The Laboratory for Scientific Restoration of Timepieces and Musical Instruments (LSRTMI) was established in 1994. Its first head was Yu.P. Platonov. It is the only Russian restoration laboratory of such profile. Today it employs 10 people. One part of the staff is professional watchmakers, others are representatives of other professions but they all share love for their work. The main objective of the Laboratory is studying, scientific restoration and maintenance of the Museum’s collection of timepieces and musical instruments which totals about 3,000 exhibits.
The features of this work are derived from the specific characteristics of timepieces and musical instruments as borderline museum objects, that is, the monuments of both artistic and technical culture: the cases were made by the best artists and sculptors of their time, and the latest advances in science and technology were used in the construction of the mechanisms.
Mechanical clocks are the only kind of museum exhibits which have a highly organized internal structure, they move independently and produce sounds. Working, ticking, ringing clocks increase the attractiveness of the museum; they make life in the museum interiors, give them a new dimension, a sound accent; they become a bridge linking us to the past inhabitants of this building: we hear the same sounds as they did. Naturally, all these timepieces require constant attention and skilled maintenance.
Timepieces and musical instruments have always been high-tech products as their manufacture involved dozens of different specialists: musicians, bronzers, cabinetmakers, jewellers, enamellers, etc. Therefore, a comprehensive restoration suggesting the most complete recreation of the author’s intention involves interaction with a large number of specialists both in the museum and outside. In order to make the manufactured parts match the original, a restorer has to work using the technologies that are relevant to those used by the original watchmaker. He must combine the knowledge of an art historian and the skills of a watchmaker, understand the mechanism designs and the designs of watch cases in different countries and time periods. It is obvious that the combination of such knowledge is rarely found in one person, so it is important to have a close-knit team of professionals whose collective knowledge and skill can solve all the matters. Experience gained in such work is unique.
Professional restoration implies a differentiated approach to each object. The degree of intervention is determined after a thorough examination of the particular exhibit and is coordinated with the custodian and the Restoration Commission. Such coordination has a significant constructive point: you must constantly reflect upon and argue in favour of the decisions made.
Alongside with the study of an object, calculation, design and manufacture of the missing elements of mechanisms considering stylistic, structural and technological characteristics peculiar to a particular time period take a lot of time.
Currently, the focus is on large-scale exhibits (desk, wall, floor clocks) which after the restoration are included in the permanent exhibition of the museum or moved to the temporary exhibitions. Today, the museum has about 50 functioning timepieces. The most interesting restoration projects include the tower clock of the Winter Palace, as well as musical clocks made by European and Russian masters: Gravel and Tolkin (Catherine the Great), P. Thornton (Peter the Great), D. Roentgen and P. Kinzing, J. Strasser; automatons by J. Cox and P. Torkler; mechanical droshky with organ and verst meter made by Ye. Kuznetsov, the Peacock clock.
The Laboratory staff actively collaborates with its colleagues in Russia and abroad, consults and provides practical restoration assistance to the museums of St. Petersburg, Russia and other countries. In 2010, the Laboratory work was awarded the State Prize of the Russian Federation in the field of literature and art.