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#AskAConservator: What to be aware of when repairing clocks?


"Clocks" by hentismith is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

CAPC is participating in #AskAConservator Day! Don asks: What issues should I be aware of when hiring a clock repairer to repair antique clocks?

Great question! We invited Richard Fuller, Conservator, Waterloo Region Museum (Retired), to answer.

Richard says:

Whether a hired clock repair person or volunteer, I would look for, first, experience, particularly with the type of clocks in question (eg, large mechanical clocks, vs watches - different scale requiring different tools). If work is for a museum collection, an understanding of ethical conservation concerns regarding original materials and any replacement work - in other words, only replace parts when necessary for operation after informing conservation/curatorial staff, replacements are the same as original parts and keep replaced parts - and a willingness to thoroughly document all work, preferably with photos. Documentation can be made easier if repair person is provided with pertinent condition and treatment forms with fields normally required for museological use. If work is for a non-museum timepiece, I would still insist on a detailed description of what work was done, parts replaced and any cleaning and lubrication performed. Also, it would be prudent, in either case, to have and estimate given after an initial inspection to allow for an assessment of whether it is worth the repair cost, keeping in mind that that can change if other problems are discovered, requiring extra labour time. If, for example, the clock was a low grade and low cost item to begin with, one may not want to spend much to repair. Of course, clocks can have sentimental value which may affect one’s decision. Finally, I would ensure that any work done was guaranteed for a reasonable length of time.

If wooden, metal or composite clock casework requires repair, make sure the repair person has skills and knowledge of appropriate period finishes, adhesives and fasteners before work is assigned. Refinishing or removal of finish patina may reduce value and/or alter the aesthetics of an antique clock. Also, if casework repair is being considered, to be sure manufacturer labels, decals or markings are preserved or at least documented, if removal is unavoidable. Clearly define the extent of any casework repair being considered, in addition to mechanical work.

Thank you for asking this question, Don, and good luck!