One Clever Clockmaker

CLEVERCLOCKS by Douglas Chalk tell time in an inventive way.


This clock tells time in an inventive way.

Photo courtesy Cleverclocks

The fact that the big hand on most clocks points to the minutes—the smaller unit of time—never made sense to Douglas Chalk. Neither did the idea of the ticking of a clock. “If a clock starts and stops, jerking as each second passes, well that’s completely incongruous with the passage of time, which is continuous,” said the Oakland-based designer and owner of Cleverclocks. His clocks tell time differently. Each clock runs on a battery that enables a continuous sweep motor to cut out the jarring and noise, so the hands move smoothly and quietly. And the large hand points to the hours—the logical choice, said Chalk.

Chalk, an artist who previously ran an advertising agency, has found time to be his true medium. He has designed hundreds of clocks since moving his business from London to Oakland in the early 1990s. His creations are colorful, vividly detailed, and surprising. The clock faces in his 2016 collection include an eye, a hexagon, a dot matrix, sonar, and Saturn—all in 3D.

Reading a Cleverclock can require some guidance at first, and so the clocks are packaged with a card that shows how to read each one at six sample times throughout the day. Handmade with his partner Eva Letts, each clock is individually signed by Chalk. Cleverclocks are as much works of art as timepieces.

Locally, Cleverclocks are sold in museum gift shops at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Exploratorium, and the Getty Museum. Plus, each September, Chalk and Letts open the gallery space in their studio on San Pablo Avenue to the public as well. Business has taken off in the past few years, production has doubled, and he’s partnered with a German-based firm to make and sell Cleverclocks in Europe, too. Housed in simple, square wood frames painted in a satin black, Cleverclocks come in sizes small (5 inch) to large (12 inch) and range in price from $80 to $125.

What’s next for Chalk? He’s working on a watch that will allow the wearer to change the clock face to display over 50 of his Cleverclock designs. Sounds like a Smartwatch, but it’s not. It’s clever.

Cleverclocks, 6702 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, 510-517-5707,

Published on Sept. 9, 2016 at 8 a.m.

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