One hundred years ago clock companies knew enough about a marketing strategy that if certain attention-grabbing words were used many more clocks could be sold. The word Regulator is one of them. Makers splashed the word regulator on as many clocks as they could. If it says Regulator on your clock it is likely not a regulator. Is this a hard and fast rule? Well, read on.
By definition, a regulator was and is a type of clock that was used as the time standard to which all other clocks were set.
Regulators were typically installed in places of business, railroad stations, public buildings and used to schedule work and set other clocks. Early regulator clocks were also church clocks and tower clocks, clocks that town-folk would have used to set their clocks and watches by as they went about their daily routines.
Pendulum clocks remained the world standard for accurate timekeeping for 270 years, until the invention of the quartz clock.
The Gilbert calendar clock shown below is advertised as a regulator but it is not a regulator. It has a spring-driven time-only movement and might be accurate to within a minute or two per week at best, very typical for a spring-powered clock. It is an attractive clock with a useful calendar function but not particularly accurate and not one I would set my watch by.
Are there exceptions to the rule? In life, there are always exceptions!
Welch Spring and Company made a clock from 1874 to the mid-1880s certified for use as a train station clock. It is a double-weight time-only clock with a case very reminiscent of the very popular and well-regarded Seth Thomas Regulator #2 (pictured above). It is called the Regulator #3 and the word “Regulator” is stenciled on the lower access door. Given the constant weight-driven power of this clock combined with its deadbeat escapement, it was likely quite accurate.
Now, in this particular case, it is a museum clock that was meticulously restored (American Watch and Clock Museum, Bristol Connecticut, USA). When it was received, the lower tablet was missing. Was the tablet added by the museum staff? Did the Welch Regulator #3 originally come with Regulator printed on the access door? Well, yes, some did and some didn’t; a tick box on the order sheet.
However, as a general rule, it is primarily a marketing ploy designed to convey the impression that the clock you are buying is an accurate clock when, in fact, it is not.
Did the “trick” work? Of course, since thousands of these so-called regulator clocks were sold.