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2022-02-22 06:48:00

THIS SG’REAN IS RACING AGAINST TIME TO PRESERVE GRANDFATHER & HERITAGE CLOCKS

As with anything in life, you have got to do your part to take care of something in order for it to last. Clocks, with their complicated movements and intricacies, are known for being prized possessions or mementos or family heirlooms. In the world of horology, clockmaking is closely associated with heritage and history; clockmakers are revered for their skills and preserving heritage.

In Singapore, clockmakers are far and few between. And yet, along the inconspicuous stretch of road along Lim Tua Tow Road, there exists a quaint shophouse and a family who is quietly doing their part to conserve the dying heritage. Going three generations deep, Cheong Ann Watch Maker has prided itself on preserving a slice of Singapore for more than seven decades.  

Presently managed by its third-generation owner Shawn Lim, the watchmaking family was commissioned to restore Raffles Singapore’s grandfather clock – the hotel’s oldest piece of furniture that boasts a beautiful chime (because the chimes come from brass tubes instead of bells, rods or gongs). As part of our Love x Heritage series, SNCF interviewed Shawn Lim on being a third-generation clockmaker, the education youths need on following trends, and what heritage means to him.

Sng Ler Jun: As the third-generation owner of the 75-year-old business, what are some of the challenges you face at your job? What are some old ways of working you tried to preserve, as well as new ideas you introduced since joining the family business?

Shawn Lim: I have helped pivot the business digitally. We have had several features on local publications and thanks to social media, we managed to garner a following and appealed to the younger generations while staying connected with people around the world. In the future, I am hoping to expand to e-commerce and maybe organise workshops.    

Shawn Body Image 1

LJ: In your time working at Cheong Ann Watchmaker, what do you feel when you have successfully restored a clock?

SL: Whenever I successfully restore a clock, I feel this unbridled sense of fulfillment. The feeling I get when I managed to repair or restore a clock that no other watchmaker could is great.

LJ: Having been surrounded by clockwork and observing your dad work in the shop since young, would you say that you and your dad have a closely knitted relationship?

SL: It depends. When I was younger, I can be quite naughty. My parents wanted me to be near the shop – we have been around Lim Tua Tow Road – so they could keep an eye on me. I, along with my siblings, grew up playing with clock gears. My father was stern with me, and I learned a lot from him. Now that I have grown up, my family and I have grown closer.

LJ: Many of these heritage grandfather clocks in your shop evoke a huge sense of nostalgia. What is it like to work with them? 

SL: It’s like playing doctors to the clocks.

LJ: Youths today are known to be into vintage collectibles and accessories. Would you say this is a superficial trend or a fad? If you say so, what exactly are they missing out on?

SL: I think there needs to be some education on what my family and I do. We don’t just restore wristwatches or grandfather clocks. There is a lot they need to know about the craftsmanship, beyond their somewhat superficial knowledge on vintage timepieces.  

Shawn Body Image 2

LJ: In a way, you are doing a part in preserving heritage (one of your significant commissions has been the restoration of Raffles Singapore’s grandfather clock). What does heritage mean to you then? And how can your work inspire others to appreciate heritage values? 

SL: As I’m a very sentimental person, heritage is very important to me. It can be a family heirloom or family identity, (there is value in the) things that were handed down by the previous generations and I think it is interesting to be custodians of all these objects. I hope I can inspire the younger generation to appreciate things, such as a timepiece or a grandfather clock, that have been passed down to them.

By Sng Ler Jun

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