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7 Steps to Buying an Authentic German Cuckoo Clock

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STEP 1 - START WITH QUALITY
STEP 2 - PICK A STYLE
STEP 3 - CHOSE A MOVEMENT
STEP 4 - DECIDE ON MUSIC
STEP 5 - CONSIDER ANIMATION
STEP 6 - FIND THE SHUT-OFF
STEP 7 - HIT YOUR BUDGET
A NOTE ON PURCHASE OPTIONS

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 1:  START WITH QUALITY

You can find German cuckoo clocks for sale all over the world. Finding a quality and authentic clock can be challenging with so many cheap imitations on the market.  Producer standards, practices, origin, and reputation are all important factors in the measure of quality. 

Germany’s southwestern region known as the Black Forest or Schwarzwald has been producing authentic cuckoo clocks for nearly 300 years. Schwarzwald is the well established home of the cuckoo clock. Black Forest wood carvers and clockmakers alike are considered to be the best in the world. These past and present craftsmen built the standard by which all coo coo clocks are measured.

In an effort to preserve the art, integrity and standards of fine cuckoo clock making the Black Forest Clock Association was formed.  Also known as VdS or Verein die Schwarzwalduhr, this group of producers, traders, and cuckoo clock experts sought to formalize the strict practices the region is so well known for. Together they created a certification process designed protect the Black Forest tradition and represent quality around the world.

To the credit of association, all authentic Black Forest cuckoo clocks are delivered with an official certificate. The VdS certificate of authenticity represents quality through origin, mechanics, components and construction. A certified cuckoo clock owner can be sure that their clock was built using the same time-tested traditions that have made the region world famous.

Since quartz cuckoo clocks have non-mechanical battery-powered movements, they do not qualify for certification. If purchasing a quartz cuckoo clock is your preference, it is recommend you select one from a producer that also makes certified mechanical cuckoo clocks. They are generally known for quality production.

The fact that a clock is referred to as a Black Forest cuckoo clock does not make it so. To be sure, look for the VdS seal and verify that the clock is a Black Forest original.

  • Black Forest Clock Association certification is the German cuckoo clock quality gold standard
  • Look for the Black Forest clock association (VdS) seal and certificate of authenticity

 

vds authentic german coo coo clocks from germany

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STEP 2: PICK A STYLE OF CLOCK

Like most things we enjoy in life, selecting the perfect German cuckoo clock comes down to a matter of personal taste.  Choosing a style that is right for you will quickly narrow your search. It keeps the experience fun and interesting. Now let’s figure out which clocks suit your taste and style.

To start with there are two cuckoo clock styles most common among collectors and buyers. They are the Traditional style cuckoo clock and Chalet style cuckoo clock. In addition to those, there are others that offer varying characteristics. They all play an important role in the evolution of the cuckoo clock and are still produced and available today. These styles include the following:

hand carved clocks german coo coo clock

TRADITIONAL STYLE – also referred to as Classic or Carved

This classic style is widely recognized as Germany’s own. These hand carved clocks generally include wildlife and nature in a traditional outdoor Black Forest setting. 

Known for their deep carvings and rich stains traditional style clocks reflect their Black Forest origin in two common themes:

  • Black forest nature scenes with animals and foliage
  • Hunting theme with hunters, game, rifles and often a big stag

CHALET STYLE

Chalet Cuckoo clocks often display finely carved details and hand painted figurines. The Chalet is commonly associated with animated characters and music but does not always include them 

The beloved cuckoo often appears on the hour to announce a Black Forest ballet. Woodchoppers chop, bell ringers ring, mill wheels turn or beer steins will raise as happy couples dance to the music.

The 3 Chalet clock themes are:

  • Black Forest House
  • Bavarian Beer Garden (Biergarten)
  • Swiss Alpine House - 2 themes inspired by:
    • Swiss chalets in the village of Brienz
    • The chalets of the Emmental Valley
chalet coo coo clocks german
Authentic vintage german clock

RAILROAD HOUSE CLOCK – also known as Bahnhäusle Uhren

Born out of Friedrich Eisenlohr’s award winning design in 1850 the Railroad House clock remains one of today’s most popular cuckoo clock styles. Inspired by the 19th century era railroad guard house the clock displays a station house facade and pitched roof ornately covered in hand carved grape vines. In 1854 Johann Beha created a slightly different version he referred to as a Railroad Station clock. It included a detailed oil painting on the clocks face. 

True to their original makers the 2 style variations are:

  • A hand painted clock face and enamel dial
  • Ornate carvings in the classic Bahnhäusle style

ANTIQUE REPRODUCTIONS – also called Vintage Reproductions

The rich history of the cuckoo clock includes many fine works from centuries past. Today’s Vintage reproductions are inspired by baroque era clocks of the 18th century and 19th century works too. 

Modern day master craftsmen reproduce these ornate mechanical clocks, as there is still a strong demand for antique styles.

The most common reproductions are:

  • Railroad House cuckoo clocks
  • Shield style clocks
  • Figurine clocks
vintage cuckoo clocks for sale
handmade shield cukoo clock

SHIELD STYLE

Shield style clocks are among the first cuckoo clocks produced in the Black Forest. The clocks date back as far as 1750. Uniquely hand painted these clocks once rode on the backs of clock peddlers and their huge backpacks. 

Today shield style cuckoo clocks continue to be built and hand painted by talented artisans. 

The most common shield clock variations are:

  • The miniature shield or jockele clock
  • Shield clocks with no cuckoo
  • Shields with animated characters in place of a cuckoo
  • The classic shield style cuckoo clock

MODERN STYLE

The 21st century has put a new face on iconic designs and has introduced modern characteristics never before seen in the world of cuckoo clocks. Simple designs, clean lines, geometric shapes and bright colors adorn this new breed of cuckoo clock.  

The past decade has shown a strong demand for this new and contemporary style. Many shapes, finishes and custom works are available in today’s marketplace.

While some modern cuckoo clocks are quartz or digital, many are produced with mechanical movements. Most modern style mechanical cuckoo clocks built in the Black Forest meet strict (VdS) certification standards.

modern cuckoo clock black forest

 

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STEP 3: CHOOSE A MOVEMENT

mechanical clock movement, quartz clock movementA cuckoo clock’s movement is the mechanism that drives the clock to keep time. The movement affects things like how often your clock must be wound and how you silence it at night. The quality of a cuckoo clock’s movement will also govern the life span, performance and accuracy of the clock.

Selecting a movement may not be the most exciting step in finding the perfect cuckoo clock, but it is certainly one of the most important. 

Let’s review the two standard movement types to find out why:  

THE MECHANICAL MOVEMENT 

Mechanical coo coo clock black forest

Mechanical movements are the most common in Black forest cuckoo clocks. As a mater of fact, a cuckoo clock must be driven by a mechanical movement made in the Black Forest to earn the coveted Black Forest Clock Association seal and certificate of authenticity. 

Powered by weights and gravity, the hard brass movements do not require electricity to function making them eco-friendly. Once made entirely of wood, these movements have been used in black forest cuckoo clocks for centuries.

Most cuckoo clock craftsmen today use industry standard REGULA movements by SBS Feintechnik.  SBS operates in the Black Forest village of Schonach, Germany and is known throughout the region for its high quality clockworks.

Here are the 2 basic types cuckoo clock movement:

  • 8-DAY MOVEMENT
    • Requires winding only once per week
    • Generally more expensive and higher quality
    • Uses heavier weights than a 1-day movement
  • 1-DAY MOVEMENT
    • Requires daily winding
    • Is a suitable option for those on a budget
    • Rarely equipped with automatic night shut-off

 

 THE QUARTZ MOVEMENT 

quartz clock movements - coo coo clocks

Quartz movements provide a reliable alternative to their mechanical cousins. These movements are battery operated and are most often found in clocks of the lower price range. 

Music, movement and animations in quartz cuckoos are electronic simulations of the mechanical cuckoo clock. Maintenance is simple and usually limited to changing batteries.

Quartz cuckoo clocks do not qualify for VdS certification since they are imitations of the authentic mechanical movement. Still, there are reputable manufacturers that produce quality quartz cuckoo clocks with an authentic look.

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STEP 4: DECIDE ON MUSIC

koo coo clock music options

 Music has been an important part of cuckoo clock making since the early 18th century. Watching characters come alive and dance to German folk songs is a must for many collectors.

While the tunes are German, the music box is the only part of an authentic cuckoo clock manufactured outside of the Black Forest. Swiss music boxes have been placed in these famous clocks for generations. The Reuge Company founded in 1886 supplies many respected Black Forest clock makers and ranks highly among collectors.

Musical tones (notes) range from 18 to 36 notes in most clocks. The more notes a musical movement has the richer the quality of the music. 

Most mechanical clocks play two different songs. The most common are “The Happy Wanderer” and "Edelweiss”. Many Bavarian style chalet clocks will feature German beer drinking songs. 

  • Cuckoo clocks that play music have 3 weights
  • 8-DAY clocks alternate songs on the hour
  • 1-DAY clocks alternate songs on the ½ hour
  • Music begins after the cuckoo calls
  • Quartz cuckoo clocks generally play music each hour from a selection of 12 electronic melodies

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STEP 5: CONSIDER CLOCK ANIMATION

clock animation - authentic german coo coo clocks

A chance to see the cuckoo bird come out of hiding is enough to capture the curiosity of most anyone. Add that to a chorus of “The Happy Wanderer” while characters come to life and you have the stuff dreams are made of. Some clocks finish their lively display with the cuckoo’s call while others take you through the motions of wood cutters, bell ringers, or a even a lover’s kiss as dancers take the stage.Here are a few tips to help get you animated: 

  • All cuckoo clocks will have a cuckoo bird
  • The depth of a cuckoos call will vary depending on the size of the clock, bellows, and pipes
  • Higher priced clocks occasionally have birds that flap their wings as they call
  • Most clocks with animated characters will play music and have 3 weights
  • Traditional clocks with music will have dancers but Chalet style clocks are best known for displaying animated characters

As with most things in life, you will find exceptions to every rule. Just remember to have fun and enjoy the process! 

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STEP 6: FIND THE CUCKOO CLOCK SHUT-OFF 

There is nothing that can dampen the experience of owning a cuckoo more than being woken up in the middle of the night by it. Taking time to understand the characteristics of a clock and how to control them is a very important part of becoming a happy cuckoo clock owner. Understanding how to silence a clock as needed is often overlooked.

Let’s cover the basics: 

The two basic cuckoo clock shut-off options are automatic and manual.  

A manual shut-off requires that you manually set a switch to the off position to disable the sound of the clock. The clocks sound will remain off until you manually change the switch back to the on position. 

  • 1-DAY cuckoo clocks usually offer manual shut-off only. You will rarely if ever find a 1-DAY clock with an automatic shutoff. Since 1-Day are wound daily the switch is usually set while winding.

An automatic switch can be set to the on, off, or automatic position. When set to the automatic position it will silence the clock automatically for 10 to 12 hours beginning between 8pm and 10pm in the evening.

  • 8-DAY clocks generally have a manual shut-off. Many but not all 8-DAY clocks are available with an automatic shut-off option.  Most muscial clocks in the upper price range will include the automatic shut-off feature as standard.

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STEP 7: HIT YOUR BUDGET

Finding an affordable cuckoo clock is easy. Getting a quality clock that fits your budget and style takes some effort. While affordable, factory made imitations lack the quality and character of an original Black forest cuckoo clock. There is simply no substitute for the real thing. Authentic cuckoo clocks are in their third century of production for good reason.

Unless you are looking for a novelty clock, a collectible Black Forest original is your best bet. These hand-made clocks start at around $150 for a nice 1-DAY cuckoo clock and can reach $3000 or more for a beautifully detailed work of art.  

Black Forest cuckoo clocks are designed to suit many different budgets.   

Here are few tips to help you stay within yours: 

  • MOVEMENT – 1-DAY cost less than 8-DAY
  • MUSIC – Clocks with music cost more than those without it
  • NOTES – The number of musical tones or notes a clock plays can impact price
  • SHUT-OFF – Manual shut-off costs less than automatic
  • ANIMATION –Can increase price depending on number and detail of characters.
  • SIZE- will affect price with clocks ranging from 5 to 48 inches and taller
  • CARVINGS – Deep intricate carvings take more time, greater skill and cost more
  • PAINTINGS – The extent of hand painted detail can affect price

Start with style, adjust based on budget and enjoy the process!

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A NOTE ON PURCHASE OPTIONS FOR AUTHENTIC GERMAN CUCKOO CLOCKS