Opposite the mini stadium in Renggam, Johor, there is a row of antique single-storey wooden shops, New Kwong Weng watch shop inconspicuously situated among them for almost nine decades. As its light blue metal shutters slowly open, various grandfather clocks, mantel clocks, and wall clocks come into sight, the regular rhythm of ticking clocks bringing peace to the mind. This historic watch shop is the only place for traditional watch and clock repairs in Renggam, the 2nd generation successor master Chong Lin Kiam is hailed as “Clock and watch doctor” who rescues timepieces. Countless clocks and watches came back to life under his able hands, and there often are clients from Kuala Lumpur or even Singapore who send their collection of luxury watches for repair.
About 40 years ago, master Chong succeeded the shop established by his father in 1932, adding a “New” to the original shop name “Kwong Weng”. The senior Mr Chong used to be a farmer in China who lost his hard-earned savings during a locust disaster in the 1920’s, therefore he moved overseas to make a living in Johor Bahru. He learned the trade of repairing clocks and watches from his fellow hometowner who conducted him to Malaya, and moved to the rapidly developing Renggam by coincidence, setting up his own shop on the busy main street, in a row of the earliest buildings in Renggam town. The narrow space behind the shop which used to be a storeroom was turned into lodgings after being rented by the senior Mr Chong, who brought up several children with this mere trade.
In the earlier days, numerous estate managers and foreign business owners gathered at Renggam, having great demand for clocks and watches repair services, back then there were 2-3 watch shops in town including Kwong Weng. Despite the Japanese occupation of Malaya, the business of watch shops was not affected. The Japanese soldiers were honest and paid up promptly when they sent their watches for repair, only threatening the watch repairers with their weapons upon receiving poor service. Having cautiously operating for over two decades, the senior Mr Chong finally received a trade license from the British colonial government in 1955, as well as another zinc license plate from the Malaysia government in 1975, both well-maintained to date, as master Chong hung them in the shop in honour of his father’s hard work and toil in entrepreneuring.
Master Chong has been helping his father in the shop since teenage, gradually fathoming the mechanical principles of clocks and watches, subsequently inspiring an enthusiasm in repairing them. According to master Chong, beginners should start learning to repair alarm clocks which have larger parts, only switching to repairing watches after grasping the basics and becoming adept. Various tools available in the shop are heirlooms from his father, whereas the array of old spare parts were procured from outstation associates, as some of the watch shops conformed to the changing times to sell electronic watches therefore selling off obsolete mechanical parts. Even though electronic watches are trending, the unique charm of mechanical watches expand their value for collection, watch repairers who are savvy in mechanical principles and have exquisite craftsmanship are particularly sought after. Master Chong’s son also became a watch repairer under his influence, and is now working in the repair department of a luxury watch shop at Kuala Lumpur.
The process of disassembling, cleaning, repairing, and reassembling a luxury watch puts patience to test as well as time-consuming. Fortunately master Chong who has over 50 years of experience in watch repairing still has sharp eyesight and agile hands even though he is nearly 70 years old. Sitting in front of his workbench wearing a loupe, he steadily grips the tweezers, carefully arranging the petite parts on a small white tray, closely inspecting every single detail, striving to find out the exact problem to restore the watch’s functionality and accuracy. Among the luxury watches master Chong often repair are Rolex, Panerai, Omega, Longines etc. Their structures are complex and delicate, the original mechanisms might be accidentally fragmented. Therefore he often purchased European watch magazines to study their technical innovations as well as polish his own skills.
Helmed by two generations, its craftsmanship passing down to the third, New Kwong Weng watch shop stood witness to the changes in watchmaking technology over the years. Quality is upheld by dedication in reviving the heartbeat of mechanical clocks and watches. Watch repair skill is a timeless legacy, allowing mechanical devices to continue measuring time step by step.
Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Mok Yii Chek
Coordinator : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang
Drone : Daniel Lim
Video Editor : Amelia Lim
Production Assistant : Michael Lerk
Music : Just Stay
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