that take energy stored, by a weight or spring and executes a function with that energy.  The time train takes the energy stored and uses it to push a pendulum and turn hands.  The strike train notifies of the hour by hammers hitting a rod or tube at the top of the hour and possibly at the half hour if there is no chime train.  Virtually all modern grandfather clocks have a chime train or play a tune every 15 minutes.  There are a few exceptions but most play Westminster Chimes which is a 4 note tune.  The first quarter hour 4 notes are played.  At the half hour 8 notes, ¾ hour 12 notes and at the top of the hour 16 notes plus the chime train triggers the strike train to give the hour notification.  There are triple chime clocks that add the choice of two more tunes usually St. Michael and Whittington.  These are 8 note tunes but have a similar routine playing 8, 16, 24, 32 notes.  Intuitively it would make since that the chime train would require the most energy compared to the other two trains and would typically require the heaviest weight.

Observations made of Modern Grandfather Clock Movements

In the repair of grandfather clocks I make house calls because it is not practical or necessary to move the large cabinets.  It is not unusual for a customer complaint to be that the 20+ year old grandfather clock keeps time but won’t chime or play a tune.  I approach and see the right hand and left hand weights facing the clock are high in the cabinet and the center is lower with the pendulum swinging.  The right hand weight is typically the chime train weight and by it being high means it was not allowed to fall likely due to wear and a build up of friction.  The strike weight or left hand weight was not allowed to fall due to the strike train only works when the chime train is finished it’s routine.  So if the chime doesn’t work then the strike doesn’t either.  I can add to the evidence that it is a wear issue if I take two fingers and push down slightly on the to of the right hand weight shell, move the minute hand past a quarter hour and the clock begin to play a tune.

A Story about Modern Grandfather Clock Movement Quality

There is a story told in the horological industry that one of the few German grandfather clock movement manufacturers announced in the mid 1990’s; for the past 20 years they had used soft steel in the making of their movements and chrome or nickel plate the places that needed to be hard and slick such as the arbor ends or pivots.  The life of the plating is about 20 years.  They also indicated they had changed the practice but they recommend movement replacement rather than repair or restoration.  I have contacted the facility in the United States for this manufacturer and they have no information.  I have found only antidotal evidence and subjective opinion about whether this is true or a marketing ploy to sell more replacement movements.  The bottom line is given the cost of my labor relative to the cost of a new movement, many times it is more cost effective to replace a movement rather than repair or restore modern grandfather clock movements.

Making the Decision as to Repairing, Restoring or Replacing Modern Grandfather Clock Movements

Many of the modern grandfather clock movements made by German manufacturers have replacements available. Some of these replacements are the same model but may have improvements.  Some are adaptations of one manufacturer’s design by a different manufacturer and in some cases work well and in others “not so much”.  Based on my observations as to the function and stability of a replacement movement in a particular circumstance, I will sometimes recommend repair of the existing movement even though replacement might be a little cheaper.

My definition between repair and restoring in the situation would be: Repairing would consist of customary repair techniques of servicing.  In the area of addressing wear of the bearing surfaces it may require some pivot replacement (pivots – ends of the arbors which rotate in the holes in the brass plates)  when they are worn to the point of being too small once filled flat.  Restoration would take the operation a step further and employ prophylactic replacement of the pivots.  This step would depend on the belief in the story discussing the quality of modern clock movements .

I will make recommendations based on my opinion of best practices and the goals of my clients. And will always perform an evaluation making a recommendation including an estimate free of charge.

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