Restoration and Conservation Guidelines

The following Restoration and Conservation guidelines appear as an appendix in the book, “Clock Cases, A Practical Guide To Their Construction, Restoration and Conservation” Nigel Barnes and Karoliina Ilmonen, to be published July 2015 by Crowood Press.

They do not necessarily represent the restoration and conservation policy of the IHCF


The purpose of this chapter is to gather together and present our ethical rules about conservation and restoration of clocks and clock cases. That is a crucial part when working with parts of horological history as well as with any part of cultural heritage. Every piece needs an individual plan of action and making the necessary decisions is never straight forward. As we said in Chapter 1, the conflicts are often greater for clocks and because compromises are part of deciding how to do the work, it (compromises) can be a dangerous word to use; there must be limits to degree and range of how the ideal can be compromised.


It is important to respect all the aspects of a clock, the aesthetic, cultural, historical and physical and as a blatant example we could refer to Chapter 1 where were described the recommendation about a hundred years ago, to change the original verge escapement in clock movements to modern one.

  • Decisions about restoration should not be affected by profit motives and the value of the object should not alter the ethical decision-making about restoration or conservation work.
  • The same standards should apply to every object.
  • Exceptions to the rules can sometimes be related to the condition of the object and every clock must always be considered individually.
  • Decision should never be made lightly, a rule of thumb could be expressed as; “Don’t do or recommend anything you are not completely sure about.
  • There is no shame attached to asking for professional assistance.
  • One of the principles of restoring and conserving is always to avoid doing anything irreversible. This means that no methods or materials are used that cannot be removed som that it won’t permanently change the original. Considering clock movements, this principle is clearly incompatible, as mechanical devices they wear out and it is natural that the worn parts need to be replaced to prevent further damage.
  • When making decisions about how to proceed with work the restorer or conservator should carefully consider what methods and materials to use and wherever possible, the materials should be comparable with the original.
  • It should never be the intent to make the restored or replaced parts invisible to the professional eye. So using the clock movement as an example, the restored parts should not be masked in the original, but experienced eye has to able to tell what restoration work has been done in the past. Although it was once common practice among clock menders, engraving initials and date of repair on the clock is not appropriate.
  • Physical restoration work is not the sole aspect of caring for and preserving a clock; it should be stabilised to prevent any further damage. This means identifying the causes of, and stopping deterioration to protect what remains of the original.

No attempt should be made to ”improve” the original. Some cosmetic wear and tear is acceptable if it does not affect the preservation or the functioning of the clock.

The person performing the conservation or restoration has a responibility to protect the object from further damage. This duty can be discharged by arranging a suitable work-place, safe methods and environment where the requirements of the object (stability) are recognised.


Because of the cultural and historical value of clocks, they should be thoroughly examined and documented by photographs, written notes and any other means necessary (dimensional drawings and diagrams). The recording and documenting should be done prior to making a restoration or conservation plan.


The preparation of a Condition Report is a standard procedure among professionals and should always be done regardless of amateur or professional status if only because it adds to the heritage (and monetary) value of the clock.

The Condition Report should contain at least; the date, the name of the restorer, thre results of research about historical and social context, photographs and written description of the materials, structure and production methods, measurements, deteriorations and previous repairs or modifications (these are usually easiest to mark on a pictorial document with a written description to clarify it) and observations and analyses of materials present.

The various treatments options should be documented with supporting arguments for or against and assessment of likely outcomes and when the options have been considered by the owner or guardian, a step-by-step action plan should be formulated. It is in the interests of the restorer to have a defined plan of work which should contain detail of materials and techniques. With clocks it is also important to write down instructions for the maintenance of the clock in question (like winding, setting time and beat, how to move clock around and how often it will require inspection and  service).

A copy of all documentation should be kept with the object and it will become the responsibility of the owner and possible seller to preserve. The restorer has a responsibility to make the owner aware of the significance of these documents.


If the restoration or conservation work is being done for a third party, the restorer should acknowledge his responsibilities towards the owner of the clock in the due care of the clock and information about costs etc. The action plan are significant and before starting the work the client should also be provided an estimate of the fees with detail about the different parts of the total fee, such as time, costs of the materials and charges of possible sub-contracts.

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