Saturday, May 12, 2012

Antique clock dials and hands

By 1730, enamel dials were common on English pocket watches. There were sometimes produced in the 1780s for longcase clocks, but are very rare. More common are painted enamel dials on longcase and bracket clocks, fitted to high quality pieces. Enamel sections are most frequently found on French clocks. Often the dials are gilt, with the numerals set against enamel reserves. Enamel dials are extremely prone to cracking and chipping, so examine examples very carefully. Hairline cracks are often camouflaged by bleaching but you should be able to spot the differences in colour. Cracking crates a cobweb effect over the dial and if you come across this, the price should reflect the damage that has occurred.

Wooden painted dials were used for tavern clocks in England from the mid - 18th century and on Black Forest clock in the early 19th century. The latter are usually 30 cm (12 in) square, with an arch above, painted white and then decorated with flowers, before being varnished. Wooden dials are susceptible to woodworm and are often in split condition. They can be properly restored by specialists.

The brass dials you see on bracket, wall and longcase clocks were probably once silvered, but the silvering has been polished away over the years. The effect is achieved by using silvering salts which change the colour of the brass. Re-silvering is not expensive, but should be done by a specialist. Like re-gilding, this kind of restoration is regarded as sympathetic.

Early clocks had very simple, finely sculpted blued-steel hands (whereby the steel was polished and blued with a flame, preventing the metal from rusting and giving a distinctly burnished blue appearance) in straightforward designs. Along with the style of dials, the hands became more elaborate. Blued steel gave way to gilt metal in the latter half of the 18th century on country longcase clocks. Hands get damaged and are often repaired, but it only affects value greatly if the clock is an absolutely top quality one and the replacements are very obvious.

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