In Praise of the Humble Cuckoo Clock

By Bulent Yusuf on at

With so much attention lavished on luxury watches at Baselworld in Switzerland, another important timekeeping device is woefullly neglected -- the cuckoo clock. Contrary to popular belief, it's not actually a Swiss invention (that honour belongs to the Black Forest in Germany), but scattered around the exhibition halls are some spectacular examples of the craft.

The misconception that cuckoo clocks originated in Switzerland came from the classic noir film The Third Man (1949), where Orson Welles delivered his famous monologue: "You know what the fellow said -- in Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace -- and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

The facts are wrong, but the point is the same -- what's the point of a cuckoo clock? Well, what's the point of anything? From a less world-weary perspective, Cuckoo clocks are remarkable inventions. Whilst the central mechanism has remained virtually unchanged since the middle of the 18th century, the variety of designs continue to amaze.