Many dates with history

Updated: 2016-02-02 07:35

By Wang Kaihao(China Daily)

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Many dates with history

Wang Jin repairs antique clocks at the Palace Museum, which houses 1,500-odd such royal treasures.

A complication is any function on a watch or timepiece other than the display of the time. Complications can range from the very simple and commonplace to extremely rare works of high horology that combine numerous functions and can take years to create.

According to Wang, more than 20 percent of 1,500-odd antique clocks housed in the museum are more than 1 meter high, while the world's major museums mostly have smaller pieces or pocket watches.

"Though most of these clocks came from Britain, I feel proud because even the British Museum does not have so many large exhibits," he says. "A major reason is perhaps the Chinese emperors were richer."

Wang is the third generation to repair clocks in the museum since the founding of New China in 1949. But even though systematic repairs have been going on since the 1950s, there are still about 300 pieces, which have yet to be touched.

The repair squad has always been small. Even at its peak, there were only six repairmen. Now, there are only three.

"The repairs are not about speed," he says. Each repairman fixes between three and four big pieces a year.

This is because unlike other items in the Palace Museum, which have detailed historical files and records, most of these clocks do not have accompanying documents. Their origins and ages are unclear, which creates difficulties when looking for reference material.

"The experience of repairing each clock is unique because you know only that it doesn't work, but you don't know why until you open it," says Wang.

"The remaining 300 pieces are the toughest to tackle. The longer we take to fix them, the poorer condition they will be in," he adds.

What saddens Wang is that the remaining clocks will be sent back to storage rather than being exhibited after they are repaired.

The Palace Museum now has about 200 clocks on display. But only a few pieces are wound up, while most remain silent.

Giving an instance of what visitors miss, Wang says: "For example, some clocks are decorated with figurines which write calligraphy or perform conjuring tricks. If they were wound, how lovely it would be."