The Dutch influence on the development of clocks

In our previous blog we zoomed in at the history of Dutch Antiques, our shop. However the history of Dutch influence in clockmaking goes back even further. Before Prisma, TW Steel, and Grönefeld became popular brands of time pieces, the Dutch had already made significant contributions to the world of clockmaking since the 1500s. Perhaps the most notable figure in horological history is Christiaan Huygens who invented the first pendulum clock.

Let’s have a deeper look at the history of Dutch influence on the development of time pieces.

16th Century

Before the 1500s, people read time using sundials and water clocks. The 16th century saw the beginning of the smaller time pieces when the spring mechanism was invented. It was Peter Henlein, a German locksmith and clockmaker, explored this concept. He began making clocks that ran on a spring mechanism and are small enough to be worn like pendants.

Soon after, spring clocks were produced from his hometown of Nuremberg to areas outside Germany. Cities like Paris, London, and Amsterdam were known as centers of clockmaking. By the middle of the 16th century, spring clocks became smaller than their predecessors.

17th Century

Christian Huygens, a Dutch mathematician, inventor, and physicist, developed the prototype of the pendulum clock in 1656. His version of the pendulum clock was based on Galileo’s isochronism of the pendulum research. Huygens created a clock that was driven by weights and had a crown wheel escapement. But instead of using a foliot balance, he used an isochronal pendulum at the middle of compensators to limit the pendulum’s amplitude. Huygens’ pendulum clock was considered the most accurate timepiece on land. He also invented marine chronometers using a pendulum. However, it was found to be inaccurate after several trials. While he secured a patent for his marine chronometer invention in the Hague, he was not granted rights in France and England.

Huygens, later on, invented the spring balance, a mechanism in mechanical clocks and watches that controls the speed at which the hands of the clock turn. The invention of spring balance resulted in the inclusion of the minute’s hand on the face of clocks and watches.

The 17th century also saw the birth of the Zaan clocks. These clocks were produced between the late 1600s and early 1700s in the Netherlands ’ Zaandam region, which is famous for its windmills.


18th Century

Zaan clocks remained popular through the 18th century. Clockmakers from the Zaan region made long-case clocks and signed them. This luxury type of long-case clocks had a long second pendulum. The anchor escapement and the weights are at the foot of the clock. They are usually made from lush timber such as mahogany or walnut wood. Like Amsterdam clocks, the hood is designed with open fretwork.

19th Century

In the early 1800s, Dutch clocks were furnished with chimes and automata or moving figures below the dial of the clock. This type of design are typically seen on Friesland wall clocks.

Towards the end of the 19th century, wrist watches began to surface, overshadowing the portable pocket watch. Besides being a fashion statement, wrist watches were also less cumbersome to use and carry compared to pocket watches.


20th Century

While Swiss watches are considered the most popular in the watchmaking industry, many Dutch brands can compete with them. Prisma, which was founded in 1948, is one of the oldest Dutch watch brands. It was one of the first luxury brands that used quartz movements in its time pieces.


Own an Antique Dutch Time piece Today

If you’re searching for antiques Dutch collectibles, you can find them on our wide selection of antique clocks, antique pocket watches, or antique clockmaker tools. Browse here to check out our complete collection of antique items. We can also help you find the item you’re looking for if it’s not in our catalogue.