On time

Zürich, 29 December 2015:

“What is time?

If no one asks me, I know.

But if I wanted to explain it to one who asks me…

I plainly do not know.” (Augustine, The Confessions)

“On 21 June 1995, the longest day of that year, a unique clock was set in motion in the shop of Türler Uhren & Jüwelen (watches and jewellery) at Bahnhofstrasse 28, where it is on permanent display.

Built from 1.2 tons of brass over a period of 9  years, with a movement comprising 251 wheels and 155 pinions, the Türler Clock is one of the most complex timepieces ever created.

Designed to mark the time from its location in Zürich in relation to the movement of the entire surrounding cosmos it is perhaps better described as “a mechanical universe.”

Standing 2.2 metres high, including its granite pedestal, the Clock is powered by solar panels mounted on the shop roof and is synchronised to Universal Coordinated Time by means of a signal transmitter.

An electromagnet in the base of the Clock advances and retards the pendulum accordingly so that perfect timekeeping is maintained.

The Clock has five main features: a globe on top and four faces below.

The globe represents the Earth and is surrounded by 4 crystal spheres on which the Moon, Sun, Firmament (or visible sky) and the Zodiac are represented.

The firmament on its glass glove rotates once, and once only, every 25,794 years, thus demonstrating the slow drift of the Earth´s equatorial median against the ecliptic, or a Platonic year.

(If I understand this at all, it basically means that not only does the entire planet spin, but the visible sky within its atmosphere spins around us as well!)

The first of the Clock´s four faces, the horizon, is a 360 degree representation of Zürich, as seen from the roof of the shop, against which the rising and setting of the Sun and Moon are shown, including the visual illusion created by the Earth´s rotation – a sort of real-time live broadcasting from space.

In other words, it shows the exact relation of Zürich to the horizon at a given moment, the solar mean time.

Solar mean time differs from our standard time and its zones, meaning all the clocks in Zürich are wrong except for the Türler Clock!

The second face is a traditional perpetual calendar clock with dials indicating seconds, minutes, hours, days of the week, months, years, decades, centuries and millennia, with leap years taken into account.

The third face, the tellurion, shows the relative movements of the Earth, Moon and Sun three-dimensionally and synchronous to reality, explaining how day, night and the seasons are caused by the movement of the Earth on its axis and its orbit around the Sun.

The fourth face is a planetarium, showing the nine planets (before Pluto got demoted) of the Solar System in their orbits around the Sun.

So the Türler Clock can graphically demonstrate that Mercury, closest to the Sun, takes only 87 Earth days to make one revolution, while Pluto, the most distant, takes 247 Earth years.”

(Duncan J. D. Smith, Only in Zürich / Türler Watches and Jewellery, “The Türler Clock: Model of the Cosmos”)

For me there is something sobering, almost frightening, about the Türler Clock, for it reminds me of many things:

The Türler Clock shows with alarming accuracy the precision of our known reality, the Universe´s natural Clockwork Orange.

The very law of nature is an ideal perfect clock.

I am reminded of my own biological clock.

The average human heart beats 70 times each minute.

As I age, travelling linearally forward in time, I know my biological time is slowly running out.

Our moods, alertness and appetites follow regular patterns, depending on the time of day, the lunar cycle or the season.

And every creature in nature seems to have them.

Consider the cicada.

Though there are over 2,500 species of these insects, they share common characteristics:

They prefer warmer climates.

They have an exceptionally loud song.

They remain underground for 17 years, then thousands of them emerge at the same time, climb the trees, mate orgiastically, then die a few hours later.

(Sounds like Justin Bieber´s career!)

As for the actual calculated age of the Universe, my own lifespan is barely the wink of an eye by comparison and my species a mere heartbeat in scale.

I also feel the passage of time.

I have memories of the past and anticipations of the future.

Time is subjective.

According to Kabbalists, “time” is a paradox and an illusion.

Both the future and the past are recognized to be simultaneously present.

At times, Time seems to whoosh by.

At other times, it seems to drag.

(All of this Time talk makes me tense: past tense, present tense and future tense!)

Down the street and throughout Switzerland, Time and its measurement is obsessive.

Down Bahnhofstrasse you can find shop after shop selling finely crafted watches: Alpina, Breguet, Bucherer, Burberry, Cartier, Century, Certina, Chopard, Doxa, Ebel, Gucci, Longines, Patek Philippe, Piguet, Rado, Rolex, Swatch, Tissot…

Just to name a few!

There are watchmakers based or with facilities in Biel, La Chaux de Fonds, Le Brassus, L´Abbaye, Luzern, Geneva and Le Sentier.

Switzerland has a Watch Museum in La Locle, an International Museum of Horology in La Chaux de Fonds, the Joux Valley of Watchmaking in Le Sentier, the Patek Philippe Museum and La Cité du Temps in Geneva, as well as the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum in Zürich.

The Swiss have created many horological firsts: the first wristwatch, the first quartz watch, the first water-resistant watch, the invention of the self-winding watch, the perpetual calendar watch…

And if all this were not enough…

For 8 days each spring, the world´s watch and jewellery industry converges on Basel to take the pulse of the marketplace and do business at BASELWORLD – the annual event where around 1,500 exhibitors, including all the leading brands from over 40 countries, showcase their latest innovations and novelties.

BASELWORLD is one of the best-covered media events on the planet, with over 4,000 accredited journalists from over 70 countries, representing the world´s financial press, the major national dailies, lifestyle publications, the world´s biggest TV channels and key players in the field of social media.

The trade show attracts over 94,000 visitors a year.

(Next BASELWORLD: 17-24 March 2016.)

One of Zürich´s most fascinating specialist museums is the Beyer Clock and Watch Museum.

Beyer, founded in 1760, is Switzerland´s oldest watch and clock retailer.

The Museum, located in the basement of the Beyer Chronometry shop at Bahnhofstrasse 31, was opened in 1971.

The private collection of Theodor Beyer (1926-2002), the Museum contains more than 500 chronological instruments used to illustrate the long history of timekeeping from 1400 BC, long before the time of Christ, right up to the present day.

The exhibition contains rare and precious objects, such as shadow sticks, sundials, candle clocks, oil lamp clocks, oil painting clocks, hourglasses, water clocks, grandfather clocks, table clocks, pocket watches, wrist watches and scientific instruments for timekeeping and marine navigation.

The gold-plated Griffin table clock (1640) is not for the faint of heart.

The creature´s eyes move in time with the clockwork mechanism, the beak in time with the chiming mechanism, and the wings flap!

In this collection as well: the Rolex Oyster Perpetual worn by Sir Edmund Hilary on mankind´s first ever ascent of Mount Everest in 1953.


Zürich is also famous for the meeting point clock in the Zürich Main Station and a floral clock on Bürkliplatz.

And I would have visited them too…

If only there had been enough time…

Kathie Turner's photo.


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