Time marches on for UK clockmaker Smith of Derby
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Smith of Derby, creator and custodian of some of the world’s most important clocks, recently restored one of its most notable timepieces — the Customs House clock on Shanghai’s waterfront Bund, installed in 1927 and built to the design of London’s Big Ben.
Founded in 1856, Smith of Derby is the survivor of British horology, having absorbed several rivals. Its works are found in locations such as Boeing’s Chicago HQ and, in London, at St Paul’s Cathedral and the Clock End of Arsenal football club’s Emirates stadium.
International work was important from early days when it followed the railways through Britain’s expanding empire. Exports account for a fifth of turnover of just over £3m. Its main market is the Middle East.
“We love what we do,” says Bob Betts, managing director, though it can be a bumpy ride in an age when everyone has a watch and architects rarely think of putting clocks on buildings. The company returned to profit last year after three or four difficult years, caused partly by the UK building more houses than public buildings.
“We could have decided to do only maintenance contracts,” recalls Mr Betts. However, the Smith family [now in its sixth generation of company ownership] took a long-term view in a tough climate to continue to invest in training, technology and people. We are reaping the benefits.”
Smith is creating atrium clocks for Waldorf Astoria hotels, most recently in Dubai. It has contracts in Jamaica and this year installs a tower clock in Nanjing, China, for a cement works and a horticultural events centre.