Perhaps the most significant feature in antique French clocks of the 17th century is the pendulum, which was a breakthrough in clock technology in Europe at the time. Other distinctive features of note particular to antique French design in the 17th century include an overall ornate and luxurious design that was almost akin to sculpture and objets d'art. Many clocks of this period were enclosed in a cabinet-type structure and commonly used materials such as marble, bronze, and porcelain.
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Origins of 17th Century French Clockmaking
French clockmaking essentially began in the 17th century. Around 1670, Isaac II Thuret, French clockmaker to King Louis XIV, made a clock featuring a pendulum and a dial that indicated hours, minutes, and seconds. Because the reign of Louis XIV during this time period can be characterised, at least for the French royals, a time of excess, this sentiment was reflected in French clockmaking. French cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle was perhaps primarily responsible for this period's clocks having cabinet enclosures with intricate and gilded designs. Generally, French clocks of the 17th century can be categorised broadly into two categories: Boulle clocks and Religieuse clocks.
French Boulle Clocks
As the name suggests, Boulle clocks originated with André-Charles Boulle. Prominent features of these types of clocks include tortoiseshell cabinet cases with decorations alongside or included in the clock itself, gilt bronze, and inlays made of a combination of brass, pewter, porcelain, and ivory.
French Religieuse Clocks
French Religieuse clocks typically have brass and pewter overlays set in rectangular ebony veneer and oak cases. Like Boulle clocks, the tops were dome-shaped, a design element inspired by English timepieces. Perhaps because Boulle also made these types of clocks, they could also have tortoiseshell cases and gilt bronzes, though this category can generally be considered comparatively less ornate than typical Boulle clocks.
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