Category Archives: clocks

The Octopus That Tells the Time

For a lot of people, clocks are fairly boring.  They might have an alarm clock on their nightstand, or perhaps an inherited grandfather clock in the living room, or the clock that comes built-in to their oven.

After that, a lot of people don’t give much thought to clocks.  After all, your phone will tell you the time.  But other people do concern themselves with clocks, such as the Swiss watch company MB&F.  They’re all about time, but not in the way that you’d think.

mbf octopod clockAll of MB&F’s timepieces are …unusual, to say the least.  Actually, unusual barely describes it.  The company recently made a super-limited edition watch that featured small aliens.  They also made a desk clock that looked like a rocket ship.

You will remember any timepiece you see from MB&F, and that’s certainly true of their latest clock, the Octopod Clock, which they made in collaboration with longtime clockmaker L’Epee 1839.  This clock, as the name suggests, was created to evoke an octopus.

Designed as a table or desk clock, the Octopod has eight legs which are adjustable, though we’re not really sure what adjusting them might do for you in a practical sense.  You can adjust them, and that will make the clock just a little bit taller (it appears to be about 12″ tall) or a little bit shorter.

mbf octopod clockThe timepiece itself is inside of a spherical unit that sits where the “head” of the octopus might be.  Inside is a movement developed by L’Epee 1839 which has some 159 parts.  These parts are attached to an anti-reflective piece of glass that gives the impression that all of the parts are just floating inside.

The movement is mechanical, and will need to be wound, though we haven’t seen any information about power reserve or how often you will need to wind it.

As with most of MB&F’s products, the Octopod Clock is limited in production.  This particular clock comes in three versions – the stainless steel with black PVD coating, the stainless steel with blue PVD coating, and the palladium model.  Each version is limited to 50 pieces, so don’t expect them to last.

Then again, they might not sell out as quickly as you’d think, given that the price for these clocks is $36,000 each.  Of course, in the case of MB&F, you’re not buying a timepiece, as you can buy a clock for a lot less money than that just about anywhere.

What your’e buying here is art, and the company does make some pretty amazing pieces of art that also happen to tell the time.

They’ve also made quite a name for themselves, given that the company has only been in business for a dozen years or so.  That’s not the case with L’Epee 1839, however.  Their name isn’t just a clever one; it includes the year of the company’s founding.

That’s a lot of time to be making clocks, and rest assured, they’ve gotten quite good at it.  Thanks to their partnership with MB&F and this Octopod Clock, they’ve also gotten pretty weird with it.

But sometimes, weird can be good, and we like this timepiece.



The Clock That Wakens You With Smell

People hate alarm clocks.  The best of them will have a sound that isn’t too harsh but one that is loud enough to awaken you from a deep sleep.  Even then, it’s usually an unpleasant experience to wake up to the sound of an alarm, rather than to awaken naturally.

The Sensorwake, a new alarm clock, hopes to change that.   Citing studies that show that our brains respond strongly to smells as well as sounds, the Sensorwake uses a gentle sound along with various scents to waken you from your sleep.

sensorwakeOriginally offered via Kickstarter, the Sensorwake is a digital clock that uses small cartridges that contain…something that puts off a scent.  The company said that in tests, 100% of the test subjects were awakened within 2 minutes using their clock.

The clock measures about 4 inches on a side, and comes with a single cartridge.  You can choose from a variety of scents, and the current list includes:

  • Seaside
  • Espresso
  • Croissant
  • Chocolate
  • Grass
  • Toast
  • Peppermint

The company’s FAQ page did not mention whether any particular scent was more effective at waking people up than any other, so it can be assumed that they’re all about equally good at doing the job.

It takes 2-3 minutes for the average sleeper to wake up using the Sensorwake, which also makes a sound at alarm time.  Each cartridge lasts approximately 30 days, at which point you can discard it or recycle it.  You can buy the clock with a single cartridge or you can buy it along with a package of 6 at a somewhat discounted price.

The basic price for the clock is $79 and the bundle with 6 scents is currently a bit over $100.

bescent despicable me clockBased on the success of the Sensorwake, the company is now striving for bigger and better things.  The company is now targeting children and licensing products that are tied to major motion pictures, including Frozen, and Despicable Me.

The latter includes a banana scent, which is presumably going to remind waking children of that film’s Minions.  Also in the work is a Barbie-related clock, though I’m not sure exactly what Barbie is supposed to smell like.  Plastic, I suppose.

The nice thing about such licensing is that there are new movies coming along all the time, so there will always be new marketing opportunities.  Plus, unlike regular alarm clocks, which you buy once, with these clocks you get to continue buying new aroma cartridges.

While they’re relatively inexpensive at $5-$6 each, that adds up after a while, and works out to about $75 per year…per child.

Keep in mind that if you have more than one child, they’re each likely going to want their own alarm clock.  If one wants a Despicable Me clock, the other will likely want a Frozen clock.

Looks like a good moneymaking opportunity.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the Sensorwake and Bescent (the children’s line) of clocks works and what sort of availability there will be, this PDF can likely help.

If you’re having trouble waking up in the morning, a clock with a pleasant scent is probably a good way to go.



Atomic Clocks the Ultimate in Accuracy

Mechanical clocks have been available for hundreds of years, and during this time, numerous improvements have been made in their accuracy.  Today, the best mechanical clocks and watches are usually accurate to within a minute or two per year, and for most people, that level of accuracy is more than sufficient.

For those who want more accurate timekeeping, there are, of course, clocks and watches with quartz movements.  These are electronic devices that are capable of keeping time within a couple of seconds per year, and they’re highly reliable.

Heathkit GC-1000 radio clock, 1983

Heathkit GC-1000 radio clock, 1983

They’re not as interesting to collectors as mechanical devices, but they are affordable and if you’re interested in fairly accurate time at a good price, then a quartz clock or watch would be a good choice.

For some people however, either by necessity or just out of interest, there are still more accurate clocks and watches available.  These are known as radio clocks.  They’re not clock radios, which are clocks that have AM/FM radios built in so you can listen to music or wake up to your favorite drive-time DJ.

Radio clocks are highly accurate timepieces that receive the correct time over radio waves that are transmitted by government installations that either have an atomic clock on hand or have ready access to one.

Atomic clocks are the most accurate timekeeping devices known; they base their timekeeping on the change of state within certain atoms.  The first such clock to demonstrate high accuracy was built in 1955 and used the cesium-133 atom as the basis.

The U.S. government and other governments worldwide have atomic clocks and radio networks that transmit the time from these clocks.  Radio clocks (and now, radio watches) receive a signal from such networks and use them to keep their own timekeeping accurate.  Most radio clocks also have built-in timekeeping mechanisms in order to keep fairly accurate time when access to the radio signal is not possible.

The first affordable commercial radio clock was the GC-1000, made by Heathkit.  It was sold in both kit form ($250) and factory assembled ($400) versions in the early 1980s.  While Heathkit has long since gone out of business, collectors are still interested in these clocks and they sell for a few hundred dollars when they come up for sale today, working or not.

Modern Casio radio watch

Modern Casio radio watch

Radio clocks are today rather inexpensive, and can be purchased for less than $20, though more expensive models are available.  Now, radio watches are also available, and they work on the same principle as the radio clocks.  There is a quartz timekeeping unit within the watch, but it also has a radio receiver which allows it to stay in contact with the much-more-accurate atomic clock.  When it detects a change in the time from the broadcast signal compared with its own time, it automatically changes the time on the watch.

While such watches might have seemed quite expensive at one time, they’re now relatively affordable.  We’ve seen models for sale for less than $100 and you can usually buy them at department stores and big box retailers.

You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an accurate timepiece, but oddly enough, the most accurate timepieces available to consumers are astonishingly affordable.

Unusual Cartier Clocks For Auction

Most clocks are mass produced, and even many older models from 100 years or so ago were mass produced back in their day.  Many of those older clocks are still quite collectible today as time has rendered them rare, regardless of the actual production numbers at the time they were made.

cartier tripod clockOne of a kind, or extremely limited production items, however, tend to truly attract the attention of clock collectors, as you well might understand.  The fewer the numbers, the fewer the occasions on which such items may come up for sale.

That’s why a lot of clock collectors are interested in an upcoming sale by Christies, which includes a number of unusually rare and cleverly designed clocks that were created by jeweler Cartier in collaboration with clocksmiths.

The one that strikes our fancy is an unusual tripod clock.  There is little known about this particular item, other than the fact that it was likely made for an exhibition that took place around 1958.

What is known is this:

The clock is a polyhedral desk clock, signed “Cartier London.”  It was designed by “R. Emmerson” and was made in 1958.

This isn’t your ordinary desk clock, however.  This particular model is made from 18 karat gold, silver, and is set with diamonds.  The timepiece stands 10 inches tall, but don’t let the size fool you.  The expected price range for the auction is $80,000-$120,000.

Cartier Crash watch

Cartier Crash watch

Rupert Emmerson was the designer, and he reportedly made no more than two or three of these pieces.  Emmerson was a longtime designer for Cartier who did some key work for the company from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He also worked on the famous Cartier “Crash” watch, a piece that is highly reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory,” which included a melting clock.

Other clocks to appear at the Christies auction are earlier pieces, several of which evoke a modern, Art Deco look.  We particularly like this silver, lead glass and Lapis Lazuli clock, which is expected to sell for a far more modest $6000 or so.

While the piece does look Art Deco and would appear to be from the 1930s, it was actually made in 1980 as part of a limited edition of 150 pieces.  It stands but 4 inches high and has a quartz movement.

It’s still a nice looking timepiece, though we’re quite taken with the tripod ourselves.  Unfortunately, it’s not only out of our price range, but it’s out of the price range of most everyone we know.



The World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock

Cuckoo clocks don’t have a particularly good reputation among clock collectors.  They’re usually viewed as more of a gimmick than they are as an example of fine clockmaking.

That’s fine; everyone is entitled to an opinion, and while people who really like clocks aren’t necessarily fans of the cuckoo clock, lots of other people are.   Thousands of them are sold every year, and a recent exhibit in China sold out all of the cuckoo clocks that were available for sale in a very short time, which suggests that the interest in this odd timepiece is universal.

biggest cuckoo clock

The World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock

The designs for the cuckoo clock date to the 17th century, though the versions that most people would recognize are largely a 19th century invention.  Modern examples are quartz powered and a few even have a sensor that can turn off the chirping bird when it’s dark.

Most models, however, are small enough to hang on the walls of people’s homes, and that’s why they’ve become a popular souvenir of people who visit the Black Forest area of Germany, where the modern cuckoo clock has evolved.

It’s there, in Germany, where you can see the world’s largest cuckoo clock.  This one is big enough that you can walk inside it; it’s 60 times the size of the traditional wall model.

Five years in the making, the clock at the Eble Uhren-Park in german is the work of Ewald and Ralf Eble, and they built this clock in the late 1980s and early 1990s to demonstrate their clockmaking skills and to give tourists something fun to see.

The mechanism is huge; the works are fifteen feet tall and weigh more than six tons.  The fully-functional pendulum is 26 feet long, and the bird itself, the cuckoo, weighs more than three hundred pounds.

Obviously, none of the parts for this monstrous clock were available off the shelf; everything had to be constructed by hand.

As with the traditional home models, this clock is driven by two weights on pulleys and chains.  One of them powers the clock mechanism, and the other one provides power for the bird, which cuckoos every 30 minutes.

The giant cuckoo clock is just one of many clocks that you can see at the park, which shows off the best of the Black Forest clocks from the Eble workshop.  You can also see wall clocks, grandfather clocks, and other merchandise that features a clock theme.