A Brief History of Clocks

A Brief History of Clocks

You may never get around to reading A Brief History of Time, but here’s a few interesting facts about timepieces! From the first use of sundials, to stunning contemporary clock designs, the human effort to measure time has a fascinating history. 

Ancient Egyptians used sundials, also known as shadow clocks, to track the movements of the sun. The earliest known examples consist of a flat base with a raised crosspiece. The base is inscribed with a scale of six time divisions, and time is indicated as the shadow of the crosspiece moves over the base.

Other early methods of timekeeping included the water clock, which was simply a container of water with a tiny piercing. As the water slowly seeped out, hours were marked off with lines on the side of the container. This was far from accurate as you can imagine! Further common efforts included candle clocks and the hourglass.

The first pendulum clock was invented in 1656, and is credited to Christiaan Huygens, the celebrated Dutch scientist who was inspired by the work of Galileo. Key to his design was the invention of the balance spring, which enabled the timepieces to achieve an unrivalled accuracy.

Amazingly, pendulum clocks remained the most accurate timekeeping devices until the 1930s, when quartz oscillators were invented. However, they weren’t mass produced until the 1960s, when the development of microelectronics made them cheap and easy to manufacture. By the 1980s, quartz clocks were the standard timekeeping technology.

Around this time, digital clocks and watches with LED displays were also mass produced. This easily affordable technology led to a splurge in creativity. Today wall clocks are available to buy in almost every size, shape, colour and material imaginable!

Although nowadays everyone can tell the time from a glance at a screen, the aesthetic appeal of a well-designed wall or mantle clock is undeniable — a definite case of both use and ornament.