Most clocks just tell time, simply and reliably. Not the $1.8 million “time eater” unveiled Friday at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge.
The masterpiece, introduced by Stephen Hawking, has no hands or digital numbers, and is designed to run in erratic fashion, slowing down and speeding up.
Inventor John Taylor used his own money to build the clock as a tribute to John Harrison, a Briton who in 1725 invented the grasshopper escapement, a device that helps regulate a clock's movement. Making a visual pun on the grasshopper image, Taylor created a demonic version of the insect to top the gold-plated clock face where it devours time.
The beast – with its long needle teeth and barbed tail – rocks back and forth, ultimately inserting its talons in notches at the top of the clock to move it forward. Halfway through the minute the grasshopper's jaws begin to open, snapping shut at 59 seconds.
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“Time is gone; he's eaten it,” said Taylor, who calls the grasshopper “Chronophage,” which translates to “time eater.”
“My object was simply to turn a clock inside out so that the grasshopper became a reality,” he said.
Hawking predicted the creature atop the clock would be “a much-loved, and possibly feared, addition to Cambridge's cityscape.”
Taylor hopes the clock will remind people of their mortality.
Rather than tolling the hour with a bell or a cuckoo, the clock relies on the clanking of a chain that falls into a coffin, which then loudly bangs closed.