In more modern grandfather clocks, there are 3 major categories of grandfather clocks with related movements, which are cable driven grandfather clocks, chain driven grandfather clocks, and quartz grandfather clocks, which are battery operated (there is also a tubular chime grandfather clock which has yet a different movement, but these clocks, while perhaps the most collectible, are the least collected because of their high price tag — so not addressed in this post).
The finest of the 3 movements, in our opinion, is the cable-driven mechanical clock. These magnificent timepieces, especially when the movements are made by the leading German movement makers Hermle and Kieninger, can in our experience expect to have a true heirloom life expectancy of 50-100 years with proper care, literally spanning several generations. The movements are generally 8 days, so winding once a week keeps then running continuously. The chime quality is the best because one actually hears the hammer striking the chime rod on each note. And cable driven movements can come with many bells and whistles, such as automatic nightime shut-off options, and many have triple chimes, with 2 in addition to the Westminster Chime. The downsides are there is no volume control for practical purposes, and grandfather clocks with these movements tend to be the priciest, though within a wide price range.
Grandfather clocks with chain-driven movements have some advantages and disadvantages as well. The movements themselves are smaller, so they are generally put in smaller cases, resulting in grandfather clocks with less height and depth than average. Many are attached to chain-driven clocks for sentimental reasons, especially if one grew up with one in one’s home. They are generally less expensive. They are also mostly 8 Day Movements, so if one “winds” the three weights by pulling down on each of the 3 chains once a week, the clock will run continuously. The only downsides we see with this type of movement are that the associated grandfather clocks do not generally have the same “bells and whistles”, e.g. automatic nighttime shutoff, or a moving and working moonphase dial. Perhaps the biggest downside in our experience is that the lifetime expectancy on a grandfather clock with a chain-driven movement is perhaps roughly half of what it might be for a cable-driven grandfather clock movement — in our experience maybe 25-50 years for a chain-driven grandfather clocks vs. 50-100+ years for a cable-driven grandfather clocks.
Now quartz grandfather clocks, which are battery operated, have a separate set of pros and cons. The pros are they are the least expensive to purchase, they have volume control, most have auto-night shut-off, and one does not need to remember to wind one! The cons are that the cases tend to be not as nice as those grandfather clocks housed with mechanical movements, and the sound of the chimes is not as good as with a mechanical grandfather clock. The reason for that is with a quartz grandfather clock one is actually listening to the chimes on a sound chip, and it has a higher pitch and “tinnier” sound. In our experience, a high quality quartz movement for a grandfather clock might be expected to last 10-25 years.
The good news for all 3 of these types of clocks is that the movements can either be repaired or replaced, even many many years later (we will go out on a limb here, be futuristic, and say they should be available for the next 100+ years, if a replacement movement is needed). Proper care and maintenance of a clock, including a “check-up” with cleaning and oiling every 5 years, is a must to preserve the longevity of your clock. When parts where out, and they will, there is always the question of whether it is cost-effective to simply replace the movement, or to fix the worn or broken parts, e.g. worn pivots or a broken wheel.
Quartz movements are generally most cost efficient to have replaced. They are inexpensive. With cable driven and chain-driven grandfather clocks, one really needs to look carefully at the pros and the cons of each action, with a special focus on the cost and likely longevity factor weighing in with either choice for a grandfather clock. Currently, there would not seem to be a reason to keep the clock “all original”, but tell that to the kid who’s mom threw out his old junk baseball card collection in a house clean-up. The conventional wisdom and collectibility factor could be a set of changing rules over time.
Have a grandfather clocks service center that you trust makes all the difference. We might also recommend getting 2 opinions if that is possible in your situation.
If one is horologically inclined, one could even order a new movement directly from an authorized supplier, such as Merritts.com or BlackForestImports.com. One needs all the numbers and markings on the back of the clock to be most certain-likely to get the “exact” or close to exact movement.
Any specific grandfather clocks questions or comments, please feel free to post them here at GrandfatherClocksBlog.com, operated by 1-800-4CLOCKS.com.