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We’re the royal clock watchers! Meet the palace experts with 850 timepieces that must be wound back this weekend


If turning back the clocks tonight is a chore you would rather avoid, spare a thought for the staff at Buckingham Palace.

Horological conservationists, as they are known, will spend more than 30 hours this weekend changing more than 350 timepieces at the King’s London residence, in addition to 450 at Windsor Castle and a further 50 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Scotland.

But that’s only half the job. In all, the Royal Collection Trust – guardians of the priceless collection of arts and antiques held in trust by the sovereign on behalf of the nation – will have 1,600 items to adjust as British Summer Time comes to an end.

The collection includes some of the finest examples of musical, astronomical, miniature and turret clocks in existence. Each must be changed by hand to ensure they remain accurate.

A Horological Conservator adjusts a late-19th-century gilt-bronze clock in the Grand Reception Room at Windsor Castle

A Horological Conservator adjusts a late-19th-century gilt-bronze clock in the Grand Reception Room at Windsor Castle

Horological conservationists, as they are known, will spend more than 30 hours this weekend changing more than 350 timepieces at the King’s London residence. Pictured, King Charles and Queen Camilla

Horological conservationists, as they are known, will spend more than 30 hours this weekend changing more than 350 timepieces at the King’s London residence. Pictured, King Charles and Queen Camilla

A member of staff adjusts a 19th-century mahoganyFrench mantel clock at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

A member of staff adjusts a 19th-century mahoganyFrench mantel clock at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Tjeerd Bakker, senior horological conservator, said: ‘Clockmakers have been employed by the Royal Household for centuries, and it is a privilege to continue that tradition. 

‘Visitors love the fact that the clocks are kept running and on time; they are a key part of the experience of visiting the State Apartments at these working royal residences.’ 

Mr Bakker explained that the lone horologist at Windsor Castle will spend more than 18 hours adjusting the timepieces there. At Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace, it takes a team of two a combined 16 hours.

A Horological Conservator adjusts an early-19thcentury French mantel clock in the Crimson Drawing Room at Windsor Castle

A Horological Conservator adjusts an early-19thcentury French mantel clock in the Crimson Drawing Room at Windsor Castle

A member of staff adjusts a late-17th-century walnut veneered clock by Joseph Windmills in the King's Bedchamber at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh

A member of staff adjusts a late-17th-century walnut veneered clock by Joseph Windmills in the King’s Bedchamber at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh

Apparently, it takes longer to turn the clocks back in autumn as not all can have their hands rotated counter-clockwise. 

The best practice is to stop these clocks and start them again an hour later. Meanwhile, the clocks in the kitchens at Windsor and Buckingham Palace are always set five minutes fast to ensure that food arrives on time.

The oldest artefact in the Royal Collection is the Anne Boleyn Clock, reputed to have been given by Henry VIII to his second wife on the morning of their marriage in 1532. 

Horological Conservator at Buckingham Palace, changing the time on a wall clock 1838 by Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780-1854) made from Marble

Horological Conservator at Buckingham Palace, changing the time on a wall clock 1838 by Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy (1780-1854) made from Marble

The Royal Collection Trust is a registered charity and department of the Royal Household. Pictured, a Horological Conservator adjusts an early-19thcentury French mantel clock

The Royal Collection Trust is a registered charity and department of the Royal Household. Pictured, a Horological Conservator adjusts an early-19thcentury French mantel clock 

The smallest examples are the tiny clocks in Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, which is on display at Windsor Castle.

Made by Cartier, they measure just centimetres high and have working movements – but as they would need to be wound daily, they are kept static to prevent unnecessary wear and tear. 

The largest clock is the Quadrangle clock at Windsor, which was built by Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy in 1829 and installed during George IV’s restoration of the castle. The clock face diameter is seven feet.

One of the most important timepieces is Queen Charlotte’s watch. This pocket watch was the first to have a lever escapement and is the forerunner of almost all modern wrist and pocket watches.

One of the most complex clocks is an 18th-century astronomical clock purchased by George III.

It has dials on all four sides and is able to show time, strike the phase of the moon, the day and date, and can show high and low tide in 32 ports around the world.

The Royal Collection Trust is a registered charity and department of the Royal Household. It is one of the last great European royal collections still intact.



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