Candle Clock: All you need to know about it.

Humanity took centuries to stumble upon viewing time the way we do nowadays. When humanity was still a bit young we used to mark time by the rising and setting of the sun. And a month by the waxing and waning of the moon. But as we grew we built better and more precise ways of telling time. And, one of our first tries to this was the candle clock.

The complete origin of the candle clock is somewhat hazy but many historians say that Candle clocks first came to be in China in near 500 A.D. Here is how it worked: As the candle burnt down through the melting of the wax whilst the passing of the day, the time would be determined by seeing how much the candle has already burnt and which mark it has crossed. To further elaborate, here is a picture

A picture of the candle clock
Candle Clocks

Then came the mechanical clocks in the 8th century and after a few centuries of evolution, they soon became the standard. It started off by having a weight hanging from a pulley that turned and geared the single hand. Which indicated the hours as well as the portions of the hour. Then came the spring-wound clocks in the fifteenth century. This was around 1400 A.D. when coiled springs began to be used in clocks. And as most of the locksmiths were also clockmaker, hence they were simultaneously introduced in clocks too.

A picture of the candle clock
Candle Clocks

Mention in Poems

The earliest mentions of Candle clocks were in Chinese poems and especially poems of You Jiangu. In his writing, the candles were used in determining the time at night. Similar Candles were also used in Japan before the 10th Century. The mechanism You Jiangu mentioned in his poems consisted of six candles made from 72 pennyweights (24 grains each), of wax, each being 12 inches high, of uniform thickness, and divided into 12 sections each of one inch. Each one of these six candles burnt in 4 hours and each marking of the clock showed that a further 20 minutes had passed. For the sake of protection, these clocks were placed under wooden frames with transparent horn panels in the sides so that the clock is easily viewable anytime. Down below is a picture for better elaboration

A picture of a candle clock used at the time

Similar methods like this one, where more than 5 candles are used, were used in Medieval churches as well. To elaborate its importance at the time, even “King Alfred the Great” of England used Candle clocks within his castle. The number of candles burnt and the no. of marks were taken as quite accurate for measuring time at the time

The most sophisticated candle clocks

The most advanced and sophisticated candle clocks that were made were of Al-Jazari in 1206. These clocks included a dial to display the time and, for the first time. And also consisted of a fastening mechanism and bayonet fitting. To quote, Donald Routledge Hill described one of the many AL-Jazari clocks as follows” The candle, whose rate of burning was known, bore against the underside of the cap, and its wick passed through the hole. Wax collected in the indentation and could be removed periodically so that it did not interfere with steady burning. The bottom of the candle rested in a shallow dish that had a ring on its side connected through pulleys to a counterweight. As the candle burned away, the weight pushed it upward at a constant speed. The automata were operated from the dish at the bottom of the candle “

How was the time of the candle clock Universal?

Though the waxes that were used in these time-telling candles could be of different types as mentioned below

  • Bayberry Wax.
  • Beeswax.
  • Microcrystalline Wax.
  • Paraffin Wax.
  • Soy Wax

But most of these waxes that were used had the same melting time and besides, more often than not the same wax was used world-wide which made the timing of the candle-clock more or less Universal and more reliable than other ways of telling time at the time

Some other Ancient clocks


They were one of the first instruments to be used for dividing up a day. It was used to divide up the day from sunrise to sunset to 12 equal parts. But, as the name tells, this clock was only useful in the day time

It used the shadow of an object exposed to the sun. And, as the sun went through its progressions throughout the day, it ultimately caused the shadow of the object to move and ultimately tell time

A picture of a sundial
A Sundial

The sundial is considered by many as the very first device that was used by the ancient people to figure out the time. The world’s oldest sundial is the “valley of king” which dates back to 1500 B.c. but some say that the history of sundials started way before that. There were different types of sundials that were used. Some made of stones and other made of wood

The Sandglass

Probably, the most famous of ancient clocks and there is a high chance you have at least seen it once either on a TV show or a movie. The sandglass consists of two glass bulbs which are vertically connected with a narrow neck. The neck allows some amount of sand to pass through the upper glass to the lower glass. Usually, the upper and lower glasses are exactly alike, so the sandglass would measure the exact same time regardless of its orientation

A picture of a sunglass clock
A Sandglass

The first sandglass clock is said to have been made by a french monk named Liutprand during the eighth century A.D. The sandglass clock is also known as the hourglass as it could only tell when an hour was up. They were used to set off blocks of time. And hence, they were all designed to measure one hour. Nowadays if you wish to buy an hourglass/sandglass for decor, there are some that cost thousands of dollars due to their unique history.

A Water Clock

Another device and one of the very first that we used to measure time was the water clock back in the 5th century B.C. To elaborate, some amount of water was put in a vessel. That was allowed to escape through a hole in the bottom. The time determined varied according to the size of the vessel and the hole made at the bottom

A picture of an ancient water clock
A Waterclock

It was all before we had the liberty of wearing fancy clocks on our wrist. Or even the scientific knowledge to make the atomic clock. Which helps function the internet as well as the GPS system properly. So, how was it possible for anyone to maintain some kind of a schedule. And then sundials were made which made it possible to navigate through time but they only worked in the daytime. So, Egyptians thought of making a time measurement device using the most common liquid around, water. They were educated enough to know that as the level of water in a container drops, the outflow of the stream coming out of the hole made will also drop

The Astronomical clock

It is a clock that displays astronomical information to whoever that takes a glance. It tells information like the relative position of the sun, the moon, and sometimes even major planets. To represent months, the astronomical clock uses zodiac. Moreover, the zodiac signs are more often displayed inside the time dial. Also, to project the movement of the earth, the clock features it in the center of the clock

A picture of an astronomical clock
An Astronomical clock

The oldest astronomical clock is well over 600 years old and is named as the Prague astronomical clock. This clock stopped functioning a few times but was repaired and functions quite alright as of now. Most of the astronomical clocks out there have a 24- hour analog dial around the edge. And the current time is told by a picture of the sun or a ball at the end of the pointer. Lastly, if you want to know more about Astronomical clocks Wikipedia has some great information on this topic so do give it a look if you’re interested.” Astronomical clocks- WikipediaOpens in a new tab.

Clocks Now

Clocks nowadays have advanced themselves to a very intricate level. The clocks nowadays can connect to wifi and be connected to atomic clocks which are super-accurate clocks. To elaborate, Atomic clocks are clocks that measure the oscillations (movement) of atoms. This is pretty complicated stuff but the basic concept is that all atoms of a given element vibrate or tick the same number of times per second. To elaborate, there are 9,192,631,770 ticks in one second. And though this number seems a bit weird it is quite important. Since, today the international standard for what a second is based on that many vibrations/ticks of a cesium atom

To give you a gist about the impact this super-accurate clock, here is a fact: We wouldn’t have a transmission of data, the internet nor the GPS if it weren’t for atomic clocks.

Moreover, whenever we build a new clock, engineers find a good way to use it. So, in the future, if we develop even more accurate clocks, who knows where they will lead us. If you have any further questions about candle clocks or any kind of other clocks mentioned above, feel free to use the comment section below. Lastly, If you are interested in knowing why do pendulum clocks stop during earthquakesOpens in a new tab.. We wrote an article on that, so check it out. And stay tuned to ohmyclock for more interesting articles about clocks

AK Iqbal

A University of London’ student with a passion for writing. Clocks have always intrigued me and the importance that they have in our lives is way beyond phenomenal. So, on this site, I write everything about clocks, everything from answering any clock-related queries that you might have along with recommending some of my favorite clocks accordingly. Moreover, I will also be conducting some researches on clock related topics and sharing the things that I learn. So stay tuned to ohmyclock for all the fun clocks related content

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