Neighbour: Mr Wong

Interview by Charlene Chan
Photography by Jovian Lim

A quick browse around Thinkers Novelty—a shop selling clocks in all manner of shapes, sizes and materials—will throw up some fascinating discoveries. One, a gold-plated, limited edition timepiece set upon an inch-thick slab of marble, keeps pace via a rather complex mechanism involving gold wire, three separate faces for the hour, minute and second hands, and a tiny sphere zig-zagging along a sloping plate. Another, a painting of a colonial townhouse nestled in the hills, sits within an ornate gold frame, and seems almost out of place in the shop until you spot a clock tower in the distance, announcing the present time.

But the most extraordinary secrets of Thinkers Novelty are revealed only in the presence of Mr Wong, who has been running the business for more than 30 years. Amongst his clocks, he becomes the master of a circus, eager to show off the tricks his troupe can do. As he points out some of his favourites, he stops next to a clock housed in glass. With the help of a cleverly hidden hatch, a quick movement of the wrist and a click, its case starts to rise, stopping only when it has travelled beyond the tips of the clock’s series of gears, needles and hands. Here, Mr Wong shifts a tiny lever next to a series of bells; with each adjustment, the clock chimes in a different tune.

Hailing from a family of watch and clock makers and sellers, it’s perhaps little surprise that Mr Wong developed an interest in the craft from a young age. He tells me about how his grandfather started repairing watches from a table in the stairwell, eventually expanding the business beyond Singapore’s shores and into Kuala Lumpur and Penang. It was in one of those shops in Chinatown, which his father inherited, that Mr Wong would first become immersed in the world of horology.

Visit Thinkers Novelty at 177 River Valley Road #03-01, Liang Court, for a wide range of antique and limited edition clocks. 

Read more in The U Press N˚15 (Singapore edition).