Building Large Ornate Clocks With Many Functions

Germano Silva, jeweler and master clock maker.

Germano Silva, jeweler and master clock maker.


At some point in the late 2000’s, the Joe Martin Foundation received video of some very unusual work from an equally eccentric clock maker. This clock maker, Germano Silva, was actually identified as a jeweler in San Jose, CA. However, none of the videos or articles featuring Mr. Silva provided any contact information. 

It wasn’t until Germano joined Facebook that we were able to get in touch with the prolific craftsman. The information on Germano is sparse, and the photos were scanned from a few large prints that he had made, but the results are worth appreciating.

From a Disastrous Start to a Spectacular Accomplishment

Born in Portugal, Germano Silva became curious about all kinds of mechanical things from an early age. At just 7 years old, Germano decided to try his hand at fixing a neighbor’s clock. Alone in his house, he began to take off the hands and clock face. Suddenly, as Germano noted, “Everything goes like this, poof, I have parts all over the place.”

Any further attempt at repair was futile. Germano remarked that while this was his first big mistake with clocks, it was far from his last. However, he also recognized how important it is to make these mistakes, and to learn from them moving forward.

Germano Silva poses with one of his enormous ornate clocks.

Germano Silva poses with one of his enormous ornate clocks—a 16-clock timepiece. It took over eight years to build this remarkable timekeeper.

A close-up reveals more details on Germano’s 16-clock timepiece.

A close-up reveals more details in Germano’s 16-clock timepiece. This is the biggest clock that he’s made.

In an interview for a local NBC news TV segment, Germano stated, “You know, I don’t like sports too much. I don’t like to play cards. I don’t like to go to the bars. I don’t like to do this. I like to spend my time with something to create, to make something to see. Like I make these clocks. I am very, very happy when I look and see the work that I did.”

The main clock face along with the smaller regional timepieces.

The main clock face along with the smaller regional timepieces. The multi-dial regional timepieces tell time in 12 different major cities around the world.

A close-up of the regional dials in the clock face.

Building Clocks Puts Him in Another World

Far from just a curiosity, Germano remarked, “I love clocks. I like to make wheels (gears). For me, it’s another world.” His largest clock, a massive structure that contains sixteen individual clocks, took over eight years to complete. Germano would return from his daily job as a jeweler, and hand make the parts for his biggest masterpiece. It’s not the only clock he has built, but it is the most complicated—and he made every piece himself.

As a jeweler and engraver, Germano knows how to make each part come out with a polished finish. More importantly, he’s willing to spend whatever time it takes to get his pieces exactly as he wants them. Germano has never been under pressure to sell his work, so time is not much of a factor in his creative process. 

Several components for Germano's freestanding brass clock project.

Germano’s most recent clock project, a freestanding brass clock, allowed him to try out some new ideas. Shown here are several gears and other components for the large brass clock.

Several shiny components for Germano's brass clock sit in his workshop.

As Germano noted in his NBC TV interview, he likes gears. These brass creations must have brought him a great deal of joy.

At the time of this writing, Germano was still the sole owner of his unique clocks. However, he admitted that someday he would like to see them in a place where the public can appreciate them—whether that’s a hotel lobby, a museum, or elsewhere. One of Germano’s concerns, however, is the complicated nature of the clocks. He noted that if the big clock were to stop, it takes a lot of skill just to get all 16 clocks running in sequence again.

Even for Germano, the creator of these intricate mechanisms, the maintenance work can be difficult. It would take someone with a great understanding of clocks, along with some training, to keep them running accurately. Unlike many modern digital clocks, Germano’s big timepieces don’t capture a time code from a satellite, nor do they run with the sure accuracy of a quartz clock. Everything is mechanical, so the clocks need regular lubrication and steady care.

Germano finished his freestanding brass clock in late 2014.

Germano finished his freestanding brass clock in late 2014. Though not quite as large as the previous clock, this timekeeper is still huge.

A closer look at part of Germano’s 16-clock timepiece.

A closer look at part of Germano’s 16-clock timepiece. He finished this beautiful clock in 1998. A jeweler by trade, it’s no surprise that every part of Germano’s clock has a beautiful, polished finish.

NBC News Feature on Mr. Silva

Garvin Thomas, of NBC Bay Area News, made a short special featuring Mr. Silva and his largest clock.

View more photos of Germano’s masterful clock work.

This section is sponsored by:

Sherline Products

Makers of precision miniature machine tools and accessories. Sherline tools are made in the USA.

Artisan added: May 22, 2013 - Last modified: March 28, 2022

Presented by The Joe Martin Foundation for Exceptional Craftsmanship