Analog clocks display time with an analog clock face, which consists of a round dial with the numbers 1 through 12, the hours in the day, around the outside. The hours are indicated with an hour hand, which makes two revolutions in a day, while the minutes are indicated by a minute hand, which makes one revolution per hour. In mechanical clocks a gear train drives the hands; in electronic clocks the circuit produces pulses every second which drive a stepper motor and gear train, which move the hands.
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In atomic clocks the controller is an evacuated microwave cavity attached to a microwave oscillator controlled by a microprocessor. A thin gas of caesium atoms is released into the cavity where they are exposed to microwaves. A laser measures how many atoms have absorbed the microwaves, and an electronic feedback control system called a phase-locked loop tunes the microwave oscillator until it is at the frequency that causes the atoms to vibrate and absorb the microwaves. Then the microwave signal is divided by digital counters to become the clock signal.
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The most accurate mechanical timekeeper is the Shortt pendulum clock; it makes use of the movement described above for electric master clock systems. The Shortt pendulum clock consists of two separate clocks, one of which synchronizes the other. The timekeeping element is a pendulum that swings freely, except that once every half minute it receives an impulse from a gently falling lever. This lever is released by an electrical signal transmitted from its slave clock. After the impulse has been sent, a synchronizing signal is transmitted back to the slave clock that ensures that the impulse to the free pendulum will be released exactly a half minute later than the previous impulse. The pendulum swings in a sealed box in which the air is kept at a constant, low pressure. Shortt clocks in observatories are kept in a room, usually a basement, where the temperature remains nearly constant, and under these conditions they can maintain the correct time to within a few thousandths of a second per day.
In a clock driven by a weight or a spring, the power is first transmitted by the main, or great, wheel. This engages with a pinion (a gear with a small number of teeth designed to mesh with a larger wheel), whose arbor (a turning rod to which gears are attached) is attached to the second wheel that, in its turn, engages with the next pinion, and so on, down through the train to the escapement. The gear ratios are such that one arbor, usually the second or third, rotates once an hour and can be used to carry the minute hand. A simple 12-to-1 gearing, known as the motion work, gives the necessary step-down ratio to drive the hour hand. The spring or weight is fitted with a mechanism so it can be rewound when necessary, and the arbor carrying the minute hand is provided with a simple slipping clutch that allows the hands to be set to the correct time.
Bolter, David J. Turing's Man: Western Culture in the Computer Age. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C. (1984). ISBN 0-8078-4108-0 pbk. Very good, readable summary of the role of "the clock" in its setting the direction of philosophic movement for the "Western World". Cf. picture on p. 25 showing the verge and foliot. Bolton derived the picture from Macey, p. 20.
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Electric clocks that are powered from the AC supply often use synchronous motors. The supply current alternates with a frequency of 50 hertz in many countries, and 60 hertz in others. The rotor of the motor rotates at a speed that is related to the alternation frequency. Appropriate gearing converts this rotation speed to the correct ones for the hands of the analog clock. The development of electronics in the 20th century led to clocks with no clockwork parts at all. Time in these cases is measured in several ways, such as by the alternation of the AC supply, vibration of a tuning fork, the behaviour of quartz crystals, or the quantum vibrations of atoms. Electronic circuits divide these high-frequency oscillations to slower ones that drive the time display. Even mechanical clocks have since come to be largely powered by batteries, removing the need for winding.
Spring-driven clocks appeared during the 15th century, although they are often erroneously credited to Nuremberg watchmaker Peter Henlein (or Henle, or Hele) around 1511. The earliest existing spring driven clock is the chamber clock given to Phillip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, around 1430, now in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Spring power presented clockmakers with a new problem: how to keep the clock movement running at a constant rate as the spring ran down. This resulted in the invention of the stackfreed and the fusee in the 15th century, and many other innovations, down to the invention of the modern going barrel in 1760.
In a master clock system, electricity is used to give direct impulses to the pendulum, which in turn causes the clock’s gear train to move, or to lift a lever after it has imparted an impulse to the pendulum. In various modern master clocks the pendulum operates a light count wheel that turns through the pitch of one tooth every double swing and is arranged to release a lever every half minute. This lever gives an impulse to the pendulum and is then restored to its original position by an electromagnet. The pulse of current that operates the electromagnet can also be transmitted to a series of distant dials, or slave clocks, advancing the hands of each through the space of a half minute. Thus, a master clock can control scores of dials in a large group of buildings, as well as such other apparatus as time recorders and sirens.
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