I’m an artisan clockmaker from a family with long standing ties to the craft going back 3 generations. My own involvement began at an early age and has continued throughout my working life. I have 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 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.
My most recent work has been the reinterpretation of a geometrically complex device known as a Grasshopper escapement - a device that keeps a pendulum in motion. Over many years and experiments I’ve reworked this device into a sculptural representation and employed it in several works and can be seen in ‘Monolith’, ‘Suspension’ and ‘CleitÍ
My latest development has been an interpretation of a double 3-legged gravity escapement. Typically these types of escapements and their interesting animations are hidden away in large tower clocks. Its obscurity and curious actions made it a prime candidate for interpretation and can be seen in InsÍonn. 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 within our lives.
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 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 when on to become his apprentice at age 14 and on completion shared a career of restoration work spanning 36 years. Early on in my career I entertained thoughts of clocks as mechanical sculpture. At 16 my father and master brought home a 16mm spool, which set in motion an quest that continues to this day. The 1971 documentary ‘Clock-maker’ followed English clockmaker Martin Burgess through the design and installation of a massive sculptural clock at Shroeders Bank in London. Mr. Burgess was initially shunned by his fellow craftsmen who had little appreciation nor understanding of the potential of clockwork as an art form as well as a craft. 40 years hence he’s been proven right, thankfully.
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, as watches always have, and clocks will yet. More often than not that intrigue has been hidden within a case, however the turning inside out of these 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 clockmaker.
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. Additionally, I know from experience, and no disrespect intended, that the less an owner has to to do with a clock the happier everyone is. Clocks work best when left alone.
I also 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 provide, with the caveat that it will require constant attention from the owner, as wholly mechanical clocks do.
In the design process I make every attempt to design all systems to be as simple, efficient and easily adjusted as is possible so that they can be managed by those unfamiliar with clocks.
I’m always happy to discuss ideas and design possibilities.