Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Court of Versailles versus a Swedish Cartel

Cartel clocks first came into their own around the year 1700 and decoratively speaking, were at their most “exuberant” during the 18th Century. At this time they were renowned for their abundance of rococo swirls and arabesques.

This photograph of an English cartel clock comes from Wikimedia Commons  I couldn't find a French one but you get the idea.
Often decorated with gilded cherubs, nymphs, animals and heroes, the whole clock case was covered in gilt and ormolu, and the occasional splash of enamel work.  Others have a certain chinoissiere look; while some of the most expensive ones contained porcelain flowers, however, it is rare to find examples of those today.  

While English clockmakers were good at making these clocks it was the French who were the masters and their creations were things of beauty as well as craftsmanship and mechanical expertise.  They appear in paintings of the period and were to be found in all the great houses of the day, none more so than at Versailles where they were admired (along with everything else at the Court) by the visiting Swedish King, Gustav III in 1771.

This picture of King Gustav III of Sweden comes from Wikimedia Commons.

King Gustav was entranced by the elegance and beauty of the Versailles ‘style’ and introduced it with his usual vigour back at Stockholm, where it gradually developed and matured into what we now know as ‘Gustavian’ style.

We now move forward a couple of centuries to Sweden in the late 1930s, and in particular to the town of Töreboda, in southern Sweden.  It was there that a firm of watchmakers known as ‘Westerstrand and Sons’ had established their business.  
Having been in operation for some time, a younger generation at the company, full of bright ideas and eager for expansion, was now at the helm.  In 1936 it was decided that the firm would branch out into making wall clocks - as a way of getting a toehold in the lucrative wedding/anniversary gift market.  
But Westerstrand and Sons were not going to make just any old wall clocks. 

Not for them the ‘Art Deco’ or the ‘Modernist’ style.
Like King Gustav III of old, they looked to France for their inspiration: The France of the Ancien Régime, and decided that they would make their clocks in the 18th Century Rococo manner.  The result was not quite the same, especially given that this was 1930s Sweden and not 1770s France where money was no object.  Some of the old French cartel clock makers might have turned up their noses just a little, at seeing the results, but the move proved extremely popular and the firm had soon built up a sizable clientele.
This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.  It shows one of the Westerstrand clocks.
We now move forward to the year 2012!
AGA collects clocks. 
Mechanical and antique clocks. 
As I write, in our apartment we have twenty four clocks: Two eighteenth century long-case (grandfather) clocks reign over this horological court which contains French mantel clocks, German clocks, English clocks, a Viennese regulator, a Czech village shield clock, some nineteenth century French carriage clocks, and a Black Forest cuckoo clock.  They all tick.  They all sound the hour.  Visitors with a more 21st century digital mentality wonder how we put up with the ‘noise’ but to be honest with you, we often don’t even hear them and we couldn’t classify the gentle tick of our clocks as ‘noise’ anyway.
. . . And we have three Swedish Cartel clocks.

This photograph of a Swedish Cartel clock was  taken by Kirk Dale.

This photograph of the back of a Swedish Cartel Clock was taken by Kirk Dale.  You can also see one of our Grandfather Clocks in the background...

AGA tells me that these Westerstrand Cartel Clocks were carved of Linden wood (also known as Lime wood) and then gilded.  This was a change from the 18th century ones which were usually ornamented with ormolu (a type of gilded metal).
This photograph of the movement of a Swedish Cartel Clock was taken by Kirk Dale.
They are spring driven, requiring winding every week. The pendulum is also gilded and sits snug within the body of the piece.  The movement within these clocks is extremely sturdy and is adapted so that the hands can be pushed backwards, unlike almost all other mechanical clocks, to adjust the time.  One cannot do this to most mechanical clocks without damaging the mechanism.
So there you are: Swedish cartel clocks.

This Photograph of our third cartel clock was taken by Kirk Dale.
And Westerstrand?  Time passed, Cartel clocks went out of fashion, and by the 1960s, while maintaining a smallish clock making division, the company had branched out yet again, this time making parts for televisions.  They went bankrupt in the 1980s and the company was sold off piecemeal.  The mechanical clock division of the business was renamed and later sold and then resold; swiftly sinking into oblivion.  Now they are somewhat collectable.

Our three clocks date from the 1930s and 1940s. 
I like them. 
They are very handsome pieces. 
They have a very gentle tick and a silvery strike for the hours.

In their way these clocks were a return to the roots of the so-called ‘Gustavian style’: The 18th Century Versailles ‘look’.
In the interim however, Gustavian style had evolved, taking a different path to a more simpler line.  
I wonder if these opulent, ornate clocks, wantonly tossing their gilded curls, were somewhat at odds with the austere, simple lines and cream-and-white colouring, that is so evocative of all things Gustavian.

This photograph was taken by Kirk Dale.


  1. Hello Kirk, I never knew the correct name for those clocks before. Your 1930's-40's cartel clocks very much remind me of some mirrors and other carved pieces that a great-aunt of mine had, and that date from the same period, even though they are not clocks.
    --Road to Parnassus

  2. Hello Parnassus,
    That's interesting. I wonder if Swedish woodcarvers were responsible for those as well. I guess they didn't spend all of their time carving cartel clocks.

  3. Hello Kirk,
    these are beautiful clocks - I like that the design is both ornate and simplified at the same time.
    24 clocks is alot of ticking going on, but then, for me, the ticking of clocks is quite soothing!

  4. Hello Faisal,
    Sometimes, when I do notice them and they are chiming the hour in unison I wonder what the other neighbours in our apartment think! No one seems to mind however...
    I agree with you that the ticking of clocks is a very soothing sound. Especially on a Sunday afternoon.
    You are up nice and early!

  5. I had no idea that Gustavian style was named after King Gustav III.
    Twenty four clocks is quite a collection - is it still expanding? I am trying to imagine the noise from 24 clocks, all sounding the hours, chiming, striking, and a cuckoo one joining in too. Do they all do it in harmony?

  6. Dear Rosemary,
    The clock collection always has room for more members. Indeed there is another long case clock (dating from the mid 1700s) - plus a small assortment of other ones - in our home in Melbourne! I forget how many we have there.
    As for the striking they do it in a sort of relay. One starts off and the rest follow. After a while you get to know each one and check them off in your mind as they chime!
    In an apartment they seem a lot but once in a house they will soon spread out and make a place for themselves.
    Bye for now

  7. Hello, Kirk,

    I like the swedish cartel clocks. The second one (of the ones you own) appears to be an interesting (and successful) mixture of Rococco and Art Deco. The more I see of the Gustavian style, the more I like it.

    1. Dear Mark,
      Yes, the Gustavian style has its own unique charm I always think.
      The wonderful paintings of Carl Larsson show it off very well.
      Having said that though, Versailles style is rather nice too!

  8. Hi Kirk -
    Love this post. We deal in Swedish Rococo, Gustavian, and Empire antiques, and have had many cartel clocks. I recently sold a very handsome gilded and polychrome Empire cartel clock with a pair of sea horses. But my favorites are the Neoclassical ones with laurel foliage, roses and draped swags. Your three Swedish clocks are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Loi,
      Thank you for your nice comments! I agree with you that the Neoclassical ones are the nicest. Their decoration certainly appeals to me more than the rest.
      Bye for now

    2. Kirk - Here's a link to that cartel clock featured in a previous post.


    3. That is a nice clock. I have never seen them with seahorses. They look almost heraldic!


  9. Dear Kirk,
    What a lovely post-- thank you! Even more than the beautiful cartel clocks themselves, I love best the idea of your home full of the tick tock and chiming of all the beautiful clocks-- how wonderful! It's so much nicer to hear the sounds of these mechanical masterpieces than the buzzing ang humming that most often accompany our modern lives.
    With warmest regards,

    1. Dear Erika,
      Thank you for your nice comments. I couldn't agree more with you. There is something soothing about the ticking of a clock and while I know you shouldn't really generalise, the ticking of a clock speaks to me of gentility.
      Bye for now,

  10. Dear Kirk,

    I just happend to come across your page here and I'am glad I did I have a nice clock in my home and fascinating to learn a little bit more about my clock hope you can help me please here is some information that I have managed to collect so far.

    THE CLOCK dial has the words Curt Bjorkegren Stockholm I have written to their shop in stockholm but they did not reply maybe itis because they do not speak english I do have markings on the movement as follows A.B. WESTERSTRAND & SON SWEDEN TOREBODA
    THE MOVEMENT HAS A NUMBER P155 AND 433 ON THE INSIDE OF THE WOODEN DIAL CASING ON EACH PART THERE ARE NUMBERS SO TAKE IT THESE COULD BE THE PERSON WHO MADE THE PART OF A PART MUMBER I would like to find out as to how old my clock might be THE colouring has like a gilt with white showing through in places and a brownish coming through and I can see some of the wood itself.

    Hope you can help me.



    1. That is a tricky one Pete.
      I have asked AGA and he said that it would have to have been made in the late 30s, or the 1940s while the firm's clockmaking was at its peak.
      Have you tried taking your clock to a valuer or auctioneer? They will often know the ins and outs of such things.

  11. Hello Kirk,
    I just came across your post while searching info on the Swedish Cartel Clocks. I have inherited one from my grandparents probably circa 1950 and no one in the family wants it. Can you suggest the best way to sell? It is in very good condition and I have had it cleaned so works well. I would appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.