Home timepieces don’t have to be sleepy. These contemporary table clock designs from Patek Philippe, Cartier, Panerai, and others will tempt collectors.
By Kareem Rashed
Dating back to the Renaissance era, clocks have long been a canvas for watchmakers’ creativity. Thanks to their generous surface area, clocks afford watchmakers the ability to flaunt their handicraft skills, from intricate engravings to elaborate enamel paintings. “During the 1920s, clocks from great jewelers and watchmakers surpassed mere mechanics and became outstanding works of art,” says Lee Siegelson, an esteemed dealer of estate jewelry and objects whose collection includes several museum-worthy art deco clocks. “The makers of these clocks designed increasingly complex and ingenious creations to continually outdo themselves and each other.”
Part of the allure of timepieces lies in their balance between form and function: they aren’t purely decorative, yet are more than just machinery. A great watch doesn’t simply tell the time—it has brains and beauty in equal measure. In that sense, table clocks are the ultimate symbol of the watchmaker’s talent: utilitarian mechanics housed within an artful package. So, while there is no shortage of options for telling the time today, there still isn’t anything that does the job quite as attractively as an exquisitely designed table clock.
Although table clocks may not be as ubiquitous as they once were, the range available today is as diverse, and desirable, as ever. Many of the most storied watch brands create a select few clocks annually that are prime examples of their watchmaking virtuosity—pure catnip for connoisseurs. More than just beautiful objets, these clocks celebrate the enduring appeal of craftsmanship in the face of an increasingly digitized world.
Patek Philippe has a rich heritage of creating exceptional clocks, including one gifted to J.F.K. in 1963 by the people of West Berlin depicting the time in Moscow, Washington, D.C., and Berlin. Their latest is “The Hour Circle,” a unique Bauhaus-inspired design that is meant to be viewed from above. The clock’s surface is a study in the art of enamel, with inqué and guilloché designs coated in a vibrant transparent blue.
Cartier’s annual high-jewelry collections showcase the breadth of their atelier’s technical abilities and always include a select number of one-of-a-kind clocks. This piece, in white gold, agate, onyx, turquoise, and diamonds, features a dial made of faceted amethyst. The mystery clock setting, which Cartier has championed since the 1920s, utilizes hour and minute hands affixed to clear crystal disks connected to a movement in the clock’s base, giving the illusion that the hands are floating within the dial.
The art deco era was arguably the table clock’s heyday, with numerous brands upping the design ante to create clocks on par with the fashions of the day. This piece, from the collection of Lee Siegelson, was designed for Boucheron in 1929 by Verger Frères, a leading clock manufacturer, and features a movement by Vacheron Constantin. Constructed at the same time as the Chrysler Building, the clock’s design is quintessential deco, with graphic, architectural lines rendered in nephrite, agate, gold, enamel, and coral.
For its first-ever table clock, Panerai scaled its iconic Radiomir dial up to 65 mm and encased it in a glass sphere. As with all of Panerai’s watches, the dial features luminous indices and an engraved logo. An open back, also topped with convex glass, allows a magnified view of the P.5000 caliber at work inside. The movement is hand-wound using the oversize polished-steel crown at the clock’s top and has a power reserve of eight days.
A striking monolith of polished obsidian provides the backdrop for this clock’s elaborate dial, embellished with three-dimensional carved mother-of-pearl and sculpted gold. The floral motif recalls the lacquered chinoiserie screens that Coco Chanel collected in her famed Paris apartment. An exhibition back reveals the openwork movement, which is wound with a gold key that is, naturally, studded with diamonds.
Part of a series of 12 clocks released to commemorate the brand’s 250th anniversary, this one-of-a-kind piece is capped with an arch of black tourmaline, highlighting the beauty of the stone’s natural inclusions. The transparent cabinet offers a full view of the constant-force, manually wound caliber 9260, which boasts an impressive 30-day power reserve. In a display of the house’s decorative savoir-faire, the Roman numerals and silver guilloché feet are coated with precious Grand Feu enamel, a notoriously difficult material.
L’Epée has been solely dedicated to crafting exceptional clocks since 1839, even producing wall clocks for ultra-luxe Concorde jets—the only timepieces ever to grace a civilian plane. Their Destination Moon clock draws on the Space Race craze of the 1960s, with a body that unmistakably resembles a toy rocket. The winding crown is at the rocket’s base, leading into a mainspring barrel cleverly disguised as a ladder, complete with a tiny silver astronaut. The time is displayed via two rotating discs towards the rocket’s top, the one concession to reality in this whimsical design.