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As unusual as it may be to see a centenarian grandfather or cuckoo clock these days, finding someone who knows how those complex pieces of machinery works is even more difficult. Horology is complicated work and each old timepiece, whether it be a tiny pocket watch or a heavy French Morbier, comes with its own quirks and intricacies. This fall, Atlas Obscura set out on the modern trail with footwear, clothing, and accessories company Timberland, to learn the tricks of the trade from exceptional curators and clockmakers.   

 Philadelphia, our host city.

We began our adventure at the Franklin Institute, one of the country’s leading science and technology education centers. Museum curator Susannah Carroll offered us the rare opportunity to closely examine some of the antique timepieces in the Institute’s collection. These remarkable clocks, with their varied forms and delicate internal workings, are not usually on display to the public.

 A minimalist timepiece from the Franklin Institute’s collections.

Enough gears to go around.

Old clocks, like the ones at the Franklin Institute, require expert care. After a long lunch, we continued to the studio of one of these experts: artist-turned-clockmaker Lili von Baeyer. Lili is a master maker, fixer, and restorer of timepieces, who currently works with around 200 historic clocks.

Clockmaker Lili von Baeyer.

Under Lili’s guidance, we disassembled small clocks and challenged ourselves to put the pieces back together.

Sketching the clock’s interior.

A participant inspects her half-finished clock.

As we sorted through our arrays of cogs and pins, we became increasingly impressed by Lili’s prowess. By the end of the afternoon, with a combination of beginner’s luck, focus, and her patient guidance, our clocks were ticking once again. 

Carefully tightening a screw.


This event was part of Timberland and Brooklyn Brewery’s Mash Tour, which focuses on urban art, culture, and exploration. You can watch a recap of our day (and get a peek inside some tremendous timepieces) above.