If you happen to look down while at the intersection of Maiden Lane and Broadway, you’ll notice that there is a break in the sidewalk…occupied by nothing other than a clock! Although clouded under its scratched and stained crystal screen, it sheds light on the district’s prominence in the jewelry trade. Belonging to William Barthman Jewellers, it has marked this spot for more than a century.
Founder, William Barthman, adapted the concept of sponsored city clocks by embedding his own, in 1896, under the feet of New York’s many inhabitants. Completed in the fall of 1899, it was designed with the purpose of luring curious customers through the store’s doors.
As news of the clock spread, jewelers in other parts of the world decided that they wanted to copy Barthman’s idea. The English jeweler, Dyson & Sons installed one in Windsor in front of their shop in 1949. They even went as far as exchanging correspondence with Barthman Jewellers just to show off their clock.
Barthman’s clock has also seen its share of New York City’s history. It has been fully operational throughout its lifetime except for during the Depression of the 1930s, when it was more erratic in performance, and temporarily so after Hurricane Sandy. Even on 9/11 it kept ticking, although its electric motor had to be replaced after the tragic events of the day. According to one count, the clock has also been subject to the constant stomping of approximately fifty thousand pedestrians every three hours.
Surprisingly, the only way to get access to the clock is from underneath the sidewalk. Under the mechanism is a small workspace; a piece of corrugated plastic in the ceiling reveals the clock’s underside. Situated only a few feet away from the subway network, the room often shakes when the number 6 train rumbles past.
Since its founding, Barthman Jewellers has moved a few doors down from its original location on Broadway, but has remained on the same block for 130 years. They made another replica clock, again with the intention of placing it in the sidewalk in front of their new shop. However it had to go above their door as the New York government did not grant them permission to put it underfoot, stating that there would only be one sidewalk clock in the city.
If you’re interested in the history of the area, check out our article on Maiden Lane.