When I first started clock collecting and repair many people said to me, stay as far away as you can from those darned Chinese wall clocks. They are garbage! They have thin plates, are cheaply made with many stamped parts and they explode without warning. Not true! Oh, yes, they have thin plates and many stamped parts but they are actually quite reliable and don’t normally explode.

When I first heard the name Daniel Dakota many years ago I thought it must be some long established American company with a proud First Nations heritage. Whoa, was I wrong! It is a Chinese company and Daniel Dakota is a actually a registered trademark. This wonderful sounding American name no doubt eased this Chinese company’s penetration into the American market with tens of thousands of inexpensively made clocks that anyone could afford. Thousands of them are still working to this day despite the fact that many have never been serviced, a testament to just how tough they are.

The best thing about a Daniel Dakota clock is that you can pick one up for almost nothing. A barely running 1930s German box clock might set you back two or three hundred dollars but a perfectly preserved 1960s Chinese wall clock with “real wood” can be had for less than $50. I have two. I paid less than $40 for one and had the second one was given to me.

Of course, some folks think they are worth as much as a quality German antique clock. They often advertise them as antiques. Take these two ads on a online for-sale site?

“Original Daniel Dakota 1960-70 antique 31-day winding clock perfect condition. Elegant design with brass hands and pendulum. Comes with original key. Selling to people with taste $300”.

Well, people with taste and any knowledge of vintage/antique clocks would certainly pass on this one. This next ad is for a clock that is exactly like the one in the following photo.

“Beautifully Crafted Wood Pendulum Clock. Chimes on Hour & Once on the Half-Hour. Includes Winding Key.31 Day.Keeps perfect time, nice sounding chimes. Asking $250.00”

Converted from a mechanical clock
Daniel Dakota time and strike, sticker on bottom left says, “real wood”

I could go on and on. I see these ads almost every day. Yes, they are pretty and very plentiful but they are certainly not quality clocks. Do they last? If you take the time to service a 1960s or 1970s vintage mechanical one, thoroughly clean it and oil it, the clock will give you years of faithful service. It might not be the prettiest or the most accurate clock in your home but it is both reliable and dependable. The workmanship is, well, Chinese, which means that it is reasonably well put together (with real wood!) but there is zero evidence that a skilled craftsman spent hours toiling over your clock.

Daniel Dakota 31 day time and strike, my office clock

One feature I really like is winding the clock. Which way do I turn the key? Well, if you have a Daniel Dakota clock you can find little arrows which indicate the direction to turn the key above the winding arbours. What could go wrong!

Unless you know how to service your Daniel Dakota clock you might be deeply disappointed if you bring it in to a clock repair person (horologist). Many will refuse to touch it. I think it’s a snob thing. They will take one look at your prized clock, look at you sympathetically and say,

“it will cost far more than it’s worth to repair” 

“I can’t get the parts”, or

“Would you like me to put a quartz movement in it?”

I have taken apart my two Daniel Dakota clocks many times. They have provided me with an excellent learning experience and they are a great entry point into the world of mechanical clocks because, well, if you make a mistake you can always salvage the parts for another or toss it out without feeling you’ve lost much on your investment. However, I doubt that I will acquire more Daniel Dakota clocks despite the fact that I like them. I will keep the two I have knowing that if I had to sell them I would get absolutely nothing for them and that’s perfectly fine with me.

I chuckle when I see those ads though.