Introduction

Measuring time has been a concern since the beginning of civilization. By observing the movement of the sun, the cycle of the seasons, and the phases of the moon, our forebears created the first calendars and calculated smaller divisions of time. The ancient Egyptians were the first to divide the solar year into 360 days and the night into approximately twelve parts. The number twelve was later employed for dividing each period of daylight. Known as unequal or temporal hours, because their length varied with the seasons, these divisions were adopted by the Greeks, then the Romans, and later throughout Europe. Sundials were used to determine the hours on sunlit days, supplemented by water clocks on cloudy days and during the night.

With urbanization in Europe came the need for a more reliable instrument of time that was able to keep hours of equal length. It is not known when, where, or by whom the first mechanical clock was invented, but by the mid-fifteenth century several European towns incorporated a monumental timekeeper, powered by falling weights, into the architecture of churches or public halls. This new device was made possible by an invention known as an escapement. Falling weights (and later springs) provided the energy to power the mechanism, while this escapement regulated the rate at which that energy was delivered to the oscillator (at first a simple balance and later a pendulum). The introduction of the escapement gradually caused the shift away from time-finding devices (sundials) and time-measuring devices (water clocks) to timekeepers (clocks and, later, watches) as advances in science and technology were made. 

This exhibition explores the discoveries and innovations made in the field of horology from the early sixteenth to the nineteenth century. It features eleven clocks and fourteen watches from the bequest of Winthrop Kellogg Edey made to The Frick Collection in 1999, along with five clocks lent by the collector Horace Wood Brock.

ClockPediment Clock by Lenoble à Paris  »