AskDefine | Define clockwork

Dictionary Definition

clockwork n : any mechanism of geared wheels that is driven by a coiled spring; resembles the works of a mechanical clock

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /klɑːkwɚk/


clock” + “work


  1. A mechanism powered by a coiled spring and regulated by some form of escapement; the power is transmitted through toothed gearwheels and used to drive a mechanical clock, toy, or other device.
  2. (in compound terms) Powered by clockwork


mechanism powered by coiled spring to drive mechanical device

Extensive Definition

A clockwork is the inner workings of either a mechanical clock or a device that operates in a similar fashion. Specifically, the term refers to a device powered by the energy of a wound spring released through a series of gears.


Often power for the device is stored within it via a winding device that applies mechanical stress to an energy-storage mechanism such as a spring, thus involving some form of escapement; in other cases, hand power may be utilized. The use of wheels, whether linked by friction or gear teeth, to redirect motion or gain speed or torque, is typical; many clockworks have been constructed primarily to serve as visible or implicit tours de force of mechanical ingenuity in this area. Sometimes clocks and timing mechanisms are used to set off explosives, timers, alarms and many other devices.


The most common examples are mechanical clocks - hence the name. Others include:
  • Toys - often as a simple mechanical motor, or to create automata.
  • Mechanisms to turn the lens of lighthouses before electric motors.
  • Babbage's difference and analytical engines, and simpler mechanical calculators.
  • Astronomical models, such as orreries whose history spans hundreds of years.
  • Music boxes, which were very popular during the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th.
  • Almost all phonographs built before the 1930s.
  • Low-powered electrical equipment, such as a clockwork radio, where an energy-storing spring accounting for much of the size and weight of the device spins a much smaller electric generator; such equipment is very popular in certain Third World situations where batteries and mains power (house current) may be scarce.
  • The Antikythera mechanism, an ancient clockwork calculator
clockwork in German: Federwerk
clockwork in Esperanto: Risort-funkciigo
clockwork in Swedish: Urverk
clockwork in Urdu: ساعتکار
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