Traditionally, the best German wood carvers gathered around the Triberg district in the Black Forest region and lent their craft to the developing cuckoo clock industry there. The earliest hand-made cuckoo clocks date from as far back as 1750 and good original ones fetch very high prices despite the somewhat primitive hand built movements fitted to them. The movements incorporate an array of wires bent to shape with pliers to control the cuckoo, the bellows and all the other features. Not all are wall-hung and often the wood was very hard polished walnut.
Those cuckoo clocks bear little resemblance to modern cuckoo clocks, many of which are aimed at the tourist trade and often made from spruce pine and plywood, displaying brightly painted birds and trees. The bought-in movements inside are usually mass-produced ones, punched out on heavy presses. They are not amongst the most sophisticated to work on but they are a good deal better than the ones from China with battery-driven quartz movements.
The cheapest authentic cuckoo clocks only run for a day between winding and many have a Regula movement such as the Model 25 (see Image 1) or Model 35. Others by Huber Herr have Herr's own 60 movement (Image 2) or 75. Both Regula and Herr also make 8 day versions (Regula's 34 & 72, and Herr's 80) which are a little more expensive. They all tend to have rack striking. Earlier clocks had a countwheel strike (Image 3) and pre-1900 you will find some similar but with cast plates and countwheel (Image 4) instead of the 20C punched out parts.
The first cuckoo clock I encountered was pure chance; it was rather plain and part of an auction lot that included a filthy but very interesting torsion clock that I recognised as an early Gustav Becker model. I ignored the cuckoo clock for months but then one day I took it out to check it over and not surprisingly I found that it would not work properly. Getting the going side to run was easy enough but the strike train was more temperamental. Then a couple of months later, a friend brought me another one to repair - a later, brightly coloured one this time but it was a family heirloom so I couldn't refuse.
These first two repairs were relatively modern clocks - probably 1900s and 1950s I guess - and made similar to a Victorian automaton with a musical box - indeed, the second one incorporated a musical box that initially left me stumped as I'd never touched one before.
Since then, I have seen many cuckoo clocks, some modern but some nice old ones by Beha or Hettich, some with wooden plates and double fusées, each one with a variety of problems and I'd be happy to help anyone who owns a cuckoo clock that refuses to run. I'm not going to offer a fixed price repair on them because sometimes the problem can be solved for £40 using a pair of pliers or even the fingers in just an hour and I have even been known to fix them while the owner waits. Other clocks just need a chain refitted, a weight, a pendulum, a cuckoo, a dial, numerals, a hand or bellows (see Image 5).
If you fancy trying to repair your own, you'll find 'Black Forest Clockmaker and the Cuckoo Clock' by Karl Kochmann (reproduced in small paperback by Clockworks Press) will help a little. It also gives some interesting history about cuckoo clocks. But if you're really stuck for a low-cost repairer, and it's important to you for family reasons to get it going, then email me with pictures and I'll see what I can do.
All paid for work's guaranteed for a year.