The Oldest Working Clock in the World

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In 1987, on an excursion to London, an apprentice clockmaker stumbled upon a rare find in an antique shop. Hidden within a box filled with assorted metal trinkets was an intriguing timepiece. This small copper sphere could be opened to reveal a smaller hemisphere inside. On the upper face of the hemisphere were engraved numerals in both Roman and Arabic, a feature of the famous clock design that was very popular in 16th-century Germany.

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Unaware of the significance of his discovery, the apprentice sold the clock, initiating a series of transactions that eventually led to it falling into the hands of a private collector in 2002. Only then did the importance and reliability of the clock become clear. Known as the 1505 Clock or the Amber Apple Clock 1505, this unique artifact is believed to be the oldest functioning clock in the world, according to Amusing Planet.

The 1505 Clock is a handcrafted piece by the famous locksmith and clockmaker from Nuremberg, Peter Henlein, one of the pioneers in the development of small, portable decorative timepieces. These miniature clocks were typically worn as pendants or attached to clothing, serving both as ornaments and timekeepers.

Henlein was born and raised in Nuremberg, the son of a blacksmith. He quickly followed in the locksmithing trade. At the time, locksmiths were among the few craftsmen with the skills and tools necessary to venture into the emerging field of clockmaking. In 1504, after an unfortunate accident leading to the death of a fellow locksmith friend, Henlein sought refuge in the Franciscan monastery in Nuremberg and lived there until 1508. Behind the monastery walls, Henlein found an environment rich in scientific and astronomical knowledge. It is very likely that during this period of seclusion, Henlein gained a greater understanding of clockmaking and even created masterpieces like the 1505 Clock.

Researchers have been able to pinpoint the clock’s creation date because Henlein engraved the date and the initials of his name inside the clock. At that time, locksmiths were not allowed to leave their names on the items they created, so the inventor had to hide his initials in a rudimentary engraving less than a millimeter high, visible only with a large magnifying glass. In addition to his initials and the name of the clock case, Henlein also inscribed a Latin phrase meaning “1505 – Time will escape us (Henlein), but this (clock) will recognize the accurate time.”

The clock’s creation was largely due to Henlein’s ability to miniaturize the coiled balance spring and the elastic spring mechanism to an unprecedented scale, a technological achievement of his era. By transforming the clock into a wearable mobile time-measuring device, Henlein personalized the clock and changed the way people measured and managed time.

Throughout his life, Henlein created numerous clocks and devices, including the small drum-shaped Nuremberg Egg clocks. He also constructed a clock tower for Lichtenau Castle in 1541 and crafted many sophisticated scientific instruments. Only two Amber Apple clocks remain in the world today. One is the 1505 Clock held in a private collection, while the other is the Melanchthon Amber Apple Clock owned by the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore since 1530.

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