Time is precious, says Vietnamese collector of European church clocks

European church clocks collection is seen in Vietnam

By Minh Nguyen

HA TAP VILLAGE, Vietnam (Reuters) – For more than two decades, Pham Van Thuoc has scoured Europe in search of historical church clocks, bringing them back to his home in Vietnam where he lovingly restores them.

He now has 20 clocks – many of which are more than a hundred years old and including one so big it weighs a tonne – housed in a warehouse in northern Thai Binh province where they fill the air with a cacophony of whirring noises, ticking and chimes.

Thuoc, who believes his collection is one of the largest in the world, said the thrill of building it up lies not just in the hunt to find beautiful old clocks, but also in figuring out how they work and how to fix them.

“I have an Italian made-clock which is the oldest one and dates back to the year 1750. Probably the thing I like most about it is that despite being made years ago, it has stayed true to its purpose which is to count the time, and it does that extremely accurately,” he said.

Tracing his passion back to hearing the chimes of bells from French colonial-era clocktowers when he was boy, Thuoc said he once spent two years befriending a European owner before convincing him to part with a particular clock.

He adds that he has yet to see two identical historical clocks even when the clocks were made in the same year by the same manufacturer.

For his efforts, Thuoc has been recognised by the Vietnam Records Association as having the largest collection of public clocks in the country.

And with electronic clocks now fast replacing mechanical ones in Europe, he hopes his collection can preserve a sliver of vanishing history.

The clocks remind him, he says, of “how valuable time is, and that I should treasure every minute and every second.”

(Reporting by Minh Nyugen; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)