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PostPosted: Fri Dec 29, 2017 6:01 pm 
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If you know nothing about Cuckoo clocks you are likely to be drawn to those sold at Sears or Walmart, possibly made by Kendal. This is what my first search for the classic clock turned up the first time I searched. If you have already purchased a Cuckoo clock at Walmart or if you own a Kendal... eh, just quit reading now. I'm not saying you bought a bad clock but you probably could have bought a better clock. I don't know anything about Kendal; I'm just saying I don't see them on the official list of Cuckoo manufacturers. More on that in a bit.

I know damn little about Cuckoo clocks or clocks in general. My background education spans a whole month and I am German. I search my childhood memories and I remember a vintage Cuckoo clock with a wheel on the left side for a mechanical nighttime shut-off... I think? I have been fascinated with that little bird who pops his head out only once an hour for a glimpse, giving me just a brief few seconds to see what what little fellow looks like. The mystery of the locked door and the mystery of what the bird looks like haunted me all my life until one day, today I bought a Cuckoo clock for my home.

When you talk Cuckoo clocks you're talking German clocks. When you're talking German Cuckoo clocks you're talking Black Forest German wooden Cuckoo clocks... or you're not talking seriously. If you confess that your clock was purchased outside the Black Forest region of Germany, you will get some odd looks as to why you would even bother? You might have done just as well going to Bed, Bath, and Beyond who has a very nice collection of less noisy battery operated clocks for less money.

There is a 100-mile range along Germany's southwestern border with France where the forest is so thick and dense the locals call it The Black Forest. There you will still find clock makers who manufacture Cuckoo clocks in the traditional method. A list, partial list? of modern Black Forest clock makers include but may not be limited to:

  • Anton Schneider
  • Hekas
  • Hönes
  • Hubert Herr
  • Rombach & Haas
  • Trenkle

  • As I continue my education, The Black Forest region was known for wooden movement clocks in the 18th Century but not necessary for the original Cuckoo. Those came later to sell to tourists, apparently. The first Cuckoo was likely to have originated in 17th Century in Augsburg, roughly 200 miles to the East of The Black Forest. No matter who invented the thing, The Black Forest Cuckoo is an indisputable German icon.

    One of the best things to happen to the Cuckoo clock was the establishment of the The Black Forest Association Verein die Schwarzwalduhr known as the (VDS). Clocks which bear the VDS emblem and come with a certificate of authenticity guarantee the owner of the authentic German craftsmanship. I am grateful for this. In today's society, corporations are driven to make everything cheaper where brand names no longer mean what they once did. Consumers need to navigate a minefield of junk to find something of quality to own.

    Let us also acknowledge the Swiss here, who make damn fine timepieces.

    Injection molded plastic was not around in the 17th Century but would come into existence some 200 years later. Would Cuckoo clocks have plastic parts if manufacturers had access to plastic technology? And, would electronic versions of the clock exist? I would imagine that nobody would have bothered creating a wooden clock if microprocessors were around. What a technical marvel and living testimony to the ingenuity of the day - to create a living sculpture out of materials from the forest.

    Cuckoo clocks come in two major varieties, the "Chalet" style which depicts home and the "Carved" style which depicts the forest. There are several traditional carved styles: Bird with leaves, the "Hunter" with a deer head and rifles, and a few with other animals such as bears, owls, and the like which are more rare. The larger clocks tend to be more intricately carved. The wood carvings are so beautiful to see in our society where everything is made from extruded and injected plastic. That earthly element which brings to life something which we depend so heavily on in modern society, an accurate clock.

    My search revealed three types of "Carved" clocks: Those which require daily winding (1 day), those which require weekly winding (8 day), and those which run on batteries. You would tend to think that battery operated clocks have pushed out the traditional wooden mechanical ones, but you would be up against the VDS. They do not offer certificates for "Quartz" movement clocks. It's a bit of a shame. The Black Forest clock makers offer Quartz Cuckoos which are lovely but tend to be less ornate than their mechanical counterparts - and cheaper.

    Chalet Cuckoo clocks come in three major styles: German (or Black Forest) which feature an overhanging roof in the front, Bavarian style which feature scenes from a biergarten which originated in Bavaria, and Swiss Chalet which features a very steep roof.

    I would have to talk to someone from the Black Forest region to get a handle on their way of thinking. Are Quartz movement clocks considered a modern Cuckoo or are they simply tolerated as an export item to the rest of the world? What percentage of sales come from Quartz vs. traditional clocks? Is the VDS certification just a marketing gimmick to sell mechanical clocks which need a lot of attention and maintenance?

    Collectors... don't seem rational. Why bother spending $350 on a decent mechanical wood clock when a single visit to the repair shop will run you about... $350. That means that mechanical clocks are disposable or at least don't hold their value. I invested quite a bit less on a Quartz (electronic) Cuckoo. Having seen the prices on Ebay and not trusting other popular retail shops, I imported a clock directly from The Black Forest region of Germany.

    My clock runs on 3 batteries and keeps perfect time with a Cuckoo which emerges on the hour to sing. There is a light sensor on the side which puts the bird to sleep if I turn the dining room light off after sunset. Once light begins to shine on the clock the bird wakes up once more. There is an optional setting to play one of 12 different electronic melodies as well but I thought that was too much. Older mechanical clocks might have had a music box, a mechanical set of tuned forks which were struck by a rotating wheel of spikes. These have been replaced with a much more elaborate electronic recording.

    But are Quartz Cuckoo clocks Black Forest clocks? Not according to the VDS. Anyone who advertises a Black Forest Quartz clock made in Germany is lying to you and not be trusted. If you purchase the electronic version you need to put "Black Forest" in quotes - yes, it might be made in Germany by a maker of VDS certified clocks and it may have parts which are primarily from the region and it may have the highest standards of quality.... but, sadly will never hold a VDS certification because of its modern design.

    In addition to the plastic case for the movement and battery holder I noticed plastic numbers on the dial, plastic hands, and a plastic Cuckoo door. So be it. The rest of the clock is beautifully carved wood with deep, intricate traditional design. The top piece as well as the pendulum are made from (Linden?) wood as well. And, the wood stain has loving accents, not just some ugly brown paint splashed on it. The more I view the clock the more I love it. And, as the bird sleeps when I turn the lights off and wakens when I turn the lights on I take the clock on as a new member of the family.

    The wooden clocks were carved to reflect the sights and sounds of the forest, carved wooden animals, a maple leaf shaped pendulum, and pine cone shaped weights to drive the mechanism. But you don't need a pendulum, chains, and weights to drive a quartz clock - only batteries. Yet, my quartz clock has a swinging pendulum and "weights" - which are plastic molded, shaped to resemble cast iron weights, which were originally designed to resemble pine cones. One might have just put real pine cones on as weights but I fear they wouldn't have been as stable through the years. And, the clock has chains which are not used to wind the clock - only mimic a mechanical Cuckoo clock.

    So, when I heard the clock for the first time I was quite surprised. A quartz clock is a replica of a wooden clock which is a replica of the sights and sounds of the forest. But, the sound of a quartz clock is a replica of the bird, not the clock. On the hour, sounds of the forest come alive and it plays the male song of the Cuculus Canorus (Common Cuckoo). I had to do quite a bit of digging to dredge that up as there are many Cuckoo birds which sound nothing like what you might imagine.

    I also discovered the much celebrated Common Cuckoo is endangered. Please do what you can to preserve this wonderful species and inspiration for one of the most famous clocks ever built.

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