February 1998

Timepieces: Education & Repair




By next February, Venetians will again hear the famed chimes of their prized 500-year-old clock tower


Clockmakers this month will complete the first year of repairs to one of Europe's most revered public timepieces: the bell tower that graces Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy.

Called Torre dell'Orologio, the clock will mark its 500th anniversary next February - fully restored with its original Renaissance-style movement.

The clock last had its movement restored in 1858 and underwent minor repairs in 1950, but it has not chimed since 1986. Now Piaget, the Swiss-based timepiece and jewelry maker, and Venice city officials have embarked on a full restoration.

Under the supervision of Piaget (which pledged more than $750,000), Italy's finest clockmakers, mechanics, gilders, sculptors and technicians have dismantled the movement and pendulum and moved them to a nearby workshop.

The movement is unique in that it controls two outer dials and one inner control dial. Its mechanism includes an anchor escapement with pendulum and chiming system.

The pendulum escapement controls the time, the signs of the Zodiac, the sun, the moon and three magi who bow outside the face twice a year. Two weights operate two bronze giants located on the roof of the tower. These mechanized statues chime the hour, one after another, each striking a bell with a hammer.

Piaget, 25 Chubb Ave., Lyndhurst, NJ 07071; (201) 460-4800.



I. By next month, the central movement (pictured) will have a restored suspension, a repaired pendulum and two drums that rotate to mark the hours and minutes. The exact minutes and hour will be displayed digitally in Roman numerals (hours) and Arabic numerals (minutes). Also restored will be the two sculpted doors through which three magi and the angel Gabriel exit.

II. The surface of the anchor escapement will be repaired, along with the minute unlocking wheel of the central movement, the two bell-striking mechanisms, the movement transmission for the two statues, the stopping gear connected to the central wheel and the winding pinion.

III. Afterward, repairs will be made to the minute unlocking wheel transmission mechanism, the center wheel arbor and then the magi. All parts deemed irreparable or excessively worn will be replaced with new parts built to original specifications.

IV. From April through August, the entire clock will be reassembled in the workshop to evaluate its precision. In September, the clock will be dismantled and taken to the tower. The astrological mechanism will be linked to the clock and all will be restarted by February 1999.

- by Michael Thompson

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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