The Clock Exhibition Hall is one of the unmissable highlights of the Forbidden City. Located in the Hall for Ancestral Worship (Fèngxiàn Diàn) – just off to the right after the Three Great Halls – the exhibition contains an astonishing array of elaborate timepieces, many of which were gifts to the Qing emperors from overseas. Several of the 18th-century examples are crafted by James Cox or Joseph Williamson (both of London) and imported through Guǎngdōng from England; others are from Switzerland, America and Japan.
Exquisitely wrought and fashioned with magnificently designed elephants and other creatures, they all display astonishing artfulness and attention to detail. Standout clocks include the Gilt Copper Astronomy Clock equipped with a working model of the solar system, and the automaton-equipped Gilt Copper Clock with a robot writing Chinese characters with a brush. Time your arrival for 11am or 2pm to see the clock performance in which choice timepieces strike the hour.