Inside Big Ben: A Look at What Makes the World’s Most Beloved Clock Tick

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Of all the ways that human beings have developed through the centuries to illustrate abstruse concepts, arguably the most elegant is the clock. Or, to be more specific, the old-school, analog clock face. Hours, minutes, seconds — all the measurements by which people have for years measured the passage of time might be utterly arbitrary constructs, but the marvelous simplicity of a classic, round clock face provides a comforting illusion that, by tracking time, we’re somehow able to manage it. To control it, perhaps. And of all the clock faces in all the world, surely none is so well-known or warmly regarded as London’s Big Ben. (It’s worth noting here that the nickname “Big Ben” initially referred to the great bell inside the clock tower — but as the years passed, the appellation has been broadened so that now it references the entire tower and clock structure atop the northern end of the Palace of Westminster.)

Here, as daylight saving time approaches in the U.S. (and, later this month, in the U.K.), TIME pays tribute to the grand old bell, clock and tower by the Thames, and to the eternal human desire to somehow measure our collective and individual passing moments — no matter how depressing that activity can sometimes be.

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