Some people might ask, “What’s the big deal?” Does it really matter? If you only have one clock, or perhaps an inexpensive clock, maybe it won’t matter to you. However, if you have a clock you cherish, new or old, or if you have many clocks, it should matter as a wise investment in your valued possession.
Of all the service trades in the world, I would have to guess that clock repair has more practicing amateurs or hobbyists (someone who repairs clocks, but not as a profession) than any other. For every practicing professional there are probably 50 hobbyists. Most of these folks do not do any repair for the general public. They are only repairing the clocks in their own collection. However there are a quite a few, who after doing this for a while for themselves eventually open a repair shop and begin charging the unsuspecting clock owner for their less than ideal work. (See my Hall of Shame page for some sad and oftentimes humorous examples, provided it was not your clock they worked on.) Because of the abundance of hobbyists, who more than likely are not well trained repairmen and the value most people place in their clock, some guidelines may help you to find the right clockmaker for you. So for those who are interested I offer the following information for you to consider.
First of all, if possible, once you have a clock repaired you are going to be far better off returning to that same clockmaker (assuming that person is competent) if it needs repair again. This is particularly true if you have had a clock restored or overhauled. The reason being that he or she knows what they have or haven’t done and this will have a bearing on all future repairs. Most good clockmakers are very concerned about their reputation and the longevity of their repairs. If this person has overhauled your clock you are likely to be given special prices for scheduled maintenance, and, if he sees something failing in a clock he has restored, even though it is beyond the warranty period, he is more likely to take care of it, either for nothing, or at least, at a reduced rate. Of course, I can’t speak for all clockmakers, but this happens to be how I run my shop, and I suspect that many others who care about their reputation do so as well. If you take it to someone else, they are not likely to be so accommodating.
The reason I mention this first is that, if you are likely to be going back to this clockmaker again and again, you want to choose someone you like, someone who is not only competent but also friendly and informative.
If you are uncomfortable during your initial experience, as in your first phone conversation or when you are being given an estimate, it is time to ask yourself, “Do I want to leave my clock with this person?” Remember, if you do leave it, you will see him at least once more when you pick up the clock and you may need to call him with a question. If there is a problem after you pick it up, you might need to take it back. If you are uncomfortable the first time, why subject yourself to continued visits to this shop?
I don’t know about you, but I would rather never have to spend money to get anything repaired, so when I do I am looking for as pleasant an experience as possible when I go to pay for it. A friendly clockmaker likes what he does and his enthusiasm shows. He will usually greet you with a smile and a warm hello. For the most part, you can judge the personality of a shop very quickly. First impressions are very important, whether in person or on the phone.
Once you arrive, take a look around, what do you see? If you can’t see the shop, what is the waiting area like? Clock repair is meticulous work and requires attention to detail. A good clockmaker with good work habits knows this. A sloppy shop could mean a sloppy clockmaker. If he doesn’t pay attention to the details you do see, perhaps he won’t care about the things you don’t see.
Being informative is very important. Some customers don’t care why a clock needs what it needs, they just want it fixed. However, I have found that most are curious about their clocks and want to know why it doesn’t work, why it failed and how it is to be repaired. Also, some times there can be different ways of looking at how the clock is to be repaired. There can be short term and long term approaches. (See the web page on My Repair Philosophy for more information about this.) The problem you brought the clock in for may be it’s most immediate need, but a good clockmaker will look ahead for potential future problems and advise you of them. Some repairs may be guaranteed, where others are not. If there is no guarantee, there may be a risk on your part. If there are options, does he explain them to you? When you are there to pick up your clock, will he take the time to explain to you how to set it up, wind it, set the hands and regulate it?
Will you be able to get a hold of this person again if you need to? A great deal of the “clockmakers” out there are part time hobbyists. If he is not there to answer your calls does he have a message system? If he does is he quick to return the calls? Does he keep regular hours so you will know when he is in?
Another important factor is how long the person has been in business. I would be very wary of someone who has only repaired clocks for a year or two. A recent book studied how long it takes for someone in any given profession or art to become proficient at any given skill. That skill could be painting, playing the guitar, carpentry, TV repair or repairing clocks. The book states that, on average, it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to become competent. 10,000 hours is the equivalent of 5 years of full time (40 hour per week) work. Given the fact that there are hundreds of clock types it usually takes even longer for most clockmakers to get really good at repairing the vast number of clock types that exist. Remember you can only become proficient on the things you actually repair. If you only get a certain type of clock a couple times a year it will take many more years to gain significant experience on that type. So then, all other things being equal, you definitely want to give the edge to someone who has been in business the longest. Also, if someone has been in business for a long time they are likely doing okay. If they were doing bad work they likely would have gotten run out of town a long time ago.
Now we come to competence. Does the clockmaker have the ability to do the job and do it well? This is the hardest part for a clock owner to judge. Short of receiving an excellent recommendation, the best thing to do is ask questions. How long have you been doing this? How did you get started? How did you learn the trade? You don’t need to grill the person; you only have to sound interested. If you are concerned enough, do not be afraid to ask if any references are available. A quality repairman will willingly supply this information to you.
In my opinion, the best way to learn clock repair is through an apprenticeship. During an apprenticeship a clockmaker may very well repair several thousand clocks of all kinds. You can learn a great deal from a book, you can learn a great deal from a week long course, but until you have repeated practical experience, all you have is head knowledge. Even better than just an apprenticeship, is a person who has exposed himself to more than one form of training and has a dialogue with other competent clockmakers. Otherwise, a clockmaker may never realize how much he does not know.
These are just some simple guidelines to think about. Remember there are always exceptions to every set of rules. A clockmaker may be unpleasant but it doesn’t make him incompetent. A person with a sloppy shop may be “too busy” to organize. A person who is hard to get a hold of may be a very good repairman, just a lousy businessman. A person who only learned from a book may be so diligent that he does a wonderful job. An amateur may be very good at what he does but lacks the experience of a full time clockmaker.
In my opinion, nothing beats proper training (apprenticeship) as a foundation, coupled with years of experience, followed by continued education and contact with others in the trade.
In addition to all of this, if you can find someone who has been certified in clock repair you are very blessed. The American Watchmakers Clockmakers Institute offers a Certification program for watch and clockmakers. If you do not live in the Central-Ohio area and wish to find a certified clockmaker in your area try the referral section on AWCI’s web site. To learn more about what AWCI Certification is and what it means to you see my “What Is Certification” page.