Meet the supplier: Roger Lascelles
“I make clocks that people can take a real pleasure in owning. They are colourful and distinctive and they all have a strong link to the past. The designs can be inspired by an old clock, or part of one, that I have found in an antique market in France or Britain, but they also reflect today's trends.
I was in Paris recently and came back with a glass face and a pretty tin nursery plate with a painted clock face. I've no idea what I will do with them, but for now they're on my work table with other bits and pieces until they filter into the design process. The workshop is full of wonderful old clocks, from stations, cafés, homes –perhaps the remains of huge 17th-century French clocks that once sat in a château, or a 1950s gem in Bakelite. They all have a story to tell and a bit of that ends up in the design.
can't say I started life with a passion for clocks – it's something that has just happened. I went to university in Hawaii where I studied travel and tourism and I was Director of Tourism in the Seychelles in the 1970s. I came back to the UK at the beginning of 1974 in the middle of an economic downturn. I had an MBA, but in the UK people either didn't know what it was or it made me overqualified. I had to find a different way to earn a living, so I started to buy antiques and bric-a-brac and sell it from a friend's shop. And that's how I got into clocks.
I loved the faces on old grandfather clocks and started to photograph them. I made a poster with photographs of 10 different grandfather clocks, but it was a disaster and nobody bought it – so instead we cut out the individual faces from the poster and used them to make our first clocks. That was the start of this business.
We now make 100,000 clocks a year. We were only selling a few in our Fulham shop, but someone had tipped off the then clock buyer at John Lewis and he got on the bus and came down to see us. He placed an order for £5000. That was in 1985, and John Lewis was my first retail customer - now, all these years later, it’s still my biggest.
We found a little niche by accident and have gone on developing our own distinctive look. We design all our clocks here in our Wandsworth workshop, trying to use a bit of the past but with a modern edge. We often take an element from one clock – perhaps the hands – and combine it with, say, the numerals from another clock face. It’s amazing when you look at the numbers how distinctive and individual they can be.
It can take six months to develop an idea, tweaking it here and there – changing the colour, shape, dimension. They’re all fitted with a quartz mechanism that we buy in. We do get copied by other manufacturers but we have to live with that. After all, it's very flattering and we have the talent to constantly come up with new designs.”
Original interview by Jacqueline Mair, which appeared in the John Lewis Gazette