Ticking along nicely

From Nine To Noon, 11:20 am on 14 February 2018

Ian Young, at 86, is one of a small band of skilled clock and watch repairers.

He gave up full-time work 12 years ago but still carries out intricate repairs in his purpose-built workshop in the Wellington suburb of Kelburn.

And he's even been asked to take on an apprentice, he says.

Young had three shops in central Wellington, the first in the 1950s, but his start in the trade came as a schoolboy when he was offered a holiday job running messages for watch-making firm Douglas and Davies, on Dixon Street.

The pay was a pound a week. “I was round there like a shot,” he says.

Young stayed on; more holiday jobs, a five-year apprenticeship and several more years as an employee.

A conversation with a watchmaker prompted him to set up his own firm.

“He told me … you haven’t got a girl, it’s the proper time to go out on your own, because there won’t be any troubles between buying a fridge and buying stock.”

He's one of a shrinking pool of expert craftsmen.

“In Wellington right now we have one workshop with three watchmakers in it, we have one person who is repairing clocks and watches and another one – that’s me.

“And that’s it.

“And at one time I have had letters from the Labour Department wanting me to take on an apprentice.

“They don’t realise how old I am or what I’m doing.

“But I write into the chaps and say: ‘Please think about this again’, because when I joined the trade I think we had four hundred-odd members of a sort of watchmakers fellowship … now it’s probably a hundred-odd.

“So it doesn’t look very hopeful for anybody coming into a trade, does it?”

Wind-up watches, the “bread-and-butter” work for repairers, are a thing of the past, he says.

“The quartz watch can be made so cheaply - that era’s now gone.”

It’s also increasingly hard to get springs and other parts for older watches.

He’s not sure what the secret is of his long career.

“I feel very lucky. I married well, that’s gone very well for me - I think that helps. I go for a little walk every day … mainly out of curiosity.”

Young would like to take it a little bit easier, though.

“Mainly because I want more time. It sounds silly for a watchmaker.”