Once relegated to the walls of grandma's house or a box in the cellar, the dusty image of the cuckoo clock is getting a polish as the traditional timekeepers get very modern makeovers. Their popularity is growing and their price tags are skyrocketing.
For example, artist Stefan Strumbel has found international success with his new takes on the clocks. Along with the traditional oak leaves and animals on the housing, Strumbel adds skulls, hand grenades, rats and submachine guns. He has expanded the color palettes of his clocks beyond the traditional dark or light browns to include yellows, greens, purples and pinks.
His clocks, which sell for up to €25,000, were the subject of a photo shoot by designer Karl Lagerfeld.
Ingolf Haas of the clock manufacturing company Rombach and Haas has been working on redesigns of the cuckoo clock for several years now. He said he started reworking the timekeepers when he realised that while people's homes have changed over the decades, the cuckoo clock had gotten stuck in time.
"A cuckoo clock decorated with the head of a stag is just not going to be a good fit anymore," he said.
Four years ago, he and designer Tobias Reischle began developing modern versions, using a minimalist aesthetic.
Now some 50 percent of his company's turnover comes from the new cuckoo clocks. He saw overall sales volume increase 30 percent in 2009, while many other clockmakers are struggling to stay afloat.
For years, most of his clocks were sold to customers in the US, although the strong euro has now turned them into luxury goods for Americans. He notes that the clocks have begun selling well in Germany, although his more traditional-minded compatriots tend to turn their noses up at the new versions.
The clocks have a long history, having been mentioned as far back as 1629. In around 1730, they began to be made in Germany's Black Forest region, and really hit their stride in the mid 19th century, when they became more and more elaborate.
After the Second World War, American soldiers stationed in Germany often sent cuckoo clocks home to their families.