What Makes a Clock Tick? The History and the Mechanisms Behind Clocks

What Makes a Clock Tick? Background and History of Clocks

Humans have been tracking the sun and moon across the sky and assigning numbers as representations of time for thousands of years. Did you ever stop to think why clocks and time are so fascinating to us? From the stone obelisks of the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians to today’s modern digital timepieces, the history of clocks offers a glimpse into our past. 

A Timeline of Telling Time

Some of the earliest clocks were created from natural materials such as stone, water, candles and metal sundials. Here’s a quick overview of the history of clocks:

  • Ancient people utilized the sun, moon and stars to navigate their days: rising with the sun and going to bed with the moon and stars
  • Sumerians are thought to have invented time measurement around 2000 BC
  • Ancient civilizations from Japan, China and Egypt utilized versions of a time stick that included the hourglass or candle clocks
  • Mechanical clocks were introduced around the 14th century in Europe, followed by pendulum clocks around 1656
  • The first pocket watches evolved in the 17th century and were the primary timekeeping mechanism until 1930
  • While atomic clocks are still the most accurate of timekeepers, quartz clocks were developed in the 1930s and are still the primary clock mechanism used today

Pendulum clocks work by swinging back and forth, with the movement triggering a gear to advance one tooth at a time. The pendulum is carefully weighted to swing one time per second by releasing what is called an escarpment gear.

How Pendulum Clocks Work

Pendulum clocks work by swinging back and forth, with the movement triggering a gear to advance one tooth at a time. The pendulum is carefully weighted to swing one time per second by releasing what is called an escarpment gear. The 60 teeth of each gear indicate that a full revolution takes one minute exactly. There are also quartz driven pendulum clocks, with timekeeping separate from the pendulum swing.

How Quartz Clocks Work

While traditional clocks require winding and are subject to the vagaries of gravity and high altitudes, quartz watches are quite different. The batteries stored within a quartz clock uses the tiniest trickle of a charge, so the batteries last for years. Gears inside the clock are regulated by a very common mineral called quartz, which is found in sand and many different types of rock. Quartz may be easy to find, but it has a pretty unique property; it vibrates at a very particular frequency when a small amount of electricity is passed through it. This allows the watch to be highly precise in measuring time because quartz is not affected by mechanical parts such as moving balance wheels or pendulums. The electric pulses generated by the quartz are then counted and used to power a standard LCD display or move hands as large as 17-3/4 high torque clock hands.

Ready to learn more about the fun and interesting world of clocks? The knowledgeable team at Bear Woods is standing by to help with replacement parts, and the supplies to build a variety of clocks in sizes from under 2 inches up to 48” in diameter. Contact us today with any questions!

Get 5% off of orders $50 or more using the code "NewsMay" Shop now!

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One thought on “What Makes a Clock Tick? The History and the Mechanisms Behind Clocks

  1. Pingback: Featured Product: Pendulum Clock Movements | Bear Woods Supply

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