Cuckoo Clocks: A Love Letter
Up and down the cobblestone streets of the Black Forest region of southern Germany, wooden chalets waited out the winter under a blanket of snow, while inside, clockmakers carved away on tiny cuckoo clocks. These clockmakers would create a good stock of clocks during those long winter months. Some were adorned with deer and bears, some with woodchoppers and waterwheels. The makers would then spend the summer months vending their cuckoos across Europe.
The craft that went into each clock is breathtaking. The time mechanism itself is a work of art, with over 25 tiny moving parts. Inside the heart of the clock is a double-tone bellows (the source of the “cuckoo”), and a tiny music box. The mechanism is run by a set of weights perfectly attuned to the pace of a second, a minute, an hour. The clock’s exterior is a wonderland of hand-carved trees, woodland animals, shuttered windows and balconies, and spinning dancers. The clockface’s numbers are laid and secured by hand. Each clock is an homage to hundreds of years of careful craft.
These German and Swiss clockmakers passed their techniques down for generations, and clockmakers today take great pride in preserving the practices and designs of the clocks of their grandfathers. Even with the advent of battery-powered cuckoo clocks, the best makers still hand-carve all of the wooden parts.
There are two main styles of cuckoo clocks: the traditional style and the chalet style:
Traditional style cuckoo clocks are decked in a wreath of leaves, birds, and branches, all in a dark wood stain. Often these clocks are hunting themed, with bears, stags, bugles, and rifles.
Chalet cuckoo clocks are patterned after the wooden houses in Switzerland and Bavaria, where these clocks originated. They are set amongst a forest of painted pine trees, with tiny figurines going about their daily chores. They feature flowered balconies, shuttered windows, and steeped roofs with stones on top, mimicking the stones villagers place on their roofs to weigh it down against powerful mountain winds.
Original cuckoo clocks used stones as weights. Today, mechanical clocks use cast iron weights to turn the intricate timekeeping system inside, while the wood Aleppo pine cones beneath battery-powered clocks are purely ornamental. Most larger clocks play folk melodies on the hour, tunes like Edelweiss and the Happy Wanderer. Some battery-powered clocks play 12 songs, a new one for each hour.
Our hours in the shop are now marked by the cheerful cuckoo and village songs of our clocks. They have a way of making any space feel cozy, warm, and hopeful.
We feel humbled by the hundreds of years of craftsmanship that have gone into these works of art. Each is unique, a story in itself. We hope you'll stop in to wonder at them, and if the moment is right, bring one home with you.
View the entire collection here, where you can also read more about each clock.