A Brief Analysis of the Vienna Regulator and an Examination of the effects of
19th century Viennese vohneme Welt (high society) preferences on the design
of the clock movement.

© 1998 Demetrios and Melina Papparhegopoulous

After Austria became the seat of the Holy Roman Empire1 under Frederick III in 1438, the country prospered---particularly in the arts---a prosperity that was to extend for nearly a half a millennium. Not the least of these arts was "der Wiener Pendeluhr"; the clock now known to us as the Vienna regulator, whose distinctive design dates back to about 1780.

That the Vienna Regulator is considered to be a highly desirable clock has been recognized for many years. The popularity of the design continued well into the 20th century, to the extent that both the Seth Thomas Company and E. Howard & Company in the United States produced copies of these clocks, and that copies of these clocks are also made today in several Far Eastern countries. Although it was designed specifically as a wall clock, echoes of the three distinct parts of the earlier tall-case clock appear: The dial section has an elaborate, sometimes pedimented or otherwise decorated top, a narrow waist to accommodate the pendulum and the fall of the weights, and a decorative base, usually not quite as wide as the top, but nearly always with the added decorative flourish of a bracket. The movements themselves are unique. It has been noted that nearly all examples of these clocks use an 80-beat (.75 second) pendulum, although examples beating 60 (1 second), 72 (.83 second), and even 120-beat (.5 second), have been seen.

When one mentions products made in this Central European area, the reputation of the Germanic craftsman immediately comes to mind (regardless that the makers were Austrians).

The Germanic peoples are regarded by some as perhaps somewhat stolid, yet precise and supremely careful workmen, whether the product be automobiles or clocks.2
Vienna regulator
Figure 1. A gorgeous example of the Vienna regulator.

1. ...of which Voltaire wrote in 1756: "This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire is neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire."
2. It was, however, a German maker who exported several clocks (with brass pendulum rods) to the Mediterranean regions, and very soon heard that the clocks were not running to time‹they were slow. Not wishing to suffer a blow to his reputation, the maker dispatched his senior journeyman (a Master who had not yet paid his Guild Fees) to correct the problem. Upon his arrival, this journeyman unpacked his (brass) instruments and measuring devices, but could find no error. Years later someone realized that the brass instruments expanded at the same rate as the pendulum rods. From: Über den Pendelschlag Astronomischen Uhren, 1792. Ottmar Tützling, Uhrmacher.


Toward the middle of the 19th century these very popular clocks began to appear with 'seconds' hands, very likely added as a sales-promoting device.

In a Vienna regulator with an 80-beat pendulum and a 30-tooth escape wheel (a rather common configuration), the 'seconds' hand makes one revolution in 45 seconds, yet at the same time, clocks were made with 40-tooth escape wheels in which the 'seconds' hand makes one revolution in one minute. To further compound this anomaly, many of these 80-beat, 30- and 40-tooth escape wheel clocks have 'seconds' dials that are marked with the numbers 15, 30, 45, and 60‹obviously incorrect. Other clocks have been noted with 80 dial divisions of the seconds track, without any number marks, and some are marked with 20, 40, 60, and 80! The entire situation is confusing, and in some cases, disruptively confusing. There is a case on record in which the new owner of a gorgeous Vienna regulator in the Biedermeier style, blissfully unaware of the quarter minute difference, idly measured his heartbeat against the 'seconds hand' of his clock and had a 'resting-rate' pulse of 56! Somewhat worried, he consulted his doctor, and was quickly assured that his pulse was 'normal.' After several repetitions, he noticed that his doctor began avoiding him, and rumors concerning his eccentricity began to circulate within the medical fraternity. Another owner, whose clock had an otherwise unmarked 'seconds' dial with the 80 divisions marked (the movement used a 40 tooth escape wheel), similarly attempted a pulse count, watching the second hand as it 'jumped' 80 times around the dial. He immediately noted that his pulse lagged the second hand considerably---it would normally lead the second hand---and hied himself off to his physician, once again with predictable results.

But why did the Viennese makers take the trouble to redesign the train to accommodate an 80-beat pendulum? 60-beat pendulæ---the Royal pendulum---were the norm after the successive inventions of the recoil and deadbeat escapements, and had an adequately accurate seconds indication. The earliest clocks, known as lanterndlur---"lantern clocks"---because of their resemblance to a similarly glazed lantern‹did indeed use the 60-beat pendulum, and only later did the 80-beat pendulum appear. With an exposed and nearly always elaborate pendulum bob, there was no need for a seconds hand moving on the dial to indicate that the clock was still running. Besides, a Vienna regulator with a pendulum beating seconds would have had an even more impressive case to hang on the wall. An examination of possible reasons for this re-design and the logic therefor follow.


A tall-case clock my violinist wife quite treasures (an early brass-dial David Stephen, made in the small fishing village of Johnshaven on Scotland's northeast coast) stands in her practice room beside her music-stand. Her favorite composer is Johann Strauss the Younger, the Viennese 'Waltz King', and on the particular day which is the birth date of this paper, she was practicing a waltz, and had set her metronome to 80 beats per minute---a normal waltz tempo. The fairly quiet tick of the clock doesn't bother her, but on this occasion, before she began playing, I noted (I had been drafted to turn pages) an odd phenomenon as the metronome and the clock both ticked away. Every third tick of the clock was reinforced by a simultaneous tick from the metronome---the metronome was set for the traditional 80 beat 3/4 time---and naturally the clock was ticking along at 60 beats. Intrigued, I did not stop either the clock or the metronome, but resolved on some minor musico/horological research. At one time I had 85 or so clocks running---all over the house and my workroom---and I recall that one particular (American) Waterbury OOG with a distinctively loud and obstreperous tick always disagreed with all the other clocks---its beat would synchronize with that of another clock for a mere moment, and then immediately and annoyingly drift out of synchrony. It wasn't long before that clock began to sleep at night; coincidentally, at about the same time my insomnia was miraculously cured.

Curiosity had earlier led us to take a quick look at the origins of the metronome, that small born-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-blankets relative of the clock. It has a widely (and wildly) adjustable beat, and thereby is a device whose design is in complete opposition to the centuries-long search for the perfect timekeeper. The metronome was invented in about 1812 by Dietrich Nikolaus Winkler in Amsterdam, but a Johann Nepomuk Maelzel copied (some aver he stole) the design, added a scale of tempo divisions to the stick of the compound pendulum, and patented the device as a "metronome." To this day it is known as a Maelzel Metronome, and an indication on a musical score of "M.M. = 80", informs the musician that the Maelzel Metronome should be set to a tempo (beat) of 80 (usually quarter) notes per minute.

It is common knowledge in the medical and musical worlds that human beings (although most of us are completely unaware of this) are most comfortable with a rhythm repeating their own pulse rate---normally approximately 72 beats per minute---and that this can (and does) create problems for musicians and conductors who unconsciously retard or speed up their tempi during a performance. No two persons have precisely the same heart tempo, and it is notable that a heart transplant patient3 requires some time to become accustomed to the new heartbeat, should it by chance vary significantly from the beat to which the patient became acclimated even before birth.

3. Apparent Physio-Patho-Psychological Causes and Effects of Perceived Cardiac Arrhythmiæ (Purkinje tissue defects); J. O. Denis in POPULAR PSYCHOMETRICS: and Neurocirculatory Asthenia Syndrome (Paroxysmal Tachycardia) in Post-cardiac-transplant Patients, C. Porter in NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART.


The modern waltz, which itself is derived from an earlier dance, is best described by the Harvard Dictionary of Music as: "...a couple dance in triple time,4 [although] considered a daring, even risqué, intrusion from the lower classes into the polite world, it evolved into a symbol of grace, sophistication, and elegance." A tempo of 80 beats per minute is a common notation for the waltz, as it is fairly fast (but not too fast) even though one's heartbeat whilst waltzing invariably rises somewhat above 80 beats per minute. By 1780 (and please note the coincidence in dates), the waltz had gained wide favor throughout Europe---particularly so in Vienna---where it was later spurred on to even greater heights of popularity by the likes of Joseph Lanner (1801-1843), and his successor, Johann Strauss the Elder (1804-1849), once a violinist in Lanner's orchestra, and, of course, Johann the Elder's son---Johann Strauss the Younger (1825-1899). Johann the Younger was a violinist and a composer who wrote the immortal An der schönen blauen Donau, (The Blue Danube), as well as Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales of the Vienna Woods), and Wein, Weib, und Gesang (Wine, Women, and Song).
The history of Vienna records that "...the entire city resounded to music in a waltz tempo..." both before and after this symbol of grace, sophis-tication, and elegance became synonymous with its name. It was to be heard in the city---and still is--- throughout the day. At the height of its popularity, street musicians,
AViennese ballroom

Figure 2. An engraving of a 19th century Viennese ballroom, with the orchestra on the balcony at the far end of the room.

4. Triple time is normally considered to be on the order of 160 to 180 beats per minute. As the dance grew in popularity, that tempo was considered too fast for all but the most accomplished dancers, to the point that composers began writing music at the much slower "standard" waltz tempo---80 beats per minute.


the orchestras playing in the Burgtheater, the Opernhaus, and in the glittering ballrooms of the wealthy (well on into the night ) all conspired to remind one of the city's fascination---indeed, its obsession---with the music that to this day is its signature, and some would say; its heartbeat. Several conclusions should be immediately obvious to the perceptive student of horology in reading through this abbreviated tour of the history of the Vienna regulator, its distant relative; the metronome, and the waltz. First, that there is obviously no accident in the coincidence of the musical tempo preferred in this most popular of Viennese dances, and in the use of 80-beat pendulums in these highly esteemed clocks which also found their highest expression in that same city. Second, there can be no doubt that the use of this particular pendulum length is the result of a distinct (although probably unconsciously acquired) evolutionary preference for the tempo of the ticking of this clock. Third, in that human beings feel most comfortable with a familiar tempo, whether it be their own heartbeat, or that of a favorite waltz tune running through one's head, it should not be at all surprising that the---perhaps subliminally acquired---tempo of der Waltzer tanzen, that "daring, even risqué, intrusion from the lower classes", with its subtle and subconscious appeal to that which some consider "mankind's baser instincts", "evolved into a symbol of grace, sophistication, and elegance", is the reason an 80-beat pendulum is most commonly found in a Vienna regulator, itself a symbol of grace, sophistication, and elegance.

About the Author:

Mr. Papparhegopoulous, currently residing on the island of Corfu, (in his words; "That jewel of the wine-dark Ionian Sea.") is a well-known authority on the Vienna regulator. He was the James Arthur Lecturer on "Vienna Regulators: their Origins, Derivation, Design, and Permutations", during the recent Seminar on European Horology, and has published two highly acclaimed books on the technical history of this clock type, with a special emphasis on the variations found in the movements, dials, and cases of these superb and most collectible clocks. His extensive personal collection and studies of examples of this particular genre in the world of horology, and the studies published in other venues by his wife Melina, an internationally renowned violinist and expert on the compositions of Johann Strauss the Younger, are the collaborative basis for this short dissertation on the Vienna regulator, and of the physio-societal preferences and pressures affecting its design.