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A timeless passion for vintage clocks
Clock man Robert Kennedy, who preserves around 2,200 clocks, aims to set a world record for his collection
Time doesn’t stand still at this compact two-room apartment in Kodambakkam. Robert Kennedy, the proud owner of the house, has been collecting antique clocks for the past three decades and is aiming to be one of the biggest clock collectors in the world.
We caught up with Chennai’s own clock man at his residence on a fine Friday morning. He opened his two-room flat and showed us around and shared stories behind acquiring his favourite possessions — pendulum clocks, timepieces from England, America, Germany, France, Sweden, Italy and Russia.
It all started when Robert heard stories about how his grandfather, who was working at the Munnar Tea Estate, received an Ansonia clock (as a gift) from the British. “I never had any inkling to become an antique collector. But things happened eventually — just by seeing the mechanism of a clock, I got thrilled.
I collected a majority of the clocks from scrap shops, old houses and sometimes, from people I know. I have around 2,200 clocks and all of them have some interesting stories to tell,” the 55-year-old starts the conversation.
There is a notion that antique collection is a rich man’s hobby, but Robert is trying to prove it wrong. “I am trying to rewrite this concept. I collected most of my clocks from the scrap shops or the second-hand shops I notice during my travel. Also, I have made a good rapport with many clocksmiths and watchmakers across the country,” he says.
The clock collector doesn’t believe in revamping old clocks, instead, he tries to protect them in the exact state as he got it from various sources. “I worry if it loses its charm,” he says and points at a French carriage clock he purchased, “This clock is 150-year-old and its value in the international market is not less than a lakh. I found it in a scrap shop and bought it for Rs 350 and repaired it to the factory standards,” says Robert.
Sharing with us the history of clocks, he says, “From the beginning of mankind, the concept of timekeeping was there. The man started inventing different sorts of time-keeping devices, but all those devices required constant human help.
The first pendulum clock by Dutch scientist and inventor Christiaan Huygens created history and later, because of technology advancement, we got to see a wide variety of clocks and watches.”
Being a clock collector, Robert had to upgrade himself to the newest technology and he spends a lot of time browsing, researching and studying the clock mechanisms. “Because of the internet, I realised the value of my clocks. Also, I’ve seen the collection of other clock collectors in the world.
A lot of students visit the museum to study about clocks and I am more than happy to share my knowledge with them. I spend most of my time inside this two-room space with my clocks,” he shares.
He showed us the mechanism of a 1910 German clock, a clock that chimes at every quarter. Though it is tough to select a favourite, Robert obliged to our request and picked one saying, “I got this clock from a scrap shop in a village near Mayavaram. It’s a first-generation pendulum clock that is 285-year-old. It is the oldest in my collection and one cannot find a similar clock with any of the clock collectors in the world,” he says proudly.
Time flies when Robert starts working in the two-room flat and even forgets to eat for most of the days. “I really don’t keep an eye on the time! My wife (his family stays in another floor in the same building) is mainly worried about my health, but she knows how dedicated I am with my collection. Once I am immersed in work, I forget everything,” says the father of two daughters.
Robert was into computer business for many years but is now focussed on real estate. He wanted to open a trust museum for his collection. “I am not handing the collection to my children. I want it to be open to the public,” he states.
He has also applied for the Guinness World Records and is currently busy with the paper works.