Copper in the Arts

December 2021

Treasured Timepieces: Handcrafted Luxury Clocks in Brass

By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes

Gracing the cover of a recent issue of White House History Quarterly is a brass clock that was custom made by Chelsea Clock, the 124-year old luxury clock maker based in Chelsea, Massachusetts. 

“When Melania (Trump) redid the first family quarters they wanted a Chelsea Clock specially made and designed to go above the entrance to their White House quarters,” says Anthony LaChapelle, Chelsea Clock’s President and COO. “It took us a year and a half to make.”

Chelsea has a deep history with the White House.

chelseaclock1.jpgChelsea Clocks are handcrafted using forged (not stamped) brass,
making them more durable. 

Photograph courtesy of Chelsea Clock. 

“We made a clock for every president as far back as Truman,” LaChapelle says. 

Today, Chelsea Clock focuses on offering high-end luxury clocks for special occasions, recognition and awards, but initially their business was centered on nautical and marine.

“We partnered with the Navy and the Department of Defense,” he says, of the partnership that began in the 1940s. “In WWII every ship in the Navy would have Chelsea Clocks in them.”

While they still sell their handcrafted clocks to the Department of Defense and the Navy, over time Chelsea evolved into selling to consumers. 

“We sell to high-end jewelry and gift stores,” LaChapelle said, naming Tiffany & Co. and Scully & Scully among the locations where they are currently sold. 

Chelsea’s ‘Ship’s Bell Clock’, made of a solid forged brass case, is currently sold at Scully & Scully mounted on a mahogany base for $3,400. Like all of Chelsea’s clocks, it is individually hand-assembled, polished and lacquered. 

“Our clocks are all forged brass, no stamped brass,” LaChapelle says. “A stamped brass is going to be less expensive, but it’s not going to last.”

Chelsea patented the first Ship’s Bell in their factory in 1900. Made of 364 parts, their Ship’s Bells are hand-assembled, culminating in six weeks that is dedicated to the making of each one between the manufacturing and assembly that goes behind it.  

On their website, they walk through the steps of the manufacturing process behind the making of their highly revered nautical clocks.

chelseaclock3.jpgEach clock is carefully handcrafted in Massachusetts. 
Photograph courtesy of Chelsea Clock. 

“Although we’ve been crafting our Ship’s Bell mechanical timepieces the old-fashioned way for over a century, our engineers use computer-aided design technology to create blueprints for our designs,” Chelsea clock states on their website. “Every single component we manufacture, no matter how tiny, is digitally rendered to its exact specifications using special software.”

According to Chelsea Clock, the high quality and volume of brass they use accounts for the unique bell tone of the Ship’s Bell strike.

“Chelsea clocks and barometers are made of heavy solid brass forgings,” Chelsea states. “The 6-inch bell clock, for example, contains up to seven pounds of solid brass, most of which is in the casing, forged (not cast) from a single chunk of metal to provide maximum protection from rust and corrosion.” 

They use a computerized lathe to ensure the right size and shape for the clock cases.

“The shaping process is essentially the same whether a case is going to be used for a Ship’s Bell or for any other clock or barometer model,” they state. 

In addition to the dial and case, there are many handcrafted parts that go into the making of a Chelsea clock. Chelsea explains how custom machinery was especially designed and built by the company to manufacture their own precision parts, from bushings to wheels. Chelsea cuts, rather than stamps, all of its gears for better accuracy. 

Many of the methods used to craft these parts remain unchanged over the years since the company’s founding in 1897. 

Today, Chelsea does business with iconic luxury brands such as Ralph Lauren. 

“We have a big order shipping to them in December,” LaChapelle says, of the private label clocks being made by Chelsea Clock. 

Currently Chelsea Clock’s biggest challenge is fulfilling their direct-to-consumer orders. Orders that would typically take two weeks to ship are now taking two to four. 

“Right now our challenge is we have the largest backlog of orders in memory,” LaChapelle says. “We are challenged with supply chain issues to get components and parts, so my main focus right now is getting stuff out the door.” 

All of Chelsea Clock’s timepieces are manufactured in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and here’s a video to get an inside look at their process. 

“Our precision manufacturing is on the first floor, assembly and repair is on the second and management, sales and accounting is on the third floor,” he says. 

In addition to offering brass clocks, they offer a large selection in a nickel-plated finish. Their collection includes wall, desktop and mantle clocks as well as tide clocks and barometers. 

chelseaclock4.jpgChelsea clocks and barometers are made of heavy solid brass forgings.
The 6-inch bell clockcontains up to seven pounds of solid brass.

Photograph courtesy of Chelsea Clock. 

Given their clocks, which come with a five-year warranty, have the ability to last a lifetime, maintenance and repair comes into play over time. They offer full-service clock repair, routine clock maintenance, cleaning, oiling and regulating, case refinishing and antique clock restoration.  

We do a huge restoration and repair business,” LaChapelle says. 

He highlights the value of their long-lasting clocks that extends beyond the most obvious purpose that a clock typically serves. 

“We aren’t selling clocks to tell time,” he says. “We are selling clocks to recognize occasions and accomplishments.” 

LaChapelle says letters arrive at their Chelsea headquarters daily, expressing the cherished nature of their clocks that has them being handed down from generation to generation. 

“We get letters like, ‘the clock was on my father’s boat and it’s part of our family and can you fix it for us?’,” he says. “We get letters like this every day.”

Many clocks made by Chelsea grow in value over time, as evidenced by vintage Chelsea Clocks that can be found online and on the ‘vintage’ section of Chelsea Clock’s website. LaChapelle says you can feel the quality that sets Chelsea Clock’s timepieces apart from the rest when you have the opportunity to get one in your hands.

“When you hold one in your hand, you get it,” he says. “When you see it, you feel it and when it’s on your mantle it becomes a part of your life.”


Chelsea Clock, 101 2nd St., Chelsea, MA, (617) 884-0250

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