Some of the most prominent brands we carry, who are all highly esteemed manufacturers of hand-carved and hand-painted German cuckoo clocks include companies like Hand Carved Clocks by Hones, Chalet Clocks by Schneider, Vintage Clocks by Herr, or Modern Cuckoo Clocks by Rombach & Haas, and several more. All of the German cuckoo clocks for sale in our marketplace are as unique as our customers that buy them.
Where Do German Cuckoo Clocks Come From?
German cuckoo clocks as we now think of them can be traced back to the Black Forest region of Germany in the 1700s, but German prototype cuckoo clock goes all the way back to 1629 and belonged to a Bavarian Prince Elector, August von Sachsen. By 1669, a clockmaker wrote a handbook on construction of handmade German clocks which suggests “the call of the cuckoo to indicate the hours.”
Although it is not clear how clock making was established in the Black Forest of Germany, it soon became the hub of all German cuckoo clock manufacturing. The earliest German cuckoo clocks are believed to be Shield Cuckoo Clocks, and made between 1740 and 1750.
The most reliable story from German history about the provenance of the German Cuckoo Clock comes from a priest, Markus Fidelis Jack, who wrote “"The cuckoo clock was invented (in 1730) by a clock-master [Franz Anton Ketterer] from Schönwald [literally "Beautiful Forest", i.e. the Black Forest]. This craftsman adorned a clock with a moving bird that announced the hour with the cuckoo-call. The clock-master got the idea of how to make the cuckoo-call from the bellows of a church organ"
While not all German clocks featured the signature cuckoo and coo-coo sound that defines the type, by the late 1700s the sound was inextricably intertwined with the ornate clocks that we all love today.
As German cuckoo clocks grew in popularity, three clockmakers would rise to become synonymous with cuckoo clocks: Franz Anton Ketterer, Michael Dilger and Matthaus Hummel, who created some of the signature features that are still popular today.
Early and Iconic German Cuckoo Clocks
In 1850, the director of the Grand Duchy of Baden Clockmakers School, Robert Gerwig, launched a public competition for modern (at the time) designs. Friedrich Eisenlohr, an architect who built railways, built a design called “Wallclock with shield decorated by ivy vines.” This design was so beloved and so iconic that it quickly became the rage in all Black Forest clockmaking: it is called the Bahnhäusle clock.
With so many people working on the Bahnhäusle clock it quickly began to evolve. First, one extremely well-known clockmaker, Johann Baptist Beha, painted the plain wood facade, introducing color into the clocks. Soon thereafter clockmakers like Theodor Ketterer would do more three-dimensional woodcarvings. More importantly, Ketterer began selling the clocks abroad, with the first German cuckoo clock arriving in Great Britain in 1856, and there was an immediate boom in German cuckoo clock market.
Further alterations were made, such as the Jagdstück design, which was the first known German cuckoo clock with a hunting motif (including deer heads and other animals).
The second innovation in the German cuckoo clock’s evolution was the Chalet style. Though often misrepresented as an invention of the Swiss, the cuckoo clocks made in Switzerland were primarily souvenir-quality and not up to the standard of the Black Forest clocks.
The Chalet style took off in German cuckoo clocks: the standard Chalet style clock depicts a Chalet, a farmhouse, a mill with a water wheel, or some other pastoral scene. These clocks are intricately carved and painted, but the detail is in figures and architectural details (though there are still occasional items from nature).
CREATING GERMAN CUCKOO CLOCKS
Handmade by skilled craftsmen in the Black Forest region, German cuckoo clocks are today still largely made with the same techniques perfected hundreds of years ago, meeting the highest quality standards with regard to the clock movement and carvings.
Many clocks are not made entirely by a single clock maker. They're still largely handmade, but one craftsman might specialize in gears or another part of the clock while a different craftsman may build the case or carve and paint some of the featured pieces on the front. After assembly, all parts must operate seamlessly with each other, giving the iconic German cuckoo clock life as a timepiece as well as a work of art.
Oftentimes German cuckoo clocks can take years to build, and the process can date all the way back to the sourcing of the wood. To ensure that the wood is ideal for fashioning the clock, wood is commonly selected years in advance so that it can be properly cut and dried before any carving work starts. Only the finest quality Black Forest wood is selected for use in creating a German cuckoo clock.
After the clock has been designed and carved, the last step is to install the clock mechanics. Since each clock is built as a custom work of art, the mechanical workings of the clock are built right into the clock itself. Anything that needs to move, including the clock hands, are connected to the clock movement so that they can be triggered and everything works like, well, clockwork!
TODAY'S CUCKOO CLOCKS
While most people may think of musical chalets and hunting scenes when they picture a German cuckoo clock, some modern designs of today's German cuckoo clocks may surprise you.
All the inner workings of an authentic Black Forest German cuckoo clock are mechanical. There are no batteries or electricity needed, and every piece of the clock -- including the time keeping capabilities -- are driven by weights, chains and the laws of physics German cuckoo clocks remain authentic even today as they too are powered by mechanics.
Some German cuckoo clocks may skip the mechanics for batteries and while made by the same talented clock makers, these quartz clocks are not seen as authentic or traditional German cuckoo clocks. Nevertheless, they can represent an affordable way to own an ornate cuckoo clock design.
Today’s cuckoo clock styles include popular chalet designs and the ubiquitous nature or hunting scenes, but some modern cuckoo clock designs may forgo tradition for a sleek or modern design. These clocks still have that unmistakable iconic coo-coo sound and mechanism, but display a whimsical or minimalist urban design. Today’s German cuckoo clocks offer a wide variety to choose from designed to suit almost any taste.