TIME flies when you’re having fun as our reporter SOPHIE BROWNSON discovered when she tried out being a watch and clock repairer for a day at Newport specialist Leonard W Cole
NOT the brightest at maths as a child, I’m ashamed to say that I used to struggle to tell the time.
But I think I might have learned more quickly had I realised the impressive amount of skill that goes into making a watch or a clock run.
Arriving at watch and clock repair specialist shop Leonard W Cole to begin my morning of work as a ‘horologist,’ I was greeted by co-owners Leonard Cole and Robert Gibbs, who have 104 years of experience between them.
Taking the lead, Mr Cole explained how he deals with the intricate mechanisms of the watch, while Mr Gibbs does the ‘heavy stuff’ such as fitting backs onto watches and clocks.
Mr Cole took me to the workbench, where he explained the small parts littering the table were ‘junk stuff’ that people have given him for parts to use to repair some of the watches.
“The first thing to do is to check that it is working,” Mr Cole told me, as he began to repair a watch a customer had left at the shop the day before.
“I then strip it down and service it to make sure it is the proper time.”
Mr Cole showed me the full service process, explaining that the older the watch, the more expensive it would be.
“First I fill out a customer ticket with the details of the watch and the owner’s name on it when the watches are brought into the store.
“I strip them down – about four or five at a time – and when the watches are dismantled I put them in baskets so I don’t lose the parts,” he said.
“I then put the baskets into the cleaning machine, called an ultrasonic tank, which is like a washing-machine that contains different solutions and gets all the dirt off.
“It then goes into a drying chamber to be dried off.
“Then I re-oil and reassemble the watch.”
Putting on a white workman’s apron, I now felt the part, and was told the first step is to make sure the timepieces actually tell the correct time – the key to this whole business.
Mr Cole then gave me an eyeglass and showed me how to hold the watch face close to my eye so that I could see the mechanism clearly.
I was then handed a pair of narrow tweezers and shown how these are used to accurately and precisely ensure that the timing of the watch is correct.
“The balance makes it tick,” he said.
“Putting it back into the watch is a very delicate process as it is putting the heart back into the watch.”
Mr Cole then fitted the back onto the watch using a screwdriver.
Mr Gibbs then took a turn, showing me how he can adjust the straps of link or chain watches to make them fit the wearer.
Sitting me down at another workbench, Mr Gibbs handed me a hammer and told me off for forgetting to bring my eyeglass – typical, falling at the first hurdle as usual.
Coming back to the bench, Mr Gibbs explained how by fitting the strap to a staking tool and using the hammer to knock out the pins in the links I was able to adjust the strap.
This in practice was much harder than it sounded, I discovered, as having to deal with the confusion of holding the eyeglass and hammering at the same time was a major physical challenge for someone who lacks co-ordination.
Not one to give up, however, I managed to tap the pin out of the plastic link chain strap of the watch, making it smaller.
Taking a break, I chatted to Mr Gibbs and Mr Cole about their customer base and how watch repairs have changed over the years.
“We do get a lot of battery-operated watches now,” Mr Gibbs said.
Mr Cole than showed me my next task – taking the back off watches.
Handing me a special knife, Mr Cole showed me how to use the curved hook of it to prise up the back.
“A lot of watches today are all so tight in the backs so it is good to use a back fitting tool, called a back press, to prise the back off, whereas in the old days you could use your hand,” he said.
Again, I discovered that this was much harder than it sounded.
Once the back was off the watch Mr Gibbs taught me how to test that the battery was working inside.
Using the tweezers again, I carefully removed the tiny battery and placed it on the battery tester to see if it was in working order.
“If it’s red, it’s dead, but if it’s green it’s OK to use,” Mr Gibbs said of the moving dial on the battery tester.
It went red, and the battery of this watch was clearly not in working order, so Mr Gibbs showed me how to study the number on the side of the battery and match it to the new batteries in their cases.
I then put the new battery with the same number in the watch and pressed the back on.
My next task was cleaning the clocks that covered the walls of the shop.
Grabbing a cloth and polish, I cleaned the clocks until they shone.
Going back to fixing, I observed Mr Gibbs tinkering with the mechanism of the old-fashioned grandfather clocks, as I was clearly not skilled enough to fix them myself.
“Clocks can take me a whole day to fix,” Mr Gibbs said.
“With clocks the bearings wear away and you have to replace them.”
“I then have to put all the pieces back together.”
Deciding that to do this job properly would take years of training, I decide to call it a day.
It may not be my next career, but at least I know who to call upon if I ever run out of time.