Derek Roberts with the Edward Cockey of Warminster longcase clock.

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Derek spent his many happy school days at Dulwich College in south-East London before, having completed his National Service in the RAF, he followed in his father’s footsteps entering the world of dentistry where he excelled.

He gained his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1959 and went on to publish several textbooks including Fixed Bridge Prothesis published in 1973 and Local Analgesia in Dentistry with the late Dr John Sowray, later Professor Sowray, with both books becoming standard teaching aids.

It was while on a drive around Kent in the late 1960s with his wife Valerie that he first came across an antiques showroom, complete with living quarters, for sale in Tonbridge. Thinking this would be a good opportunity for Valerie to have a small business of her own, and a place to set up home, they bought the property and went about buying stock to fill the space.

One of the first pieces they purchased was a non-functioning Vienna-style wall regulator and so it was with typical Derek vigour, and without any previous experience, that he sat down at his desk with his dentistry tools, took the movement to bits, cleaned and oiled it and soon had the clock up on the wall running from where it sold within days.

This was the start of his obsession with antique clocks and within several years it was this side of the business that took the lead at the white clapper-board showroom at 24 Shipbourne Road that was to become a world-renowned address in the horological world.

By the 1980s he had expanded the business into the premises next door, previously Kent Clock Services, and had four clockmakers under the leadership of Duncan Greig, and three cabinet makers in workshops lead by Colin Perry, all working in situ alongside other members of the office team.

Derek became a member of the British Antique Dealers Association in 1973 and gained his Freedom of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in 1976 being raised to the Livery in 1977.

Derek had been an avid supporter of BADA for over 40 years and I well recall days that we helped out on the BADA stand at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair. In later years Derek and Valerie hosted some wonderful events for the association at their home ‘Lewins’ on Crockham Hill, Edenbridge.

Although many clocks by such fine makers of the Golden Age such as Tompion, East and Knibb were to pass through his hands, he saw the pleasure in those other examples which could be considered rare, quirky and interesting, but still of exceptional quality. Indeed, over the years Derek handled some of the most wonderful and monumental clocks to come onto the market and took much pleasure from researching the somewhat obscure.

He never shied away from the seemingly impossible and enjoyed bringing back to life historically important pieces that to many would be past redemption, including the stunning Edward Cockey of Warminster three-month duration astronomical longcase, with various complications, housed in a pillared chinoiserie case which stands a towering 11 foot, 7 inches high.

I first met Derek while at prep school in Devon in the early-1970s when he and his wife Valerie would visit his nephew who was also a pupil there. His friendship with my parents, also antique dealers, would spark my interest in clocks and it was he who suggested I take an apprenticeship in clockmaking after leaving school.

It was obvious at the end of my time that I didn’t have the aptitude to be a hands-on restorer so I took what had always seemed an inevitable move down to Tonbridge to join Derek and his team as manager and right-hand man.

This was an exciting time for his business as he was proving to be quite an innovator as a dealer in the horological world. We started to produce 36 page full-colour catalogues that were published every 12 weeks, with all the colour images taken by Derek on his trusty Hasselblad camera either in the shop with curtains drawn, or with the clocks carried with some trepidation up the rear stairs of the showroom to his purpose - made studio above. Derek never doubted that enough new restored stock would be available each quarter to make a catalogue worth the effort.

When the internet was in its infancy Derek and Valerie produced one of the first websites dedicated to a single fine art concern with one of his clockmakers, Clive Collins, proving to be an expert in this field. There isn’t a dealer today who would be without this tool but back then there weren’t that many who had the vision to see how important a website was to a forward-thinking antiques business.

Derek also expanded the art of the horological exhibition. He moved the genre forward and made sure that every clock shown was fully photographed in detail with the research undertaken equally detailed so that each piece taught us something new about it or its maker. Each themed exhibition was recorded in professionally bound publications which have themselves become important research documents.

Derek travelled the world looking for fine and unusual clocks and made many friends along the way. He was welcomed into homes from Australia, America and South Africa among others. Even in later life he was able to travel to China at the request of a client friend to spend a fortnight talking clocks and advising on his friend’s substantial horological collection.

Derek Roberts Antiques was sold on some years ago following his first retirement, but being out of the business did not suit Derek so he and Valerie set up Derval Antiques dealing with the same quality of stock and with equal enthusiasm, but in a smaller, more personal way. When he finally retired from that business I was honoured that he wished to pass it on to me to continue alongside my own.

Time had been so important to Derek and now that he is no longer with us, he has left a legacy in the research and publications now available for others to enjoy.

Derek Roberts was truly a one-off. He leaves a loving wife Valerie, son Stuart and grandson Michael who will take some solace in knowing that nothing can be taken away from his achievements, his friendships, and his contribution to the world of horology.