Why are chess clocks so expensive? (Clarified!)

Chess clocks are these little timers that are necessary to properly play a game of chess. Every competitive and formal setting hosts these products, which makes you wonder about their cost.

If you have looked into it then I’m sure you might be confused why this is much costlier than a regular digital watch for example. That is what I’m going to answer in this article, to provide an explanation for this.

As someone who has tested a lot of chess clocks before, here is what I know:

Chess clocks are expensive due to the narrow opportunity of its market, not everyone is interested in chess and those who do are unlikely to purchase more than two in a lifetime. Each clock will also have a long manufacturing process which adds to the cost.

I have done a lot of research on this one in order to get the facts correct. I’m going to lay out the details one by one in order for things to be clearer, let’s begin.

Is the nature of the chess clock’s production a factor that makes it expensive?

The production of a chess clock involves an extensive process (batch sizes, adhesive phase, decoration, coloring, and beta testing) which makes it expensive, adding with the individual parts that are getting costly.

It is a well-known fact that the difficulty of the manufacturing process will contribute to the final product’s cost. Chess clocks fit this criterion since the stages that need to be fulfilled deserve a long process on their own.

If we’re talking about the modern digital clock there are four developmental steps before having just one chess clock. This is the batch sizing, adhesive phase, decoration, coloring, and beta testing.

Batch sizing is essentially getting the size of the product’s form at the same time in a group, the adhesive phase is where all the products get assembled, decoration for the marketability, coloring for facial appearance, and beta testing for spotting malfunctions.

Other clock’s creation follows the same process but not to an extent as a chess clock since it is a specialized product. The raw materials that are within the clock are taking a portion of its cost.

Some materials that are not involved in wall clocks are not included in these steps which will naturally make it more expensive. For example, chess clock switches used to be cheaper to accommodate mass production.

Now there are disks inside the chess clocks instead since cheaper materials are more likely to break down by constant pushing. Some of the cost goes to the extra decoration, which is rarely present in a wall clock.

For mechanical clocks (old chess clocks) the prime material that is used for its creation is the one that changed. Really old models used to have wooden origins while the modern call for resiliency makes the thing metal.

This change of material of course has contributed to the spur of the cost that mechanical clocks have experienced. Just goes to show how the parts of the whole can affect the whole product.

Why is the cost of a chess clock far from a regular digital clock?

Chess clocks cannot be mass-produced unlike a regular digital watch which makes it more expensive (plus it is basically two digital clocks in one product).

The intricate nature of each process (of the chess clock’s creation) makes it unable to be produced on large scale, unlike regular digital clocks. The insides of the clock need to be just right in order for the final product to work properly.

This means that the steps in its manufacturing have limited outsourcing unlike digital clocks. And since more investment of time and energy is targeted on its creation, it will be more expensive.

And if you think about it, chess clocks are basically two digital watches of course the cost would be higher. And adding the decoration along with the switches, you could see why it will become costly.

There’s just more parts, size, and investment for its creation that make it incomparable to other watches. I think it’s pretty fair to treat this as an entirely new product than just a regular digital watch.

Are all chess clocks expensive?

Chess clocks can reach up to 150 dollars in cost which is expensive, but other clocks only range from about 10-20 dollars which is pretty inexpensive.

Some people talk about how expensive chess clocks are without considering that there are cheaper alternatives. I mean even a branded watch can cost thousands of dollars, a hundred dollars for a chess clock is not unbelievable.

If you keep looking, there are clocks that are within the 10 to 20 dollar mark making them pretty affordable. That should be enough to overcome the production value that I have talked about earlier.

But of course if you are looking for higher quality (something that will last) then the cost will naturally be higher. After all the parts will be much more expensive and the decoration will be made attractive.

As for mechanical clocks (old clocks), they pretty much become a collector’s item that it status ramps up the value. Those are costly not because they are higher in quality, but rather of the rarity that it has in the market.

Mechanical clocks are about to be eliminated from production which makes it increase the value (along with the price). It is the same with antique coins that are incredibly valued now but not at the time of their production.

Does the small market of the chess clock contribute to its expensive cost?

There are only a handful amount of people that are interested to buy a chess clock. In order to maintain profit, manufacturers have to increase the cost of each individual clock.

I think this is the main reason the chess clock has a problem with its price, the low marketability. Although I already talked about the inexpensive chess clocks we cannot deny that even those can become more inexpensive.

The problem is with the market, since the buyers are limited the manufacturers have no incentive to mass-produce. With the technology that we have I am sure that there is a way to overcome the cost of production, it’s just that there is no profit in doing so.

There are just fewer people who are willing to buy a chess clock so the cost needs to be dispersed. Otherwise there’s no reason to continue producing such a niche product that will put you in the negative.

I don’t just base this on myself either, a trend I’ve seen while researching this was answered by a real clock manufacturer. They stated that the chess clock should actually be inexpensive if it wasn’t for the limited market.

Is the chess clock’s durability a factor that makes it so expensive?

A chess clock manufacturer needs to make their product heavier and durable due to the clock’s nature of use (hitting), so the parts are costly making the final product expensive.

This is a factor that I haven’t discussed deep enough in my previous points, the durability factor. A chess clock is made for its button to be pushed in the duration of the game (multiple times).

Of course the materials should be reinforced enough to withstand the constant force, warranting the cost. And if you are a player you know how rough things can get during time troubles, the clock needs to be strong enough for those occasions.

No one will be satisfied buying a chess clock only for it to be rendered unusable a couple of times later. It needs to be durable, something that would last for a really long time added to its nature of use.

One way to do this is by adding more weight, which reduces the chances of the clock being blasted off (due to time trouble). Cheaper clocks are usually lighter where it can fall off during critical moments and will of course be vulnerable to damage.

If the material has weight, the thing would sure to be clamped in place and would have some resistance from being dropped. This a perk that we want but will naturally come with higher prices (since the materials would be more costly).

But weight alone would not suffice, the materials within should also be naturally resilient. Since even with more weight one could still drop the thing and thus will cost more impact (it needs protection).

This additional protection also has a role to play in making the general life of the clock long. To conclude the prices may be more expensive than expected, but is necessary to have a quality product.

Do you think chess clocks are expensive?

With all the information I have expressed I think some of you are convinced that the price is just right. Personally, I think that it is justifiable even just from the conditions of producing the chess clock on its own. 

It is a lengthy process with a lot of market issues that it needs to overcome, which is the reality of a niche market. And if you think the one that you like is too expensive then you can choose another, there is no reason to blame the industry for this.

Whatever your opinion may be I hope that this has provided valuable insights. Happy to help, sleep well and play chess.