Restoration, in my book, is the backbone of the watch- or clock-maker’s skills. Just as an individual or a society can find explanations and understanding in their past, the only way to fathom the art of timekeeping is to examine its history and the craftsmanship feats of past masters that Time has preserved for our contemplation.
Each old timepiece is a witness to a period when techniques, manufacturing means, markets, science and mentalities were different from today’s. To restore it, the watchmaker must immerse him- or herself in that period so as to replicate the damaged or missing parts as closely as possible. For we are concerned here not just with making the object work (the aim the repair sets out to achieve), but with giving it a new lease on the life with which it was originally endowed, complete with its “personality”.
Restoration is currently undertaken following several different lines of approach. While the one I opt for will be determined after discussions with the client, my basic policy is to get the timekeeper to work again but without attempting to restore it to its original state. Often, several watchmakers have worked on such objects each leaving traces (indeed, watchmakers often cause more damage than time itself). Provided these do not impede the movement or prevent its smooth running, I consider such vestiges can be left and regarded as an integral part of the timepiece. In the same way that the trials of life often leave marks that, I feel, add to the beauty of a face, so such traces often confer something unique and personal on the timekeeper. Where one philosophy would be to refuse age and the ravages of time, mine consists in accepting age and letting time take its toll.
Restoration opens a door to forgotten frames of mind, leads me to research long-abandoned skills and, in realising all the talents we are no longer capable of exercising, I am filled with a certain humility. Effectively, although the length of an apprenticeship for the profession has scarcely changed since the 16th century (six years), the skills learnt today are very different, directed more at the current demands of the watch market (assembling movements produced by CNC, repairs to industrially produced clocks and watches, etc.). Hence the necessity to learn again such bygone skills as how to file teeth to size, to cold-work brass, to make fusees, and so on.
As each object is unique and affords an inspiring opportunity to learn, I restore timepieces from all periods, regardless of condition, be they marine chronometers, turnip watches, chiming watches, watches with automata, cartel clocks, or old scientific instruments.