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The key to the mystery


Article from the BEYOND magazine, Edition 30



An altogether romantic clock was fully restored in the workshop – along with the key to its heart.

By Matthias Mächler

Two trees, a hunter, the dial in the shape of a target: the fire-gilded bronze table clock with a penholder, inkwell and sandbox (used to dry the ink before there was blotting paper) is about 200 years old and comes from Vienna. The owner of the Tintenfass [‘Inkwell’] Museum in Adligenswil, Lucerne, Erhard Durrer, bought them at an auction and entrusted them to the Beyer Watch Workshop for restoration.

“The movement in the thick base had been replaced at some point; that’s known as a mariage,” Damian Ahcin, co-director of the Beyer Watch Workshop, explains: “Other components have also been modified over the years, which is typical for such pieces.” However, the work had not been done accurately: imprecise drill holes meant that the 15-centimetre-long key could only be inserted at an angle and so rubbed on the tree, damaging the old mother-of-pearl. Ahcin constructed a new, thinner key with which the watch can be wound at a better angle.

For a long time, however, he was stumped: the movement with a spindle escapement only ran perfectly in a dismantled state, when it was not connected to the dial. So the problem was in the transmission. “I had to rebalance it, rework a square shaft here, remove some material there and correct the gearing, one tiny step at a time,” Ahcin explains. “It’s a very time-consuming process, at the end of which many tiny rebuilt parts have to interact flawlessly.”

The fire-gilded cast figures were in good condition; the scenery only had to be cleaned. Considerably refreshed and brighter, the old mother-of-pearl has regained its lustre, that distinctive shimmering sheen. Damian Ahcin winds the clock with the key, listens intently to the ticking and laughs: “It’s almost twelve o’clock – time to go hunting for lunch.”



Damian Ahcin, Co-Head of Beyer Watch Workshop


How long does the restoration of this kind of antique clock take?
Restorations are generally time-consuming, especially if modifications have already been made to the clock. You have to fiddle around, make adjustments, keep on trying things out. It took me 15 hours just to get the gears running smoothly.

What makes this kind of work so time-consuming?
You can’t just take the movement out, correct it and put it back in again: to gauge whether it is working precisely, it has to be wound up after every adjustment and allowed to run down fully. So you need a lot of time for checking. And because you only make tiny adjustments of a millimetre or less each time and don’t know what effect they will have on the movement, it takes ages.

What impressed you most about this clock?
Without question the wonderful lustre once we had cleaned the old mother-of-pearl. But also the elegant holder for the fountain pen – and for it alone. Because all other writing utensils are put on the tray, the pen enjoys a special status. The mechanics of the clock is fairly unspectacular, but the overall impression is thoroughly harmonious.



Picture 1: The hunter’s target is the time: the tree clock above the inkwell. 

Picture 2: The new, thin key saves the superb mother-of-pearl from damage. 

Picture 3: Surprisingly simple: clock movement in the base.

Picture 4: After its painstaking restoration, the table clock with the hunter and target was returned to the Tintenfass Museum, where it can be admired today. 

Picture 5: Co-Head of Beyer Watch Workshop