While Switzerland might make some of the world's most delicious chocolate, it is not the country most associated with cuckoo clocks. These clocks originated in the neighbouring country of Bavaria, in the Schwarzwald, or Black Forest, region in the early 17th century. It was later that the Swiss put their own recognisable stamp on the cuckoo clock and became world-renowned for this most traditional and distinctive of timepieces.
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The website My German Cuckoo Clocks describes the first German prototypes as being modelled on the railway houses designed by the architect Friedrich Eisenlohr. The clocks incorporated scenes of hunting, rural life and the native wildlife, and when triggered by the cogs inside the clock, moved in circles or travelled on a wheel in and out of the house. This traditional design continues to be the classic although variations, such as Bavarian chalets, have been introduced over the years. Incorporated with the cuckoo at the top of the house are intricately carved sprigs of ivy, and the clock mechanism relies on weight-powered pendulums carved in the shape of pine cones.
Swiss cuckoo clocks are based on Swiss chalets, typically those in the Bernese Alps. The area is one of the most frequently visited by tourists, and the cuckoo clocks are much sought after for their nostalgic significance. Where Swiss cuckoo clocks differ most significantly from German clocks is the wood from which they're made and the accuracy and precision of clock mechanisms for which the Swiss are famous. These craftspeople use linden that is dried for three years to prevent warping and cracking and is then carved meticulously into intricate figures.
An extra feature often found in Swiss cuckoo clocks is one of two tunes played by a music box inside the clock: Edelweiss or The Happy Wanderer. According to Bijan Vafi, the director of Robert Lötscher AG that makes high-end cuckoo clocks, these two tunes are firm favourites with tourists.
The distinctive two-tone call of the cuckoo in German and Swiss cuckoo clocks is borrowed from the song of the male European cuckoo. The European cuckoo is a completely different species of cuckoo from that native to North America, and its haunting call is audible over long distances. The mechanism within the clock traditionally relies on an arrangement of two small whistles of different pitch and an air bellows for each half call although modern clocks often use a digital recording of a live male cuckoo.
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