How to Preserve Your Antique Clock

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How to Preserve Your Antique Clock

Both practical and attractive, antique clocks are sought after worldwide for collections and homes. For a buyer who has already purchased an antique clock, it is advisable to consider a few guidelines in order to care for it in the years to come. With many considerations impacting the smooth running and longevity of these fragile pieces, a buyer may need to consider such points as whether their clock is a true antique, the individual parts of the clock that require maintenance, the common approaches to antique clock care, and what additional items can be of use during this process. With the world of antique clock care being as intricate as the devices themselves, this guide aims to assist an owner in navigating the many choices that present themselves when preserving these pieces of history.

History of Antique Clocks

The water clock, dating back thousands of years, measured time by a steady flow of liquid into a container. These were not fragile devices, but neither were they overly accurate. Another timepiece, the sundial, is as ancient as it was sturdy, but was only of use during the day. During the centuries that followed these early devices, huge technological leaps forward were made, and clocks increased to a level of precision that had never been seen before. The complexity of modern clocks also increased their fragility. Throughout history, the addition of pendulums, gears and hands, as well as ornate housing designs, made caring for clocks a profession of its own.

Discover Antique Clocks

Antique clocks are typified by their age, and this is an important point for a buyer to note before attempting any restoration or care. Though the term is occasionally debated, most ‘antiques’ are agreed to be at least one hundred years old. Occasionally, buyers will notice that 1930 is also thought of as a measuring year, but the important consideration is that not every ‘old’ timepiece is considered an antique.

It is fair for a buyer to consider that some newer clocks may be in worse condition than their antique predecessors. Each antique clock’s quality depends heavily on the care that it has been afforded since it was made. It is important, however, for a buyer to be aware of the age of their antique in order to gain a better understanding of its potential fragility and maintenance requirements. As a general rule, an owner could consider that the older the piece, the more care needs to be taken to preserve it.

Components of Antique Clocks

Before attempting any maintenance, it is important for an antique clock owner to consider the separate components of their piece. As a rule, the delicate internal parts of these antiques should be fixed or cleaned by a trained professional only.

Internal Parts


Power source

Allows the clock to work and is generally a weight, suspended and wrapped around a spring.


Vibrates at a steady frequency, such as a pendulum or balance wheel, and connects to the controller.


‘Pushes’ the oscillator to make up for frequency lost through friction, also gives out a measured pulse.

Counter Chain

Series of gears that converts the escapements pulse into minutes and seconds on the indicator.


Additional mechanism that creates noise upon certain positions of the hands, usually on the hour.

External Parts



The case of the clock that can be made out of various materials including brass and wood.


The readable portion of the clock that is usually represented by two ‘hands’ and the numbers one through to twelve, or numerals, depicted on a white background.


Hinged component found on the top of designs such as carriage clocks and is meant for transportation.


The very base of the clock that rests on the ground or shelf.

Factors to Consider Before Repairing Antique Clocks

Below is a list of considerations that any clock buyer should take into account before doing any repairs.

  • Transport – Some antique clocks, such as grandfather clocks, may require specialist transportation to re-locate them.
  • Skills and Tools – Antique clock maintenance is predominantly a professional concern, and a buyer shouldn’t attempt to fix a clock’s mechanical components by themselves or, using household tools.
  • Lighting – An owner should ensure that they are able to see exactly what they are doing before attempting to clean an antique clock.
  • Too Much Care – While cleaning antique clocks is important, too much attention can be just as detrimental. An owner should be sure that maintenance is warranted before commencing.
  • Preservation – If handling any chemicals or oils, an owner should be aware of what precautions they should take, including gloves and glasses.

Methods of Antique Clock Preservation

Antique clock repair is a vast and delicate field. Below are ten points for any owner to consider when maintaining their own timepiece.

1. Dusting

An owner can dust fragile areas of antique clocks, including the face, by delicately using a photographer’s lens brush. A dry cloth can be used for the removal of dust on other, less fragile surfaces, but care should be taken that the cloth is fine enough not to scratch the surface. Cleaning is also best undertaken with gloves to ensure that sweat and dirt from the hands doesn’t make its way onto the piece.

2. Cleaning Metal and Glass

If cleaning these materials, warm and soapy water can be used. For tough marks on glass, methylated spirits and cotton wool can also help, although these shouldn’t come in to contact with any other surfaces or finishes. After the surfaces are treated, they should then be rinsed with damp cotton wool and buffed dry using chamois leather if possible.

3. Temperature

An antique clock should not be left to overheat as this can warp the internal components and damage the exterior finish. Mantel clocks should not be placed above working fireplaces, and should also be kept away from direct sunlight and radiators.

4. Humidity

Clocks of different construction are better off in different levels of humidity. If possible, metal clocks should be kept in a low humidity environment to help slow possible corrosion. Wooden clocks are best kept away from dry air – such as that found in attics – because this can dry wood out.

5. Moving

Care should be taken with the moving antique clocks. Damage can occur with untimed movement of pendulums or shaking of the components. If possible, pendulums should be removed from the clock before shifting. Clocks with platform escapements instead of pendulums – like carriage clocks – are less susceptible to damage when moved, but should still be shifted with care.

6. Oiling

Like most machines, antique clocks require oil. While they will continue running after their oil has dried up, it can be detrimental to the mechanics. Most antique clocks should be oiled every three years, but a professional should generally be responsible.

7. Polishing

The polishing of an antique clock is not always necessary or, good for the finish. Over decades of cleaning it can wear away features on the clock. If, however, the clock is tarnished or the lacquer is dirty, it may be necessary to polish it. A variety of antique metal and wood polishers are available on the market. If in doubt, consult a professional.

8. Winding

It is generally necessary to wind antique clocks using a key. This should be done carefully, ensuring that the key is the correct fit and not damaged. If moving the hands of the clock with a finger, it is important to make sure that they move clockwise only. Knowing how much the clock needs winding is important because it will help to keep accurate time.

9. Position

It is important for the feet of the clock to stay, especially with pendulum designs. A clock that does not sit level may not tell accurate time.

10. Professional Care

The most important approach to antique clock care is a professional one. Antique clocks should be expertly cleaned every six years. If in doubt, when it comes to fixing or repairing an antique clock, always consult a professional.

Accessories and Add-ons for Antique Clock Care

Before undertaking any of the above suggestions, a buyer should note the clock care products that can be found on the market. They include:

  • Wood Polish
  • Brass Polish
  • Stain Marker
  • Oil
  • Clock Oiler
  • Clock Level
  • Clock Cleaning Solution
  • Cleaning Cloth
  • Cleaning Gloves

Finding Antique Clocks on eBay

If you are looking to purchase an antique clock, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, select Clocks and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for Antique Clocks on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for antique clocks. For example, to find a 19th century grandfather clock, type ‘19th Century Grandfather Clock’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for antiques with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique clock you want, try shopping eBay Stores.


Antique clocks can offer style, functionality and history. Due to their fragility and value, it is a good idea to first take consideration of the above guidelines on identification and care. It is advised that you are equipped with the knowledge of what defines an antique clock, the number of components that need to be maintained, the variety of options when cleaning, and what steps should not be taken without consulting a professional.

Once you have collected this information, you can care for your antique clock safely and securely on eBay.

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