The Migration of Form: Watches, Clocks and Locks

Some of the most ornate items in the Casey Wood collection are killōṭaya or lime cases. These are usually made from copper, brass more rarely from a precious metal and sometimes from iron or steel. The lime was combined with betel leaves and spices and chewed.


These elaborate cases served as status symbols among those who carried them and the habit of doing so spread to the Portuguese in Asia by the sixteenth century.

The form of the killōṭaya clearly resembles the European pocket watch. However, which way the borrowing went in this case remains unclear. The same is true for the several brass and copper containers for dried medicines that have a very similar form to Dutch tobacco boxes, but which Casey Wood considered to pre-date them.

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In the case of the clock faces that appear on a few of the more unique items in the collection, it is clear that the Sri Lankan craftsmen borrowed from European models. Clockwork items were in fact some of the most popular items of European make during the first few centuries of trade with Asia. However, the way in which the concept of a clock-face was used is thoroughly unique.


[Photograph courtesy of Redpath Museum: A. Gibbs]

In this box and two others like it that appear in the collection, the clock face serves to operate a combination lock when the dials are turned to face a particular point. They served as an early form of child-resistant packaging for dangerous medicines.

While Sri Lankan craftsmen were intrigued by the mechanisms they observed on European clockwork, clocks were not often adopted in Asia because they tended to malfunction in more humid climates. Instead, the vederala would make use of a water clock or pē-tẹṭiya to time preparations and treatments.


Robert Knox, the seventeenth century English captive in the kingdom of Kandy describes these devices:

 It is a Copper Dish holding about a Pint, with a very small hole in the bottom. This dish they set swimming in an Earthern Pot of water, the water leaking in at the bottom til the dish be full, it sinks.

Similar devices were in use in India, and as another seventeenth century traveller, Thomas Bowery, noted they were adopted as time-keepers in the English and Dutch settlements there.

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