National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch & Clock Museum

The largest and most comprehensive horological collection in North America

Early Time Keeping
Long before, and well after, the advent of weight-driven mechanical clocks, places, such as the Far East, utilized sundials, water clocks, and incense timekeepers (in addition to their combustion clocks) to keep time. Western missionaries introduced European mechanical clocks into China and Japan in the late 16th century. Although European clocks were imported into the Far East during the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, native clock making activities still survived.

This German made shelf clock, dating to 1570, is the oldest mechanical clock in the museum collection

Marine Chronometer, c. 1790, Thomas Earnsahw. During the 1770s, Englishman John Harrison perfected the “marine chronometer"; thus allowing for the determination of longitude at sea.

Pocket Watches
The watch was not a true "invention" so much as a further miniaturization of the small spring-driven table clock introduced by Italian clock makers in the late 15th century. It is probable that the Italians were producing clocks small enough to be worn on the person by the early 16th century. It did not take long for watchmaking to spread throughout Europe and England, and London, Paris, and Geneva flourished as centers of fine watchmaking in the 17th and 18th centuries.

This pocket watch, made by Abraham Louis Breguet circa 1814, belonged to Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte's sister, the Queen of Naples. This watch is signed on the dial with Breguet's secret signature.

Pocket watch, c. 1800, John Nicholas Menu. The back of the watch case features an enamel painting. Both the front and the back are circled with clear rhinestones.

Occasionally during the Renaissance, a miniature mechanical watch movement would be attached to a decorative bracelet as a lady's accessory. This idea reemerged during the 19th century, as women's pocket watches were fitted with a bracelet or leather strap so they could be worn on the wrist. Military personnel recognized the practicality of the timepiece, and by 1880, German naval officers were being supplied with Swiss-produced watches. Companies like Cartier, Omega, Movado, Waltham, and Patek Philippe were producing wristwatches for a small but emerging market by 1910. The general popularity of wristwatches, however, grew tremendously during World War I, as soldiers worldwide took advantage of the accessible and efficient timepieces.

Blue dyed leather pocket watch convertor, used by both ladies and men (officers) to convert a pocket watch to be worn on the wrist, known also as a "wristlet."

Wristwatch, 1958, Hamilton Watch Company. This watch features a rotating center disk with different colored arrows to indicate all four US time zones, plus Greenwich Mean Time (United Kingdom).

Wristwatch, c. 1980, Seiko Watch Company. Hybrid digital/analog quartz alarm chronograph in stainless steel.

Museum Novelties
Although the primary purpose of clocks is to tell time, it is not necessarily the only purpose. Many clocks have been designed to dazzle, entertain, even instruct those who see them. The novelty or specialty clock is not a recent phenomenon —since the earliest days of the mechanical clock, clock makers have sought to make timepieces that are mechanically and decoratively unique.

Shelf Clock, 1983, Arrow Industries, Inc. This clock shows the time using dominoes that mark the hour and ten minute increments and individual minutes separately. The time pictured is 12:59

Clockwork Singing Bird, c. 1870

Automaton bird. Base is wood painted blue and gold with floral inlay. Wire cage is brass. Winds on side with wooden turner.

Monumental Clock, 1878, Stephen Engle. This clock measures 11' high, 8' wide, and 3' deep. Among its mechanical features are two organ movements, 48 moving figures, and a tellurian.

The National Watch and Clock Museum officially opened to the public in 1977 with fewer than 1,000 artifacts to present to visitors. Since that time,the collection has increased to over 12,000 items and the museum has undergone several expansion projects. Today, the museum is recognized as the largest and most comprehensive horological collection in North America. It also houses the NAWCC Library and Research Center, the largest horological library in the world, with over 30,000 books and thousands of feet of archival material.While the museum’s collections are some of the best in the world, the most important aspect it presents is the story we all share: Time. Many things separate us but the thing that unites the world is the method for organizing our lives - day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. In this way, time is a metaphor for what we, as humans,can accomplish when faced with global problems. The story of time and timekeeping provides a lesson for doing just that.The museum thanks you for sharing your valuable time with us. We hope that through your visit, you obtain a greater appreciation for the importance of time and timekeeping in our daily lives.
Credits: Story


Noel B. Poirier
Museum Director

Kim Jovinelli
Museum Curator

Lesley Moore
Museum Intern

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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