the Pendule neuchâteloise

Original BDWF archived information from James
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James Elsener
Posts: 20
Joined: Tue Oct 02, 2018 8:27 pm

the Pendule neuchâteloise

Post by James Elsener » Wed Apr 17, 2019 3:45 pm

Those of you knowing me for a little while know that I am very fond of clocks. Special clocks that is: the Pendule neuchâteloise. The pendulum clocks from the République et Canton de Neuchâtel the craddle of Swiss clock and watch making.

The styles of the Pendule neuchâteloise follows the design trends of four distinct periods of French history. France was the trendsetter in how societys were organised for many centuries. It was thanks to the way the French organised their country and its people that horology took off in the first place. In that respect every Pendule neuchâteloise is a piece of history. The four periods which are reflected in four distinct shapes and/or trimming levels of the Pendule neuchâteloise are:

Louis XIV (1643 - 1715), this period is known as baroque.
Regence (1715 - 1723), this period is know as régence.
Louis XV (1723 - 1774), this period is known as rococo
and finally the period of Louis XVI (1775 - 1830) known as the period of neoclassicism.

In all these periods the rich only which meant back then basically the aristocrats had access to time measuring devices. These were mostly clocks. It was therefore only natural that the rising merchant class aka bourgoisie followed the design trends set by the aristocracy of their days. That is how the Pendule neuchâteloise came about in the late 1840s when the various revolutions around Europe set the age we live in in motion. The various republics and canton Switzerland was made of united under the banner of a single constitutuion. The wealthy and powerful who all had a sense of history and their sometimes overt longing for the old order set the stage for the Pendule neuchâteloise and its appeal to libertised middle class put in the driver's seat by the revolution. The Pendule neuchâteloise got thus its name from the fact that it was born in the 1840s and that the first factories making them in numbers were established in the Républic et Canton de Neuchâtel. Neuchâtel was one of the most important regions in the revolution as it turned protestant in 1530 already.

Once upon a time, nearly every Swiss household offered a blissful home to a Pendule neuchâteloise on the wall of its living room. It was a traditional wedding gift offered by a well-off relative. The market was big enough for imitators from France and Germany entering it. The best known was the German factory Du Château (ironically they had Frenchise their name to find their place in the market even at home in their native Germany). Over time the tradition of the Pendule neuchâteloise took root in the regions of Germany and especially France bordering Switzerland directly. Especially the French in Jura region coveted, however, the real thing. One acquired the status of a miser if one offered a non-Swiss Made Pendule neuchâteloise to the newly weds in the Franche-Comté.

The Pendules neuchâteloises come in different sizes and materials. The shape is always the same, however. The budget-version came with a cabinet made of bakelite. Till late into the 1960s bakelite was considered a state-of-the-art plastic over here. All the phones which could only be rented from the Swiss PTT state monopoly back then were made of bakelite. The mid-range clocks' cabinets was made of low-density-fibre presswood. The high-end version of the pendulum clocks' cabinets were made of linden aka as lime tree. Mine are all made of linden.

Making the cabinet of and the pedestal for the clocks was a profession in its own right. These wood-working craftsmen were known as cabinôtiers (cabinet makers). It required very slowly dried linden wood and a firm hand to make a cabinet. No kiln-drying for the wood, air drying only. The drying took up at least five years and up to ten years for the top brands. The cabinôtier signed off his work by etching his initials into the wood either at the back of cabinet or on the bottom. The violin shape of the clocks is on purpose. They chime every half hour and announce the full hour. The more elaborate ones with a ding-dong sound instead of the dong sound. Thanks to the violin shape of the cabinet, they all have a full-bodied sound and can be heard all over the house or apartment. That why the housewife knew what the time was and how far she was behind her schedule or ahead of it.

The beautiful decoration was done by hand. Mostly women did that job. Every one of them had her own alterations of the basic floral design pattern the pendulum clocks all have. Every painter signed off on the back of the Pendule neuchâteloise with her name. Some of them used their real name others had a nom de plume.

The basic colors of the Pendule neuchâteloise were a dark red, black, gold, green and blue. The blue ones are the most rare ones. Until the 1940s most of them were red. In the 1950s the color of choice was black. I am still chasing a mint blue Zénith, by the way.

The height of the Pendule neuchâteloise varies from 30 cms to 70 cms. This without the pedestal. The largest Pendule neuchâteloise is the so called and very, very rare Sumiswalder Pendule. They are up to 100 cms in height.

All clocks have movements which are wound every seven days. Even though the clocks movements usually take some ten to twelve days to run down. The right winding stem winds the movement and the left winding stem is for winding the chiming mechanism. Depending on the clock maker it could also be the other way round! Back in the good old days to wind the clock properly was the job the head of the household (aka father) took care of. It was usually done a few moments before 12:30 am on Sunday. The reason being that the main radio news was broadcasted at that particular moment of the day. In Switzerland we had a radio signal announcing the exact hour and every watch and clock was set to the radio clock at 12:30 am. Even our trains ran to that schedule. After the clock had been wound the family sat down to enjoy the Sunday roast.

Back then there were quite a few of these clock makers manufacturing the Pendule neuchâteloise. The largest one was Eluxa, followed by Le Castel and Trianon. The most exclusive ones were manufactured by Zénith International. Eluxa which had been founded in 1947 only has gone under in 2006, Trianon's fate is unknown, Le Castel, St. Aubin lives off its huge stock of finished clocks and still does repairs. Zénith International (yes, the one manufacturing the exclusive wrist watches) still make a clock every now and then upon special order.

The Eluxa shown in the picture is a Louis XVI and dates from 1981. Back then it cost already Swiss Francs 980.00. It has the rare ding-dong chime. It is mounted on its own pedestal and hangs on the wall in my living room. It was my very first Pendule neuchâteloise.

The red Trianon which is a Regence in Trianon speak dates from 1920 or thereabouts. Its chime is very thorough and attention grabbing. Its movement has never been taken apart nor cleaned. I know this because I bought it from the daugther of the first owner. It runs about one minute fast per week! The movement is made of brass by the way. Call it precision if you like.

The Le Castel has some trimmings of a Regence too and dates from 1954. It has a very rare gold dial. It is genuine gold plated at 25 microns! My wife made me stop it. Notwithstanding the fact that it has a beautiful sound when it chimes. She professes that she gets the creeps from the sound it makes when it tells the hour!

The Zénith is a Louis XVI too and was made on August 20, 1951. It was bought by the Swiss Federal government and meant to be a gift to the French president. For one reason or another it never reached the Elysée or found its way back from the president's palace later. I own it for many, many years now. It is a very rare model. The movement is wound with the same winding stem as the chime. To the left one winds the movement and to the right the chime mechanism. Its movement is made of 183 parts!

My closet dream is to revive these Pendules neuchâteloises and manufacture them under my own name. And now it is out in the open!
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