A brief portrait of Cornelius Lehr

Cornelius Lehr, a master horologist in his element.Walking into Cornelius Lehr's workshop - is quite something! One's eyes dance over the array of magical timepieces co-habitting side by side, the Grandfather and Grandmother clocks... the breath-taking row of station-clocks - of different woods and varying shapes...

The glass domes of the skeleton clocks - their innards moving - in their own unique time and rhythm - clicking and ticking - like a slow dance... mesmerizing to the onlooker - taking them to a place they don't often travel to... and literally to another world... a world where what exists in 2013 is hard to remember - let alone reconcile with what appears before one - once one crosses the threshold into this workshop.

Time as we know it shifts gear - into something unimagined to the uninitiated – seconds - minutes and hours - seem to take on another meaning.... time is a wheel - is a number of wheels - moving hands - moving springs - dancing over little teeth - making music - and igniting our imagination... sending one reeling over all the memories - of great Aunts in far off places - and uncles with fob watches in the pockets of their waistcoats.

To the novice it must be overwhelming - and a feeling similar to walking back in “Time” - to a place where the imagination dances and reels - to the sound of clocks chiming - pinging - coo-koos popping in and out of their cases - singing different songs from different forests around Germany...

And then one's eye becomes accustomed to what resides in this magical environment - and one's eye is able to settle on one or two things at a time - it starts to balance and focus - to make order of this magical far away environment.

The walls are lined from floor to ceiling - with clocks - machines - boxes of parts - lathes - glass cabinets filled with fascinating automata - miniature carriage clocks - musical boxes - and an array of ancient looking objects - all here for a reason - and very pleasing. A world that has been created - almost like a museum - of objects from times gone by - reminding us of another place - many other places...

And then there is Cornelius Lehr. The quiet observer, contemplative and master craftsman. This is his world - the world of Clocks - Automata and exquisite objects - that have the ability to be moved by a series of wheels and springs.

And then the story begins...

Cornelius was born in Aberdeen, Scotland and moved with his family to Yorkshire at the age of 3. He was raised in a unique community of Artists, philosophers and creative people - who originated mainly from England and Northern Europe.

Many of the people in the community were skilled craftspeople and artists - so it was natural that from a very early age - he was encouraged by example, to discover his life's passion - and was able to start to explore it - without even realizing that he was putting himself firmly on a road that would take him to the other side of the world... and towards a journey of working as a master-craftsman in the realm of Time Pieces and Automata.

He developed a passion for fine mechanics as a young boy over 40 years ago when he taught himself to repair watches for his classmates at school in Yorkshire, England. He went on to complete an apprenticeship in watch and clock making in Switzerland. In 1977 he won both the Swiss watch making championships and later that year won a gold medal at the World Championship against Korea and Japan.

Since arriving in South Africa in 1980, he has turned his passion into a successful business and currently specializes in Antiquarian Horology. He was appointed a fellow of the BHI (British Horological Institute) in 2012.

Working with passion and precision, Cornelius sets antique clocks ticking again and breathes new life into an age-old craft. He refers to himself as "an Antiquarian Horologist – but looking around at his workshop - he is a re-animator. Clocks are close to living things. The way the original clockmakers constructed them predetermines how they will act, so while they may not be a living entity, they represent the ongoing creation of their makers. It is his job to get inside the minds and hearts of the original makers, to be in communion with them, to make their extra-ordinary works live and breath again.

Having graduated at one of the top Swiss Watch-making schools, he has taken the traditions that he was taught and almost by a process of osmosis, has made them his own. He resides in a "time almost of his own making, a time warp" as there are so few people still practicing his craft today in South Africa, using the techniques that were current hundreds of years ago, and rarely still being taught since the break down of traditional apprenticeship systems around the world.


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