This work needs surgical precision at work

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The job of a watch mechanic requires high levels of concentration.
The job of a watch mechanic requires high levels of concentration.

S. Aishwarya

CHENNAI: Watches are more than just time machines: they could be a status symbol or a much-loved and treasured gift. It is against this backdrop that the role of watch mechanics assumes significance — to keep timepieces that develop snags running.

Repair work on watches demands surgical precision to avoid damage to delicate parts. “The parts are very minute. We need to be careful while removing and replacing the parts as that is when the chances of damage are high,” according to Rameshwaran, a mechanic who operates out of a kiosk on Arcot Road. With a glass case to “prevent dust from entering the watches,” his booth houses over 50 watches and hundreds of battery cells.

His shop attracts customers who struggle to plan their day when their wrist watches develop snags. “There is sometimes a mad rush during morning hours. People will want to get their watches serviced fast and reach office on time,” he said, adding that in most cases, it would be the batteries that need to be changed.

But mechanics such as Samuel Muthiah, a senior technician with P. Orr and Sons on Anna Salai, receives watches that demand complicated servicing procedures. “Watches are like patients,” Mr. Muthiah laughs. “On the face of it, we never know what the problem is. We need to dismantle the parts. Sometimes even the diagnosis takes hours.”

An expert in repairing antique watches, he has a fascination for servicing ‘grandfather’ and pocket watches. “Mechanical watches are tricky to repair, but there lies the real challenge. Some watches will be of great antique value and customers will be finicky about the way it looks. When spare parts are not available, we need to fabricate new parts but retain the original look of the watches.” With mechanical and antique watches back in vogue, he is flooded with many such pieces.

K. Mathivanan, who sells watches and buys used ones, says experience is the best teacher for a watch mechanic. For someone who dropped out of school in Class VIII, learning the terminology of watch mechanism has been cakewalk. He expertly pulls out a battery cell from a watch with a tweezer, fishes for a replacement from his kitty, fixes it in the slot and seals the case with a screw driver. “I do it by trial-and-error method most of the time. Many watch mechanics do it the same way but never admit it.”

However, E. Ramesh, manager (service) in a watch firm, strongly disagrees. “You need proper training to be a good watch mechanic. Only a trained person will know how to deal with jewellery watches, what type of oil to use and what percentage of grease is to be applied. One has to assess the condition before opening the case.”

The watch mechanics have their own favourites.

Mr. Rameshwaran, who works till 10 p.m., treasures a Longines watch sold off by a customer at a throwaway price.

“He gave it to me at such a tempting price that I had to borrow money from my co-brother. It is a worthy investment but I have no plans to sell it,” he says. “But my long-felt desire is to repair a Rolex watch. I am sure I will get to do it at least once in my lifetime.”




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