Field Guide to Cuckoo Clocks
Welcome to the enchanted world of cuckoo clocks!
This Cuckoo Clocks 101 will give you a leg up in helping you choose a cuckoo clock, understand how they operate, and familiarize yourself with their parts and features.
To get started let’s address a basic question:
What is and isn’t a cuckoo clock?
I design and sell true, authentic cuckoo clocks. They are gravity powered by two or three cast (usually pine cone) weights, as they have been since the first known cuckoo clock appeared about 1740, with their time-keeping regulated by a pendulum. Their endearing and signature feature is the carved cuckoo bird who pops out of a door to sing signaling the hours and half hour.
Amazingly, Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks are to this day 100% made in the Black Forest in southwestern Germany. Every part, even the chains for the weights are made there!
While not the traditional cuckoo clock of the Black Forest, battery-driven quartz clocks are made in the Black Forest and marketed as “cuckoo clocks.” It’s easy to tell the difference even by ear. The cuckoo sounds mechanical. To me — and the Black Forest Clock Association — these are not true cuckoo clocks. There’s a reason they cost so little. Don’t be confused!
Cuckoo Clock Weights
Beautifully simple, cuckoo clocks are powered by gravity. A minimum of two weights are required to run a cuckoo clock. One powers the time and the other powers the cuckoo calling and any animation.
Weights come in a variety of sizes. Most common are 275 gram weights for 1-day cuckoos, and 1000 (or more) gram weights for 8-day clocks. But this varies. For example, a heavier weight for a 1-day will provide more oomph to power a clock with several animated characters.
A clock with three weights is a musical clock. After the cuckoo calls and any animation associated with it, such as the farmer hoeing on the American Barn Cuckoo Clock, the music plays and may be accompanied by animation, for example the horse poking in and out of his stall on my Barn.
1-Day Versus 8-Day Cuckoo Clock Movements
This refers — loosely — to the period of time between windings.
The name “1-day clock” is a bit misleading since winding a 1-day clock doesn’t exactly last a full 24 hours. I wind mine morning and evening lest I find my weights at the bottoms of the chains before 24 hours are up.
An 8-day cuckoo clock will run for over a week from just one winding. Most 8-day cuckoo owners wind their clock in concert with a weekly event.
Can A 1-Day Cuckoo Clock Be Turned Into an 8-Day?
The short answer is “maybe”.
Depending upon the space and configuration of the parts within the clock’s case, a cuckoo clock doctor may be able to switch out the 1-day movement for an 8-day movement. The 8-day movement is larger requiring more space. Plus the slot for the pendulum and even how it attaches may need to be changed. And of course, your clock will need heavier weights.
When I first started selling my Quilt Shop Cuckoo Clock potential customers asked me if I offered it in 8-day. I asked my clock doc Keith Seabolt about it. I took him one to test. It worked just fine.
The switch turned out to be doable for my Quilt Shop Cuckoo Clock, but may not be for other clocks. Your clock doc will be able to tell you. Expect to pay about $150 to have the switch made.
When you spy a clock with three weights you know that the clock has music. Most musical cuckoo clocks sold today play two songs; one on the hour and one on the half hour. Music boxes are mounted inside the case and are most commonly made by few Swiss manufacturers. (Our exception to 100% made in the Black Forest.) Edelweiss is the most popular tune these days.
Cuckoo Clock Movements
Regula is the name in cuckoo clock movements. Schneider uses Regula in all of their clocks. There is a manufacturer or two who make their own movements, but according to message boards where those who work on cuckoos reside, these are regarded as less dependable than Regula.
Cuckoo Clock Manufacturers
The cuckoo clock brands you will see when shopping for clocks are:
- Anton Schneider
- Rombach and Haas
No matter which clock you are considering, be sure to look for the certification from the Black Forest Clock Association
The Black Forest Clock Association
Once in a awhile someone will say to me, "They aren't entirely made in Germany, some parts must be from China." No! Absolutely not!
The Black Forest cuckoo clock is made entirely in the Black Forest. Case makers makes build the cases, carvers carve the figures. A bellows maker fabricates the bellows. The movements are also made by specialists. Even the chains are made in the Black Forest!
This is why the Black Forest Clock Association (VDS) is so important. The mission of this organization of cuckoo clock manufacturers is to ensure buyers that the clock they are purchasing is in fact authentic, made in the Black Forest. Beyond that, the certification also comes with the assurance that the clock maker members produce clocks that operate perfectly mechanically. So look for the tag on any clock you are considering purchasing.
At the American Cuckoo Clock Company we import cuckoo clocks made from our designs from the Black Forest and we hand craft cuckoo clocks right here in Hickory Flat, Georgia. Either way, they are made with 100% Black Forest clockworks. In fact other than being made in America, the American Cuckoo Clock Company cuckoos would quality for the VDS.
Cuckoo Clock Warranty and Repair
A question I have been asked is whether a German-made cuckoo clock will need to go back to Germany for repair. Absolutely not!
All Black Forest cuckoo clocks with the VDS (Black Forest Clock Association) certification offer a warranty. I can't speak for other manufacturers, but Schneider includes a list of recommended cuckoo clock doctors with their clocks, including a good number in the United States. I am lucky that one of their top picks lives about an hour north of me. In fact, Schneider looks to him to find what he sees going on with their clocks in customer's hands.
Cuckoo Night Time shut off
Yes, you can quiet your cuckoo!
To silence your clock at night you will find either a lever at the left side (when facing it) or a looped wire (or a wood pull down at the bottom of the clock for my American made models) below the clock. Down is normal operation. Up silences the cuckoo.
Note that the lever may not travel all the way to the bottom of the slot. Move the lever until it stops wherever it is in the slot.
Some clocks feature a third position, an automatic shut off which silences the clock between the hours of 8PM and 8AM. In this case, you set it once and the cuckoo will keep his calls to himself all night.
The traditional carved cuckoo clock characteristically features birds or hunting themes.
The chalet type of cuckoo clock is popular today, and is where I have started with my designs. But who knows what's to come!
The shield cuckoo clock was popular for many early years in cuckoo making.
Cuckoo Clock Pricing
Prices vary with features and details. As is the case with everything, you get what you pay for. A cheap cuckoo clock is inexpensive for a reason. Features, fit and finish, and the mechanics figure into the price tag.
At the American Cuckoo Clock Company we don't hold our horses (Harley and Delight, my Tennessee Walkers) in designing and creating our cuckoo clocks. We are so cuckoo for cuckoo clocks that we go all out with each design. Crafting them in small batches we consider our clocks works of art.
1-Day Cuckoo Clock
A simple cuckoo with no animation will run any where from $350 to $600. Add animation and the price will rise to $350 to $700.
8-Day Cuckoo Clock
Adding the 8-day movement and weights runs the retail price of the cuckoo clock up about $150 due to the cost of the parts. Well worth it!
Cuckoo Clocks with Music
Usually music adds on about $200 to the retail price of the cuckoo clock. This of course depends upon whether the clock features dancers or not.
Final Cuckoo Clock Thoughts
After my first two years in business and having just returned from the Black Forest for my first trip as The American Cuckoo Clock Company, I am struck by the rare nature of this industry, the people who love cuckoo clocks, and the potential to tell the story.
The history of the cuckoo clock tells a tale of farmers seeing the opportunity to make extra income during the Black Forest winters, setting up clock making workshops in their farmhouses. Then came specialization and thus the growth of the industry to tens upon tens of thousands of clocks made each year at its high point.
My aim is to learn about and tell the story of clock makers, carvers, clock parts makers, and manufacturers then and now. In other words, to celebrate this jewel of an industry, its people, and the clocks that enchant us with their design and their unique voice!