Main Characteristics of a Cuckoo Clock

Cuckoo Clock
Cuckoo Clock

Over the past three hundred years, cuckoo clocks have changed in size, shape, and mechanics. However, there are several basic features that make up a cuckoo clock. For example, cuckoo clocks generally have a pendulum, and make chiming sounds at intervals throughout the day. A small bird, or cuckoo, typically emerges with each chime.

Many cuckoo clocks are hand-carved. This carving can be done in two distinct styles. In Chalet-style clocks, the mechanics are housed in a miniature, Alpine-style home. The detail is painstakingly intricate, as the tiny shingles on the roof are often laid by hand.

Meanwhile, ‘traditional’ clocks take a different approach. Instead of houses, the clock is surrounded by scenes of nature or hunting. Owls, elk, eagles, and other creatures are often depicted. Both chalet and traditional style cuckoo clocks are equally popular.

Many clocks are adorned with unique figurines, of which the most common is a dancing couple. Just like the cuckoo bird, these figurines emerge with every chime. While the cuckoo bird usually darts in and out of the clock, these figurines continuously dance for several seconds, and then stop. In addition to dancers, other clocks feature beer drinkers or wood choppers performing various actions. 

Cuckoo clocks are famous for their chiming sounds, which are generated by bellows hidden within the clock. The bellows suck in air, and then squeeze it through tiny holes to create a whistling sound. In quartz clocks, this sound is produced electronically. 

In some clocks, the chiming is accompanied by a special tune, designed to play on a Swiss music box. This can be a German folk song, like “Edelweiss”, or a simple melody. Higher-quality clocks will have thirty-six different tones, while clocks on the lower-end have only eighteen.

To be a genuine, certified Black Forest cuckoo clock, the device must fulfill several basic requirements. The clock must be operated by a mechanical clock, and all of its parts must be produced in the Black Forest. Quartz clocks are obviously disqualified, as they run on battery instead of mechanical power.

Since cuckoo clocks are filled with mechanical clockwork, they must be wound every so often. There are two basic kinds of clock operation–1-day movement and 8-day movement. In the former, the cuckoo clock must be wound once every 24 hours, while in the latter, it must be wound once each week. Since nobody likes to be woken up at night, most modern cuckoo clocks have an automatic or manual shut-off lever.

Cuckoo clocks are typically made with wood. In the Black Forest area of Germany, most artisans use the local Linden tree because it is ideal for making carvings. However, some manufacturers choose to use maple wood.

The unique combination of traditional and modern technology is what draws many people to buy cuckoo clocks. The mechanics are simple, yet elegant, and bring a needed balance to our modern lives.

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