Half Past

From the point of playing the memory game, we began to work on how assemblies came together, why certain pieces worked with others, how to create balance, and most importantly how to operate the springs. The coiled up spring you find if you pull apart any wound clock or watch may look simplistic in it’s design, but I can attest to how difficult it is to get in right, wind correctly, and not slice into part of your finger if it does inevitably snap out of place, which I did at least a half dozen times in my first six months there. By this point I was learning the layout of the shop pretty well, the drawers were becoming familiar, and I was learning to put gear systems into place efficiently.

Some of the mystery of the clocks that I remember having as a kid, staring in the hallway at our grandfather clock started to become unravelled. My teacher was extremely proficient in his means of teaching, and I was finding that I could retain a lot of what he taught me through his simple actions. And I guess that when it comes to this type of teaching, you need to emulate the object you’re learning. That every tiny piece comes together in the end, and even though something looks or feels simplistic, without it the whole mechanism would fall apart. It was really impressive when I started to reflect on all I learned in such a short time.

After spending a fair bit of time doing runs, I would learn to wind, how to lathe gears, and other minor tasks that every respectable watch and clock maker should know. I got to see and somewhat understand the intricate work of pocket watches that I always admired, and spent a lot of time looking up from my tasks at hand to watch him deftly putting pieces together in much more intricate or larger time pieces. It was a humbling experience that I’m sure is never taken into account when you look at your own watch or clock, the amount of work that goes into high quality ones, and why they can have such a high asking price, the majority is the skill level of the work that goes into it.

Nearing the end of my first year, I began to assist with some minor repairs, either to the gear work itself or to the structure that frames it, and began to dread my time coming to an end. We talked at the start of my first year about my perhaps staying on, but if there was anything I had learned over this time, is that my teacher would never make a final statement until all the pieces were in place, and as much as I admired that, I wondered if I would have enough time to get everything I needed to into place to be able to extend my stay here, as there was a lot of paperwork to fill out.

The next part of my story is called Buying Time

Time Keeps Moving

I remember coming into the last day of my first year apprenticeship. I walked through the door as I always had, talked to the lady at the front desk for a few minutes as always, and then made my way to the office to greet my teacher. He was sitting at a bare desk, sipping a cup of tea, which is not normally as I would find it. I found myself wondering if the last day would just be more talking, but after our greetings he told me to follow him. I walked into the shop behind him to see the mirrored desk across form his was no longer empty. On top of the desk was the small cuckoo clock from my first day, all taken apart, each piece laid out on the desk, my mentor motioned to the chair.

He put his own pocket watch down on the table, and waited until precisely nine o’clock. He then told me I had two hours, and walked out of the room closing the door behind him. I started to panic a little, for as much as I had done there, I had never taken a piece from nothing and made it into something, but I knew that I couldn’t let nerves get the best of me. I remembered him pointing to each piece, recalling their names in my head. I remembered the small repairs I would do and knowing what order they had to be in. As each piece went into my hand and onto the gear work, it started to dawn on me exactly how much I had been taught when I wasn’t paying attention.

After three quarters of an hour, I had rebuilt the entire clock. Not really sure of what I was supposed to do next, whether I should track him down, or wait out the other hour and a quarter, I went in depth looking at every piece to ensure that it was all correct. I watched the second hand and listened for it to fall in time with his pocket watch. Then the watch struck the exact second of ten, he opened the door from his office. He walked over and put his watch back in his pocket with a smiling remark about how one hour was enough time for me. He then began his own inspection of the piece, which made me even more nervous.

After a few minutes of looking about, and feeling it in his hands, he put the clock down on the table and clapped his hand on my shoulder with a smile. I breathed a huge sigh of relief to see his appreciation of the work he put into teaching me. We went to his office and discussed the matter of continuing my training there, to which I eagerly agreed. That night I began filing the paperwork, and as I write this, just had it all confirmed. I look back on going from clock gazer to builder, and think of all the precise seconds that have ticked by.

First Gears

The second day I went back to the shop, which was a Wednesday because the shop was closed on Mondays, which took me a bit to get used to coming from American schedules. As I walked into the workspace, I was impressed with it’s size firstly. I always pictured clock and watch makers sitting at tiny tables surrounded tightly by the mechanisms of their work, but this place had a fairly open design plan and more tiny drawers than I had seen in one place. Hanging from hooks in the roof was hundreds of clocks of all shapes and sizes, in various states of construction. I was immediately hit with a sense of losing track of everything I was working on, that I would forget certain pieces, but then remembered that this gentleman had been at this for years, and probably had his own system.

Clock gears

As we made our way to two longer tables pressed against each other, their set ups directly mirroring each other, he told me that this was where we would begin to build when I was ready, until then, I would learn the ins and outs of every piece, gear and material within the shop. I would learn what each gear was used for, the terms and names of everything, and essentially spend a whole lot of time watching. This, coming from an engineering background, I was ok with. I knew coming into things that I would have a whole lot to learn, and wasn’t daunted.

He sat himself at the table, and asked me to pass him a piece he pointed to at the ceiling. It was a somewhat simple cuckoo clock design, that he stated would be the easiest place for me to start. I watched as he expertly dismantled the work that he had begun, and laid all the parts out on the table, I now see why we used a large table for his work rather than the tiny ones I was picturing, even in a simple clock there was hundreds of pieces to keep track of. He would point to one, say it’s name, and then continue on, every now and then making a backtrack to point to one that he had previously named, and look at me silently. I would attempt to recall the name, and found myself only getting about one out of every five or six.

He didn’t seem at all phased by this though, and we continued this game for the rest of the afternoon. Some may have felt at the end of the day that this long tedious game of memory would have been a waste of time after flying halfway across the world to learn how to actually do something, but then again, I once again credit my engineering background for giving me the patience to know that in complicated things, simple and tedious approaches build success. It took me just over a week to be able to name four out of every five to six.