The History of the Clock
For more than two centuries the melodious chimes of the Winter Palace clock have been ringing out over Palace Square. It would seem to have always been there. Yet Rastrelli's original design for the palace did not incorporate a tower clock. The first clock on the Winter Palace building was installed above the main entrance, behind the attic of the central part of the south facade, in 1796 - over thirty years after the building was completed. The clock was moved from the Chesme Palace, then in the suburbs of the city on the way to Tsarskoye Selo, by the celebrated Russian mechanic and inventor Ivan Petrovich Kulibin. In 1797 Paul I signed a decree appointing Kulibin the keeper of the tower clock and all other timepieces in the imperial residence.
This clock lasted another forty years before perishing in the fire that engulfed the palace on 17 December 1837. This is how the event is described by Alexander Bashutsky in his book The Renewal of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg: "The fire had been raging for a long time already, mercilessly destroying the many organs of a great body. Suddenly above the confused noise of the internal destruction there arose from the dying building, like a sorrowful groan, a resonant voice, familiar to all: the old palace clock, as yet untouched by the fire, struck midnight in a plaintive, lingering manner. Almost at the last stroke of the hammer, the flames suddenly covered it in a patterned mesh, and within a minute it plunged into the immense bonfire."
In June 1839 the body supervising the restoration of the Winter Palace commissioned the mechanic Helfer to make a new clock for the imperial residence. Helfer was already known for having made a similar clock for the Luthran Church of Sts Peter and Paul in St Petersburg. The master craftsman undertook to produce the timepiece in eight months. The place for the installation of the tower clock was prepared in advance, in the attic, level with the central pediment and overlooking Palace Square.
In the spring of 1839 three bells were bought for the clock: the first weighed 197 kilogrammes, the second 58 and the third 37, making the total weight of the bells 292 kilogrammes.
Helfer produced the clock to time and installed it together with the bells. The only inscription on the clock - A. Helfer. St Petersburg. 1839 - is engraved on the internal auxiliary dial. The movement that Helfer created has survived well.