The Watchmaker

How do you cope in a changing world?

The band on my wrist watch broke. A screw holding the linkages had come loose and fallen out.

The best watchmaker I know in Melbourne is located in Russell St, just south of Bourke St. He has been there for as long as I can remember.

It’s a no frills shop with plenty of watches for sale. His wife looks after the customers and the front of the shop. He toils in the back amidst his many instruments, tools and watch parts.

The husband was not there when I visited yesterday. His wife greeted me. She is the hero of this story. I have been there often enough and there is a sense of familiarity between us.

I showed her my broken watch and she looked at it with a knowing eye. “You are missing a screw. Pray tell me that you haven’t lost the screw.” I looked further in the bag in which I carried the watch and produced the screw. Personally I thought it was a broken pin.

She took the pieces to the back of the shop and returned back with the repaired watch. “”How much do I owe you?” I asked. “”It was nothing. No charge.” she replied. “”I must pay you something.” I implored. But she raised her hand to dismiss me and her eyes told me she would not broach any further discussion on this point.

“How’s business?” I enquired, changing the subject.

Sometimes I ask one too many questions, a terrible trait for a lawyer. I had ventured into territory best left unexplored, because her eyes, those eyes that were dismissive a moment ago, suddenly clouded over and faltered.

“”Business is bad.” she said turning down her bottom lip. “The shop is always empty.” “People not buying watches?” I asked. “Yes you are right… and when they break they don’t repair them. Everyone uses their phone to tell the time.”

And so the fate of this business had joined the fate of so many others that have been rendered passé by the advent of the smartphone.

Spare a thought for those who made and sold calculators, MP3 players, CDs, videos, encyclopedias, PDAs, GPSs, torches, alarm clocks, film and film processing, camcorders and cameras, pagers, game consoles, diaries….and the list goes on.

“”Have you thought about changing what you do?” I asked. “”What do you mean?” she asked back. “”I mean, as well as repairing watches, what about repairing phones?”

“What would we know about repairing phones?” she said, those dismissive eyes returning.

“You know what I mean. You see them at shopping centres. They replace broken screens. They use the same tools that you do. They probably have less skill and experience with those tools than you. ”

I waited a moment for the thought to register with her. “I would prefer a watchmaker to fix my phone than a student seeking to earn extra money between semesters.”

Her eyes lit up. “I see what you are saying. I will speak to my daughter….. Have a good day!”