Anyone who knows me is aware of my acute passion for mechanical watches.
Less known perhaps is the fact that my interest in watches originated in a fascination with aesthetics and inherent value of the timepieces rather than the intricacies or complexities of the movement and other technical aspects.
At the age of 14, upon seeing a magazine advertisement for a Patek Philippe Reference 3919 in white gold, I was mesmerized by its simple aesthetics and the fact that something so subtle and seemingly common as a plain wristwatch could be so incredibly valuable.
That is when my journey in timepieces started.
These two properties, inherent value and superior timeless aesthetics, culminated with my first personal encounter with the Sattler Classica Secunda 1985, a rare modern precision pendulum clock.
It was Number 333 and it adorned the hallway of the former Chronoswiss headquarters in Munich, Germany where I was working at the time. The owners of the Erwin Sattler manufacture had gifted the piece to their friend Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, founder and then owner of Chronoswiss, for the inauguration of his new factory building.
Upon sight, the immediate conviction overcame me that one day I would have to own one of these stunning marvels of wall art.
Years later, after I had moved to Princeton, New Jersey, I finally acquired my Sattler Classica Secunda 1985. And it has given me troves of joy ever since the day it arrived in my home – a feeling that continues to overcome me every time I glance at it: I am filled with the same profound satisfaction and pride of ownership.
Enough with the anecdotes, though. After all, a precision pendulum clock selling for the price of a decent grand piano is as necessary to life as a wristwatch costing the same as a family minivan.
Hence, we need some justification for the investment. So let me try to explain my personal fascination with this grand objet d’art and why I believe it is well worth considering for anyone who loves mechanics.
The Erwin Sattler manufacture
Erwin Sattler is a family-owned clock manufacturer, I dare say today the only one of its kind in the world. Its founding dates back to 1903 when Heinrich Sattler patented a mantel clock with an integrated perpetual calendar.
Some 60 years later, Erwin Sattler founded the company that is still in existence today, now owned and managed by his daughter, Stephanie Sattler-Rick, and her business partner Richard Müller.
Most watch brands (certainly those manufacturing less than 100 units a year) can only dream of the depth of manufacturing and production independence that Sattler achieves.
With the exception of very few non-mechanical parts (the glass used in the casing, for example), Erwin Sattler manufactures every single part of the clocks in-house at its factory in Munich’s suburbs. That means every plate, bridge, screw, hand, spring, dial, pendulum rod, and weight is crafted in the company’s own laboratories and workshops.
With a team of about 30 master clockmakers, metallurgists, physicists, tool makers and others, the company has expanded its product portfolio over the years from solely unrivaled ultra-high precision pendulum clocks to include highly complicated time machines, high-tech watch winders, wristwatches, and nautical instruments.
The beauty about the way the owners go about the business side of the manufacture is its organic pace. With its unique global positioning and funds amassed through the careful and continued success of the family business, the company has no pressure to rapidly grow, increase top line sales and EPS, or pay out shareholder dividends.
The owners are disciplined about staying grounded and true to the passion they have for what they do. This leads to the distribution being highly selective around the globe – and not as a strategic approach to luxury marketing, but simply as an outflow of the level of craftsmanship and the unwillingness to compromise in any form or fashion on the quality or technical and aesthetic values of the product.
Technical aspects of the Classica Secunda 1985
The Classica Secunda 1985 is one of Erwin Sattler’s longest standing models; it has seen continuous improvements and perfection since its introduction to the market in 1985.
It is also one of the most precisely running clocks from the ingenious manufacture. So much so that it was selected by the German Museum of Natural History and Science to represent the second pendulum clock in its collection.
In 1820, French scientists defined the “second diminished part” of an hour, the “secunda diminutive pars,” as one-86,400th of a mean solar day.
Like the oscillating balance wheel in a wristwatch, the second pendulum of the Classica Secunda 1985 serves both as the dividing and impulse-giving part of the clock’s movement.
The pendulum’s even and consistent swing determines the precision of the clock. And that swing is in turn determined by the consistent physical characteristics of the pendulum, most notably its length and center of gravity.
This is why Erwin Sattler prioritizes the use of materials that don’t change when temperature or humidity does.
By utilizing these materials, a true precision pendulum clock should deviate only minimally from cesium time standards over much longer periods than experienced with even the most precise of mechanical wristwatches.
And when I say precision, I mean to the tune of one second in six months!
The pendulum rod of the Classica Secunda 1985 is crafted from a multi-layer Superinvar alloy. This material is highly resistant to temperature changes and, yet, to compensate for even the slightest deviations, the rod is constantly counterbalanced by a freely swinging compensation tube.
But even this is not enough: to add precision and eliminate changes that result from fluctuations of surrounding air pressure, the pendulum of the Classica Secunda 1985 is equipped with an aneroid barometric compensation drum that shifts weight up and down the pendulum depending on changes in air pressure.
Let me pause here to explain a simple fact about pendulum clocks: the longer the pendulum is, the slower it will swing.
In other words, the lower the center of gravity within a given length of clock pendulum, the slower the pendulum will swing and thus the slower the clock will run. Which takes me to the intricacies of adjusting the Classica Secunda 1985 for perfect timing.
First, you obviously want to make sure to have the clock mounted on as solid a wall as possible so that it is not exposed to frequent vibration. This wall should be in a room with a consistent climate, and one that is not otherwise subject to abrupt changes in environmental parameters is certainly desirable.
I have to admit that I fall short of these placement criteria as I have positioned my Classica Secunda 1985 in the library, relatively close to a wood fire place.
Once positioned and mounted in a perfectly level position, the adjustment of the actual clock begins. Achieving the most notable changes in the pendulum’s center of gravity, done by raising or lowering it, takes place by raising or lowering the cylindrical double barrel pendulum weights.
Just beneath these two (very heavy and polished to perfection) cylinders, you can find a setting screw with a small scale secured by a counter nut. Each marker on the scale represents approximately a one-second-a-day regulation. Turning the screw to the right raises the pendulum weight and thus the center of gravity. Lowering the weight has the opposite effect and slows the clock down.
Before starting this procedure, one must place one of the two larger 200 mg regulating weights crafted in fine nickel silver on the circular regulating table in the middle of the pendulum rod.
After adjusting the pendulum of the clock with the bottom setting screw to about a second a day, these weights can later be used to further adjust the center of gravity without stopping or touching the pendulum.
Removing the initial weight again lowers the center of gravity and causes the clock to run about one second slower per day. Adding the additional weight will result in the opposite.
With this procedure, it is possible to adjust the Classica Secunda 1985 to a precision within about 1-2 seconds’ deviation per week.
But of course that is not enough.
Additional polished nickel silver and brushed aluminum weights ranging from 50 mg to as little as one mg can be used to further tweak the regulation. Without much effort, I achieved a precision of about one second’s deviation per month.
Even my ultra-precise high-beat Grand Seiko pales in comparison. And with a power reserve of just over 30 days, one winding of the clock also lasts about 15 times longer than the watch.
Assisting me in this endeavor is a very useful app for fans of timing precision called Precision Time, which synchronizes with a number of cesium time servers and issues various acoustic timing signals that make adjusting the clock very easy.
Now you might think this is all fine and it sounds like anybody could do it, and that’s true. But how about the actual assembly and mounting of the clock on the wall?
Don’t worry, at this luxurious price tag, the Classica Secunda 1985 comes with personal installation by one of the specialists from the factory in Munich.
However, I have now mounted and taken the clock down three times myself and I can vouch that if you are careful and somewhat skilled with your hands, you probably can do it yourself.
Improperly executed, you can obviously cause major damage to the clock and its parts, some of which are quite sensitive. Nonetheless, allow me to go a bit further into explaining the process.
The Classica Secunda 1985 is shipped directly from the factory in Munich to your home in the United States (or wherever). It comes in a layered box that has a total of three double cardboard outer shells, each spaced with individually fitted polyurethane foam.
The case and each part are individually wrapped and again housed in a tightly fitted polyfoam insert. I highly recommend ordering the optional stainless steel mounting plate for U.S. homes as most likely the clock will be placed on a dry wall, and this mounting plate provides additional stability and hanging support.
This is because the clock itself is mounted on a single bolt screw that is located exactly in the center of the dial behind the movement. Four high-polished knurled screws drive sharp blued stainless steel pins through the case into the wall to both stabilize the housing and help with lateral and frontal leveling of the case.
The inside back of the black lacquered shell is fitted with an absolutely amazing mirror-polished stainless steel plate that is precisely the same size as the clock’s dial. It features four precisely milled pillars holding the movement in place as well as an additional finely turned bolt that holds the pendulum suspension spring and the pendulum.
The suspension spring is crafted from a secret steel alloy with low density and ultra-high flexibility; the two aligning spring stripes measure no more than 0.05 mm in thickness. The bending center of the spring system is exactly in line with the movement’s anchor pivot.
The suspension spring is likely the single most sensitive part of the entire clock. Mishandling it or not having a steady hand when coupling the pendulum will bend and destroy the spring. The clock comes with a spare spring system stored in the accessories drawer.
After hanging the pendulum system, the actual movement as well as the dial and hands is mounted onto the four milled pillars and secured using knurled and highly polished screws.
Upon engaging the pendulum with the connecting anchor rod and adjusting the symmetry of the pendulum swing, the assembly of the weight pulley is the last step toward completion. Extreme caution is advised in setting the stainless steel cable so it doesn’t get caught between the wheels of the movement.
One last suggestion: I highly recommend using the microfiber gloves that come with the clock throughout the assembly or any time that you touch any parts of the clock or its case. The level of finish on every single part is so extraordinary that dust, scratches and fingerprints are very easily seen. You can tell from the photos that I did unfortunately not observe this important rule in the past.
Aesthetic aspects of the Classica Secunda 1985
The moment you first give an impulse to the pendulum and it starts swinging on its own, generating the clock’s ticking, is a sound you will never forget. And the tick alone is worth a full page of praise!
Each tick perfectly embodies the utter precision and technicality characterizing the very nature of this piece of wall art. The steady but gently beating pulse is loud enough that you can clearly hear it in a quiet room, but subtle enough that you don’t notice it if you don’t pay attention to it.
It reminds me of the sounds of nature, like sounds that you would hear far away from civilization during a walk in the woods, because it is so natural.
Paired with the visual stimulus of watching the pendulum in all its weight, grace, and utter precision swing back and forth narrowly above the precision scale at the bottom of the clock, this visual and acoustic ensemble has the same unreservedly mesmerizing attraction that a crackling fire in an open fireplace has: a glass of good red wine and the Classica Secunda 1985 could easily serve as one’s evening entertainment!
Coming back to the origin of my watch collecting passion, though, it is the perfect embodiment of value that makes this Erwin Sattler precision pendulum clock such an impressive luxury home décor item.
I would place this clock in the leagues of a Steinway grand piano. And depending on the exact model chosen from the Sattler collection, you can easily spend as much money on acquiring one. It is absolutely an object of desire.
Every polished screw, the sterling silver brushed and engraved dial, the flame-blued carved hands, all the highly polished parts on the pendulum and weight, and last but not least the case that is crafted from rare hardwoods and finished with a total of 13 layers of hand-polished piano lacquer and beveled lead crystal glass panes – all these components exude craftsmanship, precision, and most importantly luxury.
It is the composition of all aspects of this clock that make it such an exquisite interior design object.
I do truly believe that the Classica Secunda 1985 is much more mechanical art and a design object than a wall clock in and of itself. It certainly has nothing to do with the traditional grandfather clock our parents and grandparents had in their homes.
And here I’d like to return to my introductory thoughts about luxury and the concept of inherent value.
To better illustrate, let me draw a couple more examples: you can have nice stainless steel cutlery at home. Or you can spend a considerable amount of money getting a set of heavily silver plated (90-150) tableware from Robbe Berking or Christofle.
Which you choose will make a huge aesthetic difference. And if you are into it, it will be well worth the investment.
And then you can go all out and get massive Sterling silver (925) silverware from the same brands. While the latter will look exactly the same as the silver-plated cutlery, but for the different hallmarks, the tenfold upgraded cost will automatically also radiate into its perceived value.
And this makes a huge emotional difference.
The same applies to other luxury items, including the Erwin Sattler Classica Secunda 1985. This piece exudes value in every respect, and I have yet to meet anybody who’s seen it for the first time and was not struck by awe.
My personal Classica Secunda 1985 once also hung in a large seating area in my former home in Florida. That house has a very peculiar European interior design, and when we showed it most prospective buyers didn’t bid because they were looking for a different style.
However, even the parties who had decided against the house within minutes into the showing ended up staying in some cases for almost an hour admiring the Classica Secunda 1985. There is no question that the clock was the talking piece of the entire property.
In my eyes, the Erwin Sattler Classica Secunda 1985 is clearly the next big luxury item the discerning consumer would want to own.
For one, you can rest assured to have something in your home that barely anyone has ever seen in their lives before.
And should you desire to let out your inner geek, this clock is the perfect precision toy for you, from the initial assembly to tuning with possible upgrade parts and setting and finely adjusting the time.
And once every 30 days, or more often if you please in between, you can celebrate the process of winding this marvel. Taking the hand crank out from the accessories drawer at the bottom of the case and inserting it into the perfectly fitting winding stem in the center of the hour hand is a sublime sensory experience.
The fine clicking sound that the ratchet makes while winding and the smooth motion of the pulley that transports the weight back up along the lead glass panes is a rare treat in this ever accelerating world.
My personal greatest pleasure for the 30 days between winding highlights is to observe the unbelievable precision displayed when the second hand advances with a tick from one marker to the next: perfectly on spot and perfectly in synch in perfectly controlled motion.
These moments of experiencing the lasting ownership of the Classica Secunda 1985 are what I would define as expressions of luxury in the purest sense.
This article was first published 2016 at