The Collection of Pendulum Clocks

Clock in the Chinese Museum at the Château de Fontainebleau

An Exception Collection of Art Pieces

Since 2008, the mechanisms of the clocks in the castle’s apartments have been the subject of a major restoration and maintenance campaign made possible thanks to the sponsorship of Rolex.{

Entrusted to an watchmaker approved by the Monuments Historiques society, the progressive restoration of these precision objects gives structure to life in the apartments.

Emblematic of the art of clockmaking in the 18th and 19th centuries, these pendulum clocks are both art pieces and a scientific instruments. Arranged on the fireplaces in the apartments’ main rooms, the clocks under the care of Rolex's sponsorship are found in the Napoleon Ist Museum, the Papal Apartment, the Appartement des Chasses, the Petits Appartements, the Imperial Theatre, Napoléon III’s Study and the Salon des Laques d’Eugénie.

Rolex’s sponsorship has also enabled the restoration of the Chapel of the Trinity bell tower clock.

The eclectic shapes of the clock cases (object, portico, terminal, temple…) are matched by the materials (patinated or gilded bronze, copper, brass, tortoiseshell, porcelain, bisque, marble…) and the details (foliage, palmettes, lovers and cherubs, allegories, heroes and other mythological references…).

They all share quality craftsmanship and the mechanistic precision in common. However, most of them had not been restored or even revised since the period just after the war.

Fragile and Precious Objects

As part of the apartments’ furnishings, the clocks are permanently on display. Nonetheless, the ideal- conditions – for the conservation of these objects are rarely found in the same place that they are on display. The extraordinary richness and sheer volume of the furnishings in the apartments at the Château de Fontainebleau means that the same room can hold a very large number of art works made for different purposes and materials (wood, textiles, metals, paints, lacquers and varnishes).

They often require contrasting preservation conditions.

So, the medium – to high humidity – at Fontainebleau is certainly an advantage for a large part of the artefacts (furniture, woodwork), and to certain clock cases, but it is hardly compatible with the preservation and maintenance of their working mechanisms.

The Restoration

The work of the watchmaker in charge of the restoration involves cleaning the parts prone to oxidation (rust, freezing up) and the fixing the lack of regular maintenance they have had. Parts might sometimes be missing. They are rebuilt in the same way using the same materials (steel, iron, copper, lead, brass). The main difficulty lies in getting the mechanisms to function again when they are at different stages of ageing and have not been working for a very long time. This restoration is carried out in such a way so as to preserve most of the parts and respect they entire mechanism. No mean feat when you consider nearly all the clocks still have their original pieces!

Care and Maintenance

Seeing the castle’s clocks in full working order is a highlight of the tour. Daily use means constant work for the upkeep and maintenance of these objects and their fragile mechanisms. They are vulnerable to the daily climatic changes in the salons at the Château de Fontainebleau. In order to ensure the clocks still in motion at the castle run on time and show this the collection in its best light, Rolex has offered to assist with the care and maintenance of the clock collection for a number of years. Visiting twice a month on average, a group of specialized restorers ensures the proper functioning of the mechanism and that repairs are carried out.

Restoration of the Musical Clock in the Chinese Museum

The Collection of Pendulum Clocks.

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Opening hours

The castle

The castle is open every day except Tuesday, January 1st, May 1st and December 25th.
From October to March: 9:30 am to 5:00 pm (last access at 4:15 pm).
From April to September: 9.30 am to 6 pm (last access at 5.15 pm).

Wearing a mask is compulsory from the age of 11.

The tour is fully accessible, except for the Napoleon I and Chinese museums. As a compensation, the exit is through the Oval Court, exceptionally open for the occasion.

It is not necessary to reserve a visit slot for the castle or the gardens.

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