My Approach to Clock Restoration

Every clock enthusiast has their own way of doing things and each has a different approach to clock restoration. Am I different? Not really, but I have put some thoughts to paper that you might find interesting.

Like everyone I started out knowing virtually nothing about clock restoration but learned as I went. As I gained confidence and improved my skillset I took on greater challenges.

Not long ago I bought a nice 30-hour non-running Chauncey Jerome ogee. I would not consider this clock a huge challenge but it will help explain my approach to clock restoration.

The case is from the 1840s and based on my research, the movement is from the same period. There are a few things wrong with it and that is expected from a 176-year-old clock.

Four Options

The clock case and movement are very dirty and the clock certainly has some issues but I am happy to report that a lot is original. It is on my bench. Now, what do I do with it?

I have four options:

  1. Do nothing. Leave everything as-is, preserve the patina and display the clock without servicing the movement or cleaning the case.
  2. Service the movement so that it is in running order but do nothing to the case, again preserve the patina.
  3. Clean and refresh the case but leave the movement as-is.
  4. Service the movement and clean the case, making small repairs if necessary.

Option 1. There are very few clocks where I would do absolutely nothing. If the movement is beyond my capability or requires a complex repair and the case requires extensive repairs or any intervention on my part will potentially make it worse, I will leave it alone.

Option 2. Not a good option for me. There is no point in servicing a movement if is going back into a dirty case and risk the movement becoming contaminated with dirt and debris.

Option 3 If the movement is beyond my capability or requires a complex repair I will leave it alone and proceed with cleaning the case.

Option 4. This is my preference. My end goal is minimal invasive intervention which means that I will service a movement and address wear issues where necessary. I will refresh the case if it is grimy and requires a good cleaning. I am not a strong believer in patina which one reader opined is just another word for dirt. As much as possible, I use original materials and techniques when working on the case. This includes the use of hot hide glue, traditional shellac (flakes mixed with shellac lacquer), and fasteners like old slot head screws, and square nails.

In rare cases where I am met with a significant challenge, I will perform a complete restoration with the goal of bringing the clock back to its original condition. I call this extreme restoration.

Here are two examples. Both of these clocks are running daily.

Junghans wall clock before
Junghans wall clock – after
Mauthe wall clock – before
Mauthe wall clock – after

I believe that some amount of intervention is not only necessary but desired by collectors and I also believe that there are situations where a wholesale ground-up restoration is the only option.

In the case of this miniature Vienna Regulator cleaning and oiling the movement, and polishing the brass was the only intervention.

one-weight Vienna wall clock
Miniature one-weight Vienna wall clock

My position regarding changes to a clock

My end goal is a functional clock that presents well. As far as I’m concerned a non-working clock must become a working clock because that is the nature of its existence.

If a clock has important provenance and extensive repairs to the movement and/or case alter it in a negative way and I will leave it alone.

And what does the ogee clock i mentioned in the beginning of this article look like now?

Restored Jerome ogee

I am sure you will agree that it is not a dramatic change at all but it is now a working clock that presents well.

3 thoughts on “My Approach to Clock Restoration

  1. Interesting stuff, as ever. For those of us who are a bit nervous when it comes to case-work (I can’t be the only one), would you be willing to do a post which provides a step by step account of cleaning, repairing and then re-varnishing a typical wooden mantel clock case?

    For me, shellac – what it’s for and how to mix and apply it – is a total mystery! I’d love to learn, and looking at the end results of the clocks you restore, you clearly have the expertise.


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