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What is an Armillary?

Armillary Sundial History

The ancient Greeks are credited with inventing the armillary sphere, sometimes also known as the equatorial sundial. Their armillary globes—models of the universe with Earth at the centre—showcased how they believed the universe worked and how the stars moved around the Earth. However, over the centuries, the armillary was subsequently adapted to reflect what mankind has since learned about the universe and our new understandings of science. Despite this, the custom of measuring time by shadows—or by the length of one’s own shadow—persisted from ancient times right through to the invention of the mechanical clock in more industrial times. Today, garden armillary spheres, or “shadow-clocks” as they are sometimes known, are still beautiful instruments that demonstrate man’s great ability to conceive and craft. 

Hemispherian Armillary

Our armillaries do not, of course, show the ancient view of the world with the stars moving around the Earth, rather they are crafted of interlocking spheres with a gnomon which is usually in the shape of an arrow. As the sun travels across the sky, the gnomon of our armillary sundial casts a shadow onto a surface that indicates the hour. Black Country Metalwork’s armillary sundials are crafted to a very high standard and conceived to lend appeal to the garden of today, however individual it may be.

Hemispherian Armillary Details

Our garden armillaries are produced with a number of finishes. From the brass verdigris or antique silver finish of our antique styled armillaries to the warm mellow polished and lacquered brass or shining bright chrome kiss of our contemporary garden armillary designs, we will have an armillary to enhance the beauty of any garden. While the design and sizes of our garden armillaries may vary, the setting-up instructions are the same for all. A great attraction to your garden, setting up your armillary is relatively easy.

Setting Up An Armillary

The key to deriving maximum pleasure from your new armillary sphere sundial is to begin by selecting a suitably flat surface in a location that is totally exposed to the sun, away from any buildings and trees. The longer your armillary is in direct sunlight, the better it will give accurate readings. Although some of our armillaries are crafted with an integral bases, not all are.

The next step therefore involves choosing a pedestal, plinth or column on which your garden armillary sphere may be horizontally fixed - we recommend a pedestal equal to your waist height, the top of which must be sufficient in size to accommodate the armillary of your choosing. We stock specially designed Sundial or Armillary Columns. Our columns are very sturdy, being designed to support the weight and size of even our grandest armillaries. For Armillary and Sundial columns please click on this link Garden Sundial Columns. Most modern adhesives, which are available from good DIY stores and Garden Centres, will securely fix your new armillary to its column.

Profatius Armillary

The next step is to calibrate or ‘time set’ your armillary by aligning the gnomon (the arrow) with true north. To find true north we recommend marking a shadow cast by using a vertical object at the precise time of local noon. However, be sure to mark your shadow using a true vertical object. A pole aligned vertically and checked by a spirit level is the surest method of casting a good north indicating shadow.

Profatius Armillary Details

Once the gnomon angle is aligned with your established true north line be sure that the pedestal is fixed completely vertically, again using a spirit level. In fact, take horizontal and vertical readings and adjust the base as and when required. If the base is moved, the armillary will read inaccurately. Periodically check that the base is level, particularly in freezing weather. Also periodically check the time accuracy of your new armillary. Check that the gnomon casts no shadow at exactly 12 noon, for at the precise time of noon the sun is directly overhead, and true vertical objects will not cast shadows at this time.

More than just a garden ornament in an increasingly fast-moving modern world, we are happy that the craftsmanship of our armillaries brings you closer to history and to nature. 
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