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Behind the Bench: Restoring a French Carriage Clock Case

June 14, 2023
Home / The Vault / Behind the Bench: Restoring a French Carriage Clock Case

The invention of the carriage clock in the early 19th century by Abraham-Louis Breguet answered the call for a reliable clock that was also portable. The name carriage clock is a direct reference for the intended purpose, which was to be used in carriages as a time-keeping device. These clocks are ornate but incredibly practical with the handle on top making the device easy to carry and hang inside a carriage. Some models even have hourly, half-hourly or quarterly repeaters, allowing the clock to strike at these given intervals. This would help keep track of time during poor lighting conditions, when viewing the dial may not be possible. Carriage clocks are incredible pieces of history that are not only beautiful to look at but take us back to a moment in history which predates the invention of the wristwatch. Here at Kalmar Antiques, we restore these important historical items so that they are not lost to time and remain to be enjoyed by future generations. As a part of our Behind The Bench series, one of our clockmakers has put together a guide detailing just what goes into restoring the case of a French carriage clock.


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As you may have already come to realize, I restore many French carriage clocks. They are probably the
longest continuous, “in-production” style, clock of any mechanical clock, having survived the quartz
revolution (there are quartz models) due mainly to their size, style and practicality.
But, having been in production for so long, some (many) have been abused, over polished (original
gilt gone!), dropped, broken, neglected, stored in damaging places (garden sheds),etc.
It is these sad little cases that often come up for sale and are only purchased by those prepared to
spend many hours of hard, tedious work on the repair and restoration. The best part of this is though,
that the sad little clock may be a stunner, under all that dirt and grime.

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Today’s restoration is all about such a lovely case, enclosing a basic time only movement, but with
decorative attributes that will really make the restored clock a winner.
The movement of the clock I have fully overhauled and repaired, including a new mainspring.

Removing Case Corrosion

First removing the corrosion and old metal polish gunk, the brass back plate and the filagree panel
were polished.

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The case parts were all sanded to remove the corrosion and residues. The feet, base plates, and corner column plinths were polished and lacquered. The filagree panels, however came in for special treatment.

Clean & Lacquer

Each panel was sanded, cleaned and polished. The panels were then given two coats of an ink-based lacquer, spread evenly over the panels to create the vibrant colour.

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Once all the panels on 4 sides were done a partial assembly revealed the excellent result of this

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To compare progress so far, the unrestored, top part of the case was placed over the movement.
As seen, the change is dramatic. With columns and the upper filagree panelled top yet to be done I am
sure, you can envisage the final result.

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The handle, finials and top plate were to be cleaned, polished and lacquered. That would complete the case restoration. The fluted handle was in a worse condition than the fluted columns and much hand work was required to get it back to bare metal.

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Wire Brushing of Fluted Areas

With flutes scraped, the entire handle was wire brushed down to the bare metal. These little 25mm diameter steel wire brushes are a real god-sent for this job (equally good for cleaning the teeth on clock wheels).

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After the wire brushing the result of long-term contact with the corrosive accumulation of metal polish residue was made visible. Pitting of the brass on every surface!

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The pitting was more than a buffing would remove so, it was draw-filed away with a very fine-cut pivot file, then the surface sanded, followed by buffing, polishing and lacquering. All handle parts were polished and lacquered.

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The top plate, and filigree work were next for cleaning. These were treated as before, the top plate sanded back, followed by buffing, polishing and lacquering.

The filigree panels and backing plates sanded, then polished and coloured with same lacquering process. The corner pieces were wire brushed, sanded, polished and lacquered.


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The restoration of our French carriage clocks requires countless hours and expertise to complete. This restoration of the case is just the external restoration and the internal servicing of the movement and replacement of mainspring are also carried out on each piece. These items add a wonderful layer of history and charm to any home. You can shop our range of carriage clocks in-store and online.

Shop Carriage Clocks

Contact us

Shop 23, Level 2, Queen Victoria Building, George Street, Sydney 
NSW, Australia.

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