Why a Vienna Regulator clock is not a regulator

This article will explore the notion that a Vienna Regulator clock is not a true regulator. I realize that any discussion of regulator clocks produces a wide variety of conflicting opinions, nevertheless, here is my take subject of the Vienna Regulator and why it is not a true regulator.

The word “regulator” is  loosely defined but according to this definition it is a master clock, usually of great accuracy, against which other clocks are checked. Respected collectors like Derek Roberts tend to stay away from defining a regulator clock and instead refer to them as precision pendulum clocks. In this article I will present three examples for the reader to consider.

Every clock that has the word regulator on it is not a regulator

Every clock that has the word regulator on it is not a regulator. Think about it. Why would a clock manufacturer put the word “regulator ” on a clock? It is simply a marketing ploy. The term “regulator” is one that connotes accuracy but in the frantic world of clock marketing it is a word that sells plenty of clocks.

If it was expressly designed as a precision pendulum clock it can be called a regulator

Definition of a regulator

It is not difficult to define a “regulator” by its mechanical characteristics. Regulator clocks were invented in the late 18th century as a quest for greater timekeeping accuracy. If the clock was designed as a precision pendulum clock it can be called a regulator. The principle features of a regulator clock are:

  • Quality weight driven device,
  • With maintaining power,
  • A heavy pendulum (not necessarily mercury),
  • Generally eight-day movement, though some are more than 8 days,
  • Has some form of temperature control compensation,
  • Has a seconds dial,
  • Is 60 beats per minute,
  • Has one gear train
  • Features a deadbeat or pinwheel escapement and
  • Is expressly engineered to keep accurate time.

Complicated features like calendars and strike trains are omitted in the quest for accuracy. Regulators were (are) capable of extreme accuracy for a mechanical clock.

Does the addition of a strike train take a clock out of the regulator category? In theory, yes. The strike train takes some of the accuracy out of the clock, as the time train produces more friction when lifting the strike levers. If we accept the definition of a regulator as an extremely accurate clock to be used as a time standard, you will not find a strike train on these clocks.

Here are three examples

Example number 1. Arthur Pequegnat Regulator #1, A Handsome Clock, fitted with a Movement which is un-excelled”, Beautiful Finish on both Movement and Case, (Arthur Pequegnat advertisement)

The Arthur Pequegnat Regulator #1 clock is often compared to the Seth Thomas Regulator #2 as a precision regulator. Many Regulator #1 clocks found their way into offices and rail stations all across Canada. The Regulator #1 is the best timekeeper made by The Pequegnat Clock Company of Kitchener Ontario (Canada). The company states this in it’s advertising: “A Handsome Clock, fitted with a Movement which is un-excelled“, Beautiful Finish on both Movement and Case” and “The Finest Office Clock Made”!  They are weight driven, time-only, at 80 beats per minute, had a deadbeat escapement, with heavy pendulum, eight day movement with a brass weight hung on an iron bracket, maintaining power, a seconds dial and were designed to keep accurate time. It was a reasonably accurate clock used as a time standard.

However, some would argue that at 80 beats per minute it would not be considered a true regulator.

Arthur Pequegnat Regulator #1 wall clock
Is this Arthur Pequegnat Regulator #1 a regulator?

Example number 2. Mauthe “Horse Crown” time and strike spring driven wall clock.

The clock you see in the photo below is typically advertised on online for-sale sites as a “Vienna Regulator”. It is an attractively designed 1890s spring driven, time and strike clock made by Frederick Mauthe. Those individuals who sell these clocks have no hesitation in calling them Regulators. Let’s apply the definition above.

  • Is this a precision regulator?
  • A spring driven movement disqualifies it immediately.
  • Is it not capable of extreme accuracy.
  • It is 116 beats per minute
  • Was it conceived and designed as a precision clock? No!
RS Finial added (3)
Is this Mauthe horse crown wall clock a Vienna Regulator?

Example number 3. Miniature one-weight Vienna Regulator

This is an Austro-Hungarian era time-only weight driven clock made in the early 1870s. Many would accept this as a Vienna Regulator and would have no hesitation advertising it as such. It has a deadbeat escapement, it has one weight, is a time-only movement, has a heavy pendulum, with an eight day running time and has maintaining power.

one-weight Vienna wall clock
Is this one-weight miniature Vienna wall clock a regulator?

Let’s apply the definition above.

  • Is this a regulator? No!
  • There is no seconds dial, and, is
  • 80 beats per minute
  • Is it capable of extreme accuracy. No!
  • Was it specifically designed as a precision clock? No!

Granted, it is capable of some accuracy but it is not a reference timepiece. However, there is little doubt that some post office and rail clocks in the Vienna style such as this Wilhelm Bauer post office wall clock (below) were considered “regulators” in their day when common folk set their watches and clocks by them.

Wilhelm Bauer post office clock
Is this Wilhelm Bauer post office clock a regulator?

The Vienna Regulator clock and its characteristics

The Vienna Regulator is a particular style of clock made in Germania or the Austrian empire. They are characterized by finely crafted (ornate at times) cases with accurate movements. While they were capable of keeping good time, they were not designed as a precision instrument and were not capable of extreme accuracy. They have some but not all the characteristics of a regulator but they are not a true regulator. While the Vienna Regulator may not be true regulator it reflected not only the style and craftsmanship of the period they were made but the quest for accuracy. No one can argue that the best workmanship and attention to detail were put into the many clocks that were produced during what some might call the pinnacle of clock design and engineering.

As much as they are called regulators the three examples presented above are not true regulators. Regulators were (are) capable of extreme accuracy for a mechanical clock and nothing I have in my collection remotely qualifies as a regulator.

However, in the world of clock collecting and repair it is perfectly acceptable to continue referring to them as regulators since they are generally accepted as such. The word regulator has become part of the lexicon of collectors even if they do not strictly fall within the definition of a true regulator clock.


6 thoughts on “Why a Vienna Regulator clock is not a regulator

  1. “A spring driven movement disqualifies it immediately’

    That’s easy to understand, a spring becomes the more and more weak as it unwinds.

    Now I have a question: in a weight driven movement, the further the weight goes down, the more the chain adds it own weight to the total weight that energize the movment, while when the main weight is on top, all the chain is on the opposite side, substracting it’s weight to the total weight that energize the movmen. so between the main weight at the top position and the main weight at the bottom position, there is a total weight difference of two times the chain weight. The chain is not heavy but for a high precicion clock this added or substracted weight cannot be ignored. Is there any compensation device for that?

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    1. Hi Mark. An interesting question. You may have a point but when you compare the weight on either side, the time side for example, you are actually including a small percentage of difference which, at the end of the day may be a a matter of seconds rather than minutes. In many cases for quality clocks, such as jeweler’s regulators, the chain weight is factored in with the actual weight.

      Ron

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      1. Thank you, Ronjoiner2015.

        Actually, there is a solution to that: if the chain is made like a loop, attached on both side of the weight, then the total weight will always be the same on both side…
        Now it’s true that it’s a matter of seconds rather by minutes by day, but I have just read an article about a mechanical pndulum clock made in 2014 following a 240 years old plan, that after 100 days of running, was a mere 5/8ths of a second behind. The clock is corrected for barometric pressure variations and run without oil:

        https://wornandwound.com/the-240-year-old-pendulum-clock-thats-more-accurate-than-your-watch/

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        1. Interesting and sounds like it would be the solution. Interesting article. Harrison thoughts on lubrication were not accepted universally.

          100 years ago clockmakers were content to make clocks that were within minutes per week and in some cases ignored the laws of physics. Back then folks did not have the same concept of time as we do today. Our obsession with accuracy is fairly recent.
          Ron

          Like

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