Mystery ClocksMystery clocks are evidence that even dedicated craftsmen and horologists have a sense of humour! These wonderful devices were essentially a puzzle and the remain as facinating today as ever. They often appeal to the same people who (like me) are fascinated by early mechanical automata.
What is a Mystery Clock?A mystery clock is in effect an "impossible" clock. It is one that at first sight cannot work - usually because there is no evident connection between the mechanism and the hands. Yet work it does. It is in effect a horological conjuring trick, which is appropriate since some of the of the most famous mystery clocks are said to have been inspired by famous French magician Robert-Houdin.
The first known mystery clocks date from around the middle of the 19th century. Usually the hands appeared to be "suspended" and lacking contact with any form of mechanism. Very often the hands were enclosed in some clear substance such as crystal.
Some of the most famous mystery clocks are those that were made by Cartier. The first of these was the 1912 Model A.
How Do Mystery Clocks Work?There have been many ingenious solutions to the problem of making an imposible clock. Probably the most common is to have the entire transparent disc of the clock face rotate slowly. Usually the face is not actually circular but has "cogs" around the outside which are hidden in the rim and turned by the clock mechanism.
Early mystery clocks often had only a single - hour - hand, embedded in the face. Later clocks had multiple hands. Sometimes these were mounted on separate plates that turned independently, in other examples one hand would be used to turn the second.
The earliest and most fascinating of the mystery clocks were, of course, mechanical. The introduction of electrical clocks provided new means of fooling people with electrical mystery clocks.
Today of course technology is so sophisticated that we even have voice activated projection clocks! Whilst such modern gadgets are fun, I for one miss the mystery of the mystery clock.