NOBODY IS a clock with marching Turks or bids that lay eggs to the chimes today. But today even peasants can buy clocks for far less than a prince's ransom.
An even bigger difference between then and now is the way the clock runs. Though there are still clockwork timepieces, many are electric- or battery-powered with quartz movements.
The Smithsonian isn't selling off its collection. But its catalogue might make you think so. The marine chronometer, a precision timekeeper, was once used to determine longitude at sea. The clock movement sits on gimbals to keep it horizontal in spite of bad weather. The German quartz crystal movement is claimed to be accurate to two minutes a year. The brass clock is fitted into a mahogany case. The cost is $850, $765 for members. The Smithsonian also has a Vienna Regulator Clock like the one in the Timekeeping Exhibit Hall. This Satler wall clock, produced in Munich, Germany, is an eight-day, weight-driven, cable-wound clock with a pendulum. It strikes the hour and half-hour. The walnut case is inlaid with boxtree wood. The price is $2,750, $2,475 for members.
You can still buy an astrological Zodiac clock, highly prized by princes of the renaissance. The 15-inch-high clock, called a Flower Gardener's Clock ($49.95) in the Hammacher Schlemmer catelogue, is designed with indices on the face to show the growing seasons for 44 flowers, broken down by geographical locations. It also indicates the day, year, moon phases and average frost days. The walnut-finished, 15 1/2-inch-high Zodiac clock has two faces. The upper one shows the time of day and moon phases. The upper face's inner circle ilustrate the 12 Zodiac signs and their qualities. The lower face is a yearly clock showing the current sign of the Zodiac and the 12 Houses.
The polished aluminum cylinder of the Aurora Clock ($195), also in the catalogue, contains the clock itself. Each quarter of the face constantly changes color, as do the minute and hour hands. From the catalogue: "Colorless polarizing filters separate white light into blends of primary colors." (Hammacher Schlemmer, 145 E. 57th St., in New York City)
Among the more expensive clocks around town: the Marine chronometer by Seiko, at Woodward & Lothrop for $18750; the Howard Miller brass-plated pendulum clock for $525, also at Woodies; and the gold and beveled glass carriage clock by Matthew Norman of London, at Gardinkels for $1,400. The carriage clock is so called because it was carried in coaches and carriages in Europe and Britain of the 17th and 8th centuries.
Charles Scwartz, owner of Charles Schwartz & Sons Jewelers in the Mazza Gallerie, 5300 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., says "one of the most innovative clocks we have is a quartz crystal clock with your choice of a traditional Westminster or Whittington chime. The chimes work electronically, without hammers." The Schwartz chime clock is 10 inches high and costs $250. "And," adds Schwartz, "it has a volume control if you want a softer or louder chime."
According to David Pattersen, clock buyer for Woodward & Lothrop, F Street, NW, clocks traditionally can have one of four types of chimes: the Paddington, the St. Michael's, the Westminster or the Whittington. "They vary in tone, pitch, rythm and how often they strike," says Pattersen.
Woodies has a wide selection of clocks ranging from their School Days design by Howard Miller (a wall-mounted clock -- $295) to a Seiko Movado face clock (a miniature version of the Movado clock from the Museum of Modern Art -- $90). The seven-inch square marine chronometer clock, mentioned above, tells nautical time as well as regular time. Its gilt face is encased in mahogany and it is water- and shock-resistant. Its reserve battery works for 40 hours. "The chronometers are very popular at our Annapolis store," notes Donna Prescott, the assistant clock buyer.
The School Days clock has the round face of the more traditional Windham clock and encases the face in modern, blond natural oiled oak. The key-wound clock has a Westminster chime (rings every half-hour) and stays wound for eight days. It has West German movements.
The square framed contemporary Movado clock by Seiko has no numerical indices, comes in a tortoise enameled case and is solid state. It boasts both a Westminster and St. Michaels chime.
Also at Woodies, a clock that gives the time in 26 time zones, called "The World Time Clock" made by Howard Miller ($44.95), as well as Seiko ($70). w
Garfinkel's F Street NW store has a more expensive version of the World Time Clock (by Linden) for $235. They also carry a number of carriage clock reprodutions made by Matthew Norman, ranging in price from $270 to $1,400. One tiny 3 1/2-inch-high reproduction with a beveled glass face ($350) comes with a leather traveling case ($120). The case is "windowed" so you can read the clock while you're carrying it. Also on sale at Garfinkel's -- small enameled, framed clocks with a matching picture frame, by Swiza, a division of Matthew Norman ($125). And if you're watching the weather, Garfinkel's sells an all-brass wind-up wall clock ($200) with a matching barometer ($100), both by Linden.
Bloomingdales, Tysons Corner, sells a "Dome Flex Clock" by Braun of Cambridge, Mass. "The interesting detail of this clock," points out clock buyer Jack Marcus, "is that once you've hung it on the wall, its face can be twisted as much as 15 degrees so that you can view the time from almost any angle of the room." The circular face of the plastic and glass clock sits on a spring. The clock costs $45 and comes in black and white.
Bloomingdales also sells three styles of clocks made by Mr. and Mrs. Riving Witrick of New York City. These contemproary lucite clocks are all handmade. The Witrick clock with the silver pendulum is $45.
"In the old days," says Marcus, "to wind a clock for eight days you had to pull down on the long chain that dangled beneath it. We're spoiled today with batteries that keep the clocks running smoothly for 12 to 15 months." Marcus notes that the trend in clocks is toward wood -- blond or dark; and toward bold colors, particularly black.
Also at Bloomingdales, Harrison Mallow makes a double key wind-up clock -- one ket for the time and one for the chime, which rings every half-hour. The 2-foot-tall, dark pine wood clock with the octagonal wood casing around the face is $180.
Bailey, Banks and Biddle Jewelers in Tysons Corner also carries the Matthew Norman reproductions, ranging in price from $300 to $395. The solid brass clocks are 2 1/2 to 4 3/4 inches high and have a beveled glass face. The watch movements are made of solid brass -- some are even jeweled -- and can be seen sometimes through the glass at the top. "An especially attractive reproduction," says clock buyer Jerry Connelly, "is the one withthe leather traveling case ($132 for the case alone)."
The tall brass clock that stands outside the Mazza Gallerie is owned by the Schwartz family. "We own the oldest clock (70 years old) in this city," Charles Schwartz says proudly. "It is an honest to goodness street clock, bought by my father. It has moved with us from 824 7th St. to 708 7th St., to 1313 F St., and finally to our present location on Jennifer Street. It's the only clock we have that's not for sale. But," Schwartz teases, "if the price is right, you never know."