A clock is an instrument or tool that displays the current time. Humans have tracked time for thousands of years using different types of clocks and tools, like water clocks, sundials, candle clocks, and hourglasses. You can find clocks everywhere, from kitchens in homes and offices to public spaces. Different types of clocks come in a range of shapes and sizes, and you can find them in computer displays, mobile phones, or in people’s pockets. We’ll outline several popular types of clocks and a brief history below.
A Brief Clock History
Clocks are one of the oldest human inventions that date back to 1300 when the Europeans invented the first mechanical time measuring device. It started with a sundial and using the direction of the sun to tell time. The sundial had a vertical metal stick on a horizontal surface that had markings for morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night. You could read the time of day by looking at the length and position of the shadows on the etched markings. The sundial wasn’t a hugely accurate way to tell time, it was in use for over 2,000 years from the point of invention.
However, as technology started to advance, we saw the rise of more accurate types of clocks. By the time 1652 rolled around, pendulum clocks took center stage as the world’s most precise time measuring devices. They were used very widely across the globe. The Grandfather clock came next around 1700, and the cuckoo clock didn’t follow until 1775. In 1840, the electric type of clock came to be, and in 1929, the quartz clock became very popular as a portable clock and a wrist watch.
Clocks have been around for hundreds of years, and they’re getting more and more accurate as technology advances. Vintage Clocks by Phil Norton / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Basics on How Clocks Work
A clock can only work when it has a primary source of power. This could be anything from a suspended weight or power line to a battery. Each type of clock uses regular rhythm movement to measure time accurately. The rhythmic back and forth movement has a specific speed that it moves at over and over again. The counter chains then get used to show the readouts of seconds, minutes, and hours. The displayed time indicator will be in a readable format that you can easily understand.
27 Popular Types of Clocks
Now that you know a short history and the basics on how many types of clocks work, we’ll help you find the perfect type of clock for your needs below.
1. Alarm Clock
One of the most obvious types of clocks available are the alarm clocks. This clock alerts you at a set time. The biggest function of these clocks are to either send you a reminder or to wake you up. Most alarm clocks use light, vibration, and sound as an alert function. According to historians, the mechanical alarm clocks first came from Germany in the 15th century.
However, it’s not known who first invented these clocks because most people didn’t use an alarm clock when they first came out. They typically relied on sunset or sunrise, prayer bells, or their servants to wake them up. Factory workers who lived close to the workplace relied on the manager’s whistles to wake them up. Over time, many different types of clocks in this category had different forms until smartphones came to be. Now, most people tend to use the alarm clock on their smartphones to set reminders or wake them up.
2. Analog Clock
Analog clocks are one of the most popular types of clocks available that feature numbers on the outside of the clock’s face. The clocks will display the hour and minute hands to show the current time. They typically come with a second hand to help people read the shorter periods of time between the hours.
You can find these clocks virtually anywhere from garages to public spaces. However, despite how useful they care, you’ll need to practice reading the time on this type of clock. While reading the time on this clock isn’t any more difficult than reading the time on a digital one, it usually has a professional design that makes people think it’s harder than it is. Analog clocks are very popular in offices and schools instead of residential settings because of their sleek look.
3. Atomic Clock
Atomic clocks are types of clocks that measure frequency in microwave, electron, and electromagnetic atom transitions. These clocks are designed to measure the exact length of a second through quartz crystal rhythm movement for much better stability. These clocks are typically only used by NASA for onboard GPS satellites that orbit the earth. They also get used to synchronizing the time in electric power grids, GPS, and smartphone watches.
4. Audio Clock
Audio types of clocks utilize a computer generated voice or a human voice recording to tell the time. Some audio clocks use auditory codes instead of voice to display the current time. These types of clocks get used to announce the times in various buildings, or blind people utilize them too. You can find digital audio clocks that show the time and announce it using a computer generated or human voice.
5. Battery-Powered Clock
There are several different types of clocks in this category. The main use of this clock is to give you peace of mind that comes with knowing if your power goes out, it won’t impact the clock’s ability to give you the correct time. However, you do need to replace the battery from time to time. If you value convenience and flexibility, this clock type is ideal because you can move them from room to room without having to worry about reconnecting and disconnecting cords like other models.
6. Calendar Clock
You’ll typically find calendar clocks on office desks so you know what the date and time is without having to look for an actual calendar. These clocks will take up much less space than actual calendars, and this is exactly why they’re so popular for workplaces and offices. However, they usually won’t show the whole month at one time.
7. Cuckoo Clock
Cuckoo clocks are a very popular type of clock found in many homes. They’re considered to be a very fun way to read the time since they have several unique features. Instead of looking at the clock to tell the time, you can listen to the clock instead. Just like the name suggests, this type of clock will have a small cuckoo bird pop out every time the dial hits the top of the hour.
Another interesting and unique characteristic of this clock is that it has a small door design. The small door will open automatically as the bird pops out. The mechanism on this type of clock gets created in a way that the bird comes out and goes back in according to the time. So, if it’s 11 o’clock in the morning, the bird can pop in and out 11 times when it strikes the hour.
Some of these clocks come with a feature that allows you to switch the sound off. This will save you from waking up by the noise the clock makes in the middle of the night. The dials are usually much smaller and marked using Roman numerals. They can be a nice decor piece that you can use as a conversation starter when you have guests over.
Cuckoo clocks can be a very whimsical addition to your home, and they’re more of a decor piece that’s meant to draw attention. Wooden Cuckoo Clocks by verifex / CC BY-NC 2.0
8. Digital Clock
You’ve most likely seen this type of clock or used one yourself. These clocks are very popular to use as an alarm clock, and you’re able to tell the time very quickly and easily at a glance. This is because this clock type has a special mechanism that allows you to read the time much easier, and even kids can learn how to read the time using them. There are no minute or hour hands on this clock, and the displayed numbers make it a lot easier to tell time during the day. Also, they tend to glow at night, and this allows you to know what time it is in the middle of the night from the comfort of your own bed.
9. Electric Clock
Instead of having to wind the clock manually, this type of clock uses electricity to power it. All you have to do is plug it into your electrical outlet. One big issue with this type of clock is that you can have the wrong time when the power gets cut to the outlet. To make sure that you have the correct time after the clock loses power, you’ll have to reset the time when the power gets restored.
10. Electronic Word Clock
This type of clock won’t use numeric displays. As the name suggests, it uses words to tell you what time it is. The words can get recorded using software or hardware. For example, the clock will display the time by saying, “it’s two o’clock” when you ask.
11. Floor Clock
Floor clocks are very similar to grandfather clocks because they’re freestanding and much bigger in size. As the name suggests, this type of clock will rest on the floor. They’re one of the most popular clocks for people to own. The modern version of this clock type is more fashionable because it features a tripod to help hold it up.
One big benefit of this type of clock is that they’re very flexible when it comes to placing them around the room, especially if you don’t have a lot of floor or wall space. Additionally, you don’t have to put any holes in your walls with this clock type as you would to hang a traditional wall clock.
12. Grandfather Clock
If you want a classic and large clock, a grandfather or longcase clock is the best option on the current market. This is quite possibly one of the largest and most traditional types of clock in the world. The majority of these clocks have a freestanding design, and they have a pendulum mechanism inside the tower or waist of the clock.
The pendulum can be up to 6.5-feet tall, and you’ll usually find them in mansion or manor houses. Since these clocks are beautifully made with a very traditional design, a lot of people use them to enhance a more rustic design style. You’ll find these clocks in vintage or antique stores, and they can be on the pricier side, depending on the age of the clock in question.
Modern grandfather clocks usually only last around 15 years before they start to develop issues with the internal mechanisms. If you want to keep them running for longer, you’ll want to have the mechanical parts oiled every five years. However, you shouldn’t attempt to do this yourself, and you should call in an expert. The process of oiling these expensive types of clocks involves carefully removing the ida and hands on the clock’s oscillator before applying a special type of oil. This oil minimizes friction.
Grandfather clocks take up more space in your home, but they can be a fantastic statement piece if you have a more traditional decor. Grandfather clock by Thomas Quine / CC BY 2.0
13. Light Sensor Clock
Light sensor types of clocks are very nice to put in a sick person’s room or in your kid’s bedroom because they don’t make any noise when it gets dark. No matter where you choose to put the clock in the room, it’ll go silent as it gets dark. The clocks will self-adjust based on the room’s light condition, unlike any clocks that require a manual shutoff and use automatic chimes.
14. Mantel Clocks
A mantel or shelf type of clock is a spring-driven device that you put on a mantel or shelf above your fireplace. Like a tabletop clock, you can put them on any flat surface you’d like in your home except the wall or directly on the floor. These clocks tend to be very detailed, and they have a metal or wooden exterior. This makes them a fantastic decorative furniture piece for the mantel in your room. They come with a numerical face with an hour and a minute hand that can be mechanical or operate by battery.
15. Marine, Maritime, or Weather Station Clock
Maritime or weather station clocks make a fantastic gift for anyone who adores nautical themes in their offices, homes, or boats, and they allow you to monitor the time, humidity outside, and the weather conditions. Instead of having to purchase three separate pieces of equipment to measure the weather, humidity, and time, you can get them all in one place with this type of clock. It offers a very aesthetically pleasing design that is perfect for anyone who wants a unique look.
16. Mechanical Clock
Mechanical types of clocks use an oscillator to measure time passing. When you compare them to atomic clocks, this is much less accurate. However, having pointed this out, you can use it any time during the day or night, even in more extreme weather conditions. This type of clock is very popular to use for the internet, transportation schedules, GPS, TV schedules, financial markets, and aviation. Also, a lot of scientific investigations require the use of mechanical timekeeping to carry out precise measurements.
17. Multi-Display Clock
This type of clock can be either analog or digital. The biggest purpose of this clock is to display multiple time zones, the date, and the temperature. They’re very useful for traveling. Some clocks feature two displays, and one display will show the solar time while the other shows mean time. Anyone who is blind or partially sighted will find multi-display clocks easy to read because they can come with larger digits and Braille displays.
18. Musical Clock
Musical types of clocks mark each hour with a musical tune. These are more elaborate clocks, and they’re a version of the traditional chiming clock. Each hour, they play a mechanically animated tune in the background. A lot of these clocks have popular songs as part of their design.
19. Outdoor Clock
If you run your own restaurant or store and you want to decorate the exterior part of the building, installing a metal outdoor clock can be a great choice. You’ll see these clocks hanging across Europe on the outside of boutiques and stores. They’re very functional with an attractive design, and they allow you to tell time at a glance.
Outdoor clocks are also a great type of clock to have and hang out on your patio or by your garden to help enhance your decor. Some outdoor clocks also feature a thermometer and a humidity gauge built into it, and they’re all weatherproof. This means they can be outdoors in different weather conditions while staying functional.
Outdoor clocks are very nice if you spend a lot of time in your yard or on your patio and you want to keep track of the time. Saint-Pancras, London by Denis Bourez / CC BY 2.0
20. Oversized Wall Clock
Oversized types of wall clocks are ideal in several different situations where you want to have a wall clock available that allows everyone to see the time but you need to get one that is a little bigger so no one has trouble. One such situation where this type of clock can come in handy is when you’re putting the clock in an area where people who have vision issues will look for it.
This could include at an eye doctor’s office in a nursing home. Another great use of this type of clock is in a larger room where people will sit further away from the clock and have trouble seeing it. The clocks also work well in school settings because it’s easy for the teacher to highlight the time and have the students see it.
21. Pendulum Clock
Pendulum-style types of clocks are some of the best-known ones in the world. They first appeared in the mid-1600s, and they’ve been used consistently in public places and homes. These clocks come with very wide pointers that allow the device to keep order. However, the pendulum-style clocks with more modern designs on them have smaller pointer sizes that allow them to not take up much room.
In spite of the fact that they’re very popular in households across the world, they do have some issues to consider. You’ll have to remember to wind them regularly as they’ll stop working if you don’t and you’ll lose track of time. Second, these types of clocks rely on gravity to function. Gravity’s force can vary from location to location. So, the clock can tell time differently if it’s at sea level or at a higher elevation. Also, with temperature fluctuations, it can change the length by contracting when it gets cold and expanding when it gets hot. This makes them less accurate overall.
22. Projection Clock
These types of clocks are usually digital, and they have a projector that will display a magnified image of the time on a surface or a screen. These clocks get used on ceilings or walls, and the digits on this clock are larger to make them easier to read. They’re great for partially sighted people who want to know the time in the living room or bedroom.
A lot of these types of clocks come with a battery as the backup power source, but the projection light might only work when it gets connected to an electricity supply. Having said this, you can easily find a portable battery-powered clock that looks like a flashlight and doesn’t need an AC supply to run.
23. Quartz Clock
A quartz type of clock relies on an electronic rhythm movement that gets regulated by quartz crystals to help measure the time. This crystal oscillator is one of the most important parts of this clock, and it is responsible for making it much more accurate than your standard mechanical clock.
Quartz crystals will vibrate when an electric charge passes through the oscillator. This will generate voltage while it vibrates. This is a very stable type of clock, and it can survive wild weather swings without an issue. They don’t lose their shape when the temperature fluctuates, and they stay very accurate in every environmental condition.
24. Radio Clock
A radio clock is ideal for anyone who wants to check the time, and they also want to listen to music at the same time. You can put these clocks on your bedside table or on a desk, and it offers dual functions. One benefit of picking this clock is that you can set the alarm to wake up to specific music from a set station on the radio instead of the more traditional beeping sound. Along with the alarm function, the other feature included with this clock is a humidity and temperature display.
25. Roman Numerals Clock
Roman numeral types of clocks are some of the most classic types that date back centuries. Most wall clocks and pocket watches usually had Roman numerals on the dials. Today, these clocks aren’t nearly as popular as analog or digital options, but it’s still possible to find them available in stores. Some people prefer to buy these clocks as they look very attractive in how they’re designed and they’re very functional. Other people can find it challenging to tell the time.
26. Tabletop Clock
Tabletop clocks are usually much smaller than most types of clocks on the list, and they can be much more discreet to look at than a standard wall clock. There are different materials, styles, and designs to choose from based on your decor. For a classic or traditional style, you can choose a wrought iron or wooden clock.
27. Wall Clock
The final type of clock on the list is the wall clock, and it’s arguably one of the most popular options available for offices and homes. They are very popular for solid reasons. You can easily hang them on any wall in your home for decoration purposes and to be able to tell the time at a glance. The clocks typically hang in public areas where you can access them easily.
These clocks come in a range of sizes and shapes. There are novelty wall clocks in different designs to match the look of your home. Unlike other types of clocks that you can only put on a flat surface, these clocks allow you to tell the time by glancing up.
We’ve outlined 27 types of clocks for you to consider in your home. Each one comes with benefits and drawbacks, and some may work better for your decor than others. You can look through the list and see which one is going to be easiest for you to read and get a functional and beautiful addition to your home.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.