I've always felt that the craft of mechanical clockmaking, with its myriad of devices, held great potential for exploration as an art form and so over the past many years I’ve explored the interpretation of mechanical clocks as art works.
The story goes that my own endeavors as a clockmaker began at age 6, when I visited the vacant bench of my father who had just finished assembling a marine chronometer. My adjustments to the critical components were not appreciated. From there I went on to become his apprentice at age 14, sharing a career of restoration work spanning 3 decades.
Early on in my career I entertained thoughts of clocks as mechanical sculpture. In my teens my father brought home a 16mm documentary featuring the English sculptural clockmaker Martin Burgess, which set in motion a quest that continues to this day. The 1971 documentary follows Burgess through the design and installation of a massive sculptural clock at Shroeders Bank in London.
The film confirmed my feelings that there was more that could be done, as my contemporaries in the craft of watchmaking have so vigorously pursued. Technology has allowed significant experimentation and offerings of creative reinterpretations of historic devices that compel intrigue and fascination. More often than not that intrigue has been hidden within a decorative case, however the turning inside out of horological machines allows everyone to appreciate the complexity and skill that goes into a functioning device, and to foster appreciation of the vast history of our craft and the curious actions previously hidden within the minds and endeavors of the horologist.
Mechanical clocks certainly have a place in our collective history. Not only have they enabled societal co-ordination and scientific inquiry, they have taken a distinct place within our lives, memory and homes. They've been with us for almost 700 years and have become indelibly woven into the fabric of modernity. The history of how they came to be, and be so interwoven into us is a vast narrative of labour, experimentation and dedication by many individual craftsmen. It's a story that has charted the seas and regulated our daily existence, for better or worse.
The current work is the culmination of many years of experimentation, research and thought, and has been influenced by ventures into other mediums, particularly forged iron work. Until recently the prospect of Horology as art was, given its complex considerations and development requirements, a medium tempered by economies. Recent developments in machine technology, particularly CADD and CNC technology, has made experimentation in my craft a more viable prospect. Over the last few years access to these technologies has allowed me to explore the creative boundaries and realize a continual development of mechanical and electro-mechanical devices employable in my work.
I have a particular interest in clock escapements ( the device that keeps a pendulum in motion ) and the reworking of their geometries into sculptural formats. Most recently I've reinterpreted the geometrically complex device known as a Grasshopper escapement.
As I progress down this exploratory path I hope to further develop these devices in the form of new works and explore the integration of complementary materials, mediums, forms and finishes, and expand my design scope to include striking systems and automata, implementing them in ways that illustrate time, mechanics, movement, sound and perhaps even a new, saner approach to the value of time and time telling devices in our lives.
Regards the work itself I have opted to use non traditional materials in my mechanisms given the significant advances in materials science. Curiously these advances have not been employed by contemporary clockmakers, who ardently stick to brass and steel, and the consequential need for lubricants that break down. I use Acetal (a high performance engineering polymer), roller pinions that connect gears to each other and sealed stainless roller bearings for the pivot points (axis). This allows significant reductions in the weight required to run the clocks and provides long service life, without the need for constant attention. I also use aluminum for the wheels and working elements, which provides a significantly reduced moment of inertia to further reduce the driving weight requirements.
While I’m capable of providing wholly mechanical clocks that require winding, and am happy to provide them on request, I have developed an automatic winding system that relieves us of that chore, if it is a chore. This allows significant flexibility in the design of a clock in that it can be rewound at very frequent intervals, and thereby reducing the number of wheels required.
I also occasionally use quartz based mechanisms to provide time keeping. This might seem a bit at odds with my philosophy, however given the nature of my sculptural work it means I am pushing the required geometry, especially with their dramatic pendulum arcs, for accurate timekeeping, and so I cannot expect them to keep accurate time. As with winding, if a wholly mechanical clock is desired I can certainly provide.
In the design process I make every attempt to design all systems to be as simple, efficient and easily adjusted as is possible.
I’m always happy to discuss ideas and design possibilities.