Elementary clocks

Elementary clocks

The digital tour in the Saarland Clock Museum was made possible by the support of:


Elementary clocks

Elementary clocks are called the sun, water, fire and hourglasses. The oldest of these types are the sundials or shadow clocks. They have been known for around 5,000 years. Egyptians and Sumerians are arguably the inventors. The earliest sundials measured time by the direction and length of the shadow. The shadow giver (gnomon) was a staff, a column or an obelisk. The Greeks later developed the vertical clock from these horizontal clocks, which were mostly attached to towers or houses. Portable sundials come from around 600 BC.

Image: Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada

Obelisk von Luxor, 13. Jh. v. Chr.
Place de la Concorde, Paris

Water clock

Water clock

The original of the water clock was found in a rubbish pit in eastern Thebes in 1904. It is now in the museum in Cairo. The cone shape compensates for the different pressure. If the time is to be measured over a longer period of time, several clocks were arranged in terraces on top of each other. The Egyptians had both outlet water clocks, in which the falling water level was measured, and inlet water clocks, in which the rising water level was measured. This alabaster outlet water clock has the shape of a truncated cone and dates from the time of Amenhotep III (1411-1375 BC).

Fire watch

Chinese fire watch

The clock is a replica of an original from the 18th century from China. Small weights (balls) are hung on incense sticks that are straight or spiral. These fall down when the incense stick has burned down to the point in question. The weights fall into a basin made of sheet copper, creating a sound. The incense stick is attached to the back of a dragon figure carved from black wood. The figure and the pedestal are made of black wood. In ancient China there were even monumental fire clocks. On the battlements of the round towers of the city wall was a crib-like channel. There, dried camel manure was burned up. The tower guard was able to read the time at the stand of the camel dung embers from the hour markers in the rounding of the channel and then announce it to the public by hanging out a plaque.

Sand glass

The hourglass

One of the oldest representations of an hourglass can be found in the painting on the fresco "Allegory of the Good Government" created by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in 1338 in the Palazzo Publico (Siena). The hourglass was therefore only developed in the same era as the wheel clock.
The hourglass was used by scholars in lectures, students in the study, priests in sermons, doctors in pulse measurements, the lifeguards in dosing baths and radiation treatments, and up to 1951 it was the time of the bell ringing, which was used by the members of the House of Commons to vote called, determined with a two-minute hourglass.
This copy was probably placed on the pastor's pulpit by a sovereign in order to limit the duration of the sermon.


The Atmos

There is still no air for the four alchemical elements - however, this clock is a wheel clock and the time is not measured through the air, but the drive energy is generated by temperature and air pressure fluctuations.

A large pressurized can (at the back) is filled with chloroethane. A spring mechanism opens its expansion (switching). A temperature change of 1 degree is sufficient for 48 hours of operation. The torsion pendulum oscillates for 1 minute. The manufacturer is Jaeger-LeCoultre (Le Sentier, Switzerland). The watch was invented by the Swiss engineer Jean-Léon Reutter around 1928.

You can find this watch in the pocket watch room.

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