Life’s Work: Kevin Chellar, horologist and antique clocks dealer, Dublin
‘We trace early Irish clocks around world . . . restore them and offer them to Irish buyers’
Horologist Kevin Chellar resetting the time on an 18th century mahogany Irish bracket clock by William Boylan of Dublin. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
Kevin Chellar restores and sell antique clocks, barometers and barographs, and provides a comprehensive repair service at Timepiece Antique Clocks in Patrick Street, Dublin 8 – close to St Patrick’s Cathedral – a business jointly owned and run by his wife Carol.
What’s your background?
My name causes some raised eyebrows and I am always asked where am I from originally. My mother is Irish, from Drumcondra, and my dad is from Sri Lanka – formerly known as Ceylon. I studied at The Irish Swiss Institute of Horology, which was formerly based in Blanchardstown. I came across horology [the art of making clocks and watches] quite by accident. Engineering was in my blood as my dad was an engineer – as were both my grandfathers – and my son is now also an engineer. I spent three years at the institute studying all aspects of horology – drawing, electronics, watch theory, tool-making, maintenance and restoration to name a few. The course was super, it was practically one-on-one tutoring as only 11 students were admitted per year, and five tutors were on hand. Unfortunately the college is now closed. At present if you want to study horology you have to travel to the UK or further afield.
How did you get into the business?
After leaving college in 1981 I worked in a jeweller’s shop in Phibsborough – mainly doing watch repairs – and then joined an Austrian firm in O’Connell St for a couple of years where I met some very knowledgeable and interesting people such as Mattie Redmond, who had been the foreman at West’s, formerly of Grafton Street. I purchased some tools from him when he retired, which required a six month term loan from the bank.
I married Carol in 1983 and set up business with a friend. I can recall my mother-in-law Carmel saying that I was mad to become self-employed now that I had a mortgage. In the beginning we worked out of my mother’s spare room, taking in clock and watch repairs. Then we rented a workshop at the back of jeweller’s shop in Rathmines and decided to specialise in clock repairs. We also sold a few bits and pieces but it was almost 10 years later before we began to sell on a larger scale and travel to large trade fairs in Europe to source clocks.
In 1986 we moved into the Iveagh Trust buildings in Patrick St, where Carol and I are still running the business today. We try to trace early Irish clocks around the world, purchase and restore them and offer them to Irish buyers. We have found fantastic Irish clocks in places like Houston, New York, Stockholm, Holland, England, Scotland and Wales. In the mid-1990s I came across a book entitled British Clocks which, bizarrely, had a cover illustration of an Irish, early 18th century bracket clock made by Crampton of Dublin. I traced the owner of the clock through conversations with British dealers and made contact with him and finally flew to the UK to purchase the clock. Having restored and verified its authenticity, we secured a safe home for it in Ireland.
Putting on an exhibition at the RDS in 2010 entitled 300 Years of Irish Timekeeping was a rare privilege and an opportunity to exhibit an incredible selection of Irish clocks, showing our fantastic heritage in craftsmanship and design. Several of our clients loaned clocks for the exhibition, which they had purchased from us over the years. We were astonished and delighted at the interest shown by the general public and our peers. Many people are fascinated by antique clocks, their movements, finishes and history.
We’ve worked on two fantastic Irish tower clocks in the past, one in a stately home, by Smith of Jervis Street , Dublin; and the other, in Moore Abbey, by Chancellor of O’Connell Street. In 2014, we restored and sold to an Irish client an incredible early Irish clock by Pineau of Dublin. This clock is circa 1740 and is an extraordinarily rare piece of Irish history, with beautiful marquetry work on the walnut case. Everything about this clock is breathtaking, down to the tone and texture of the timber. Again, it was a privilege to work on such a piece and bring it back to its former glory. Imagine what such an clock could tell us if it could talk!
What advice would you give to collectors/ investors?
While I have a personal grá for Irish clocks, hand-crafted British and European pieces are also wonderful things to have and behold and even pass on to the next generation. Follow your heart, but it’s also very important to check the quality and originality of a clock before buying. For example, does the clock face belong to the mechanism and, in turn, does the mechanism belong to the case? This might not be obvious to the buyer at first but is important to know. What condition has the clock been kept in during its life? What alterations have been made, if any? Are there obvious case repairs?
What would you buy if money were no object?
Lyons Demesne – the Kildare country estate of the late Tony Ryan [co-founder of Ryanair] – which was last on the market for €30 million. My wife used to work there. It’s a very fine place – beautifully positioned – and was created with no expense spared, but with great taste. [The estate was advertised for sale in 2009 with an €80 million price tag; it appeared in the property price register in November 2015 as having been sold for around €12 million].
What’s your favourite work of art and why?
Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ in the National Gallery of Ireland. What an incredible work of art. When I look at it I feel I am actually part of the scene. The artist was a genius – with a colourful background.
In conversation with Michael Parsons