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When Time Is Money: Clocking In As A Watchmaker

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Fima Novik says the market for second generation watches is still strong.
Jessica Gould
Fima Novik says the market for second generation watches is still strong.

While most people rely on their cell phones to keep track of the time these days, the folks at D.C.'s Tiny Jewel Box say the market for mechanical watches is still going strong.

The beginning of a time

Walk through the doors of Tiny Jewel Box, and your eyes are dazzled with diamonds. They're on rings, necklaces, earrings, and even watches. But, tucked behind the plush walls and sparkling cases, there's something that's becoming equally rare - a watchmaker making repairs.

Fima Novik grew up in Lithuania. And when he grduated from high school, his parents gave him two choices: Apply to engineering school, or join his father as a watchmaker. He's been repairing watches ever since.

Every day Novik sits down at his bench, puts on his magnifying glasses, and gets to work. With tiny tweezers and even smaller screwdrivers, he separates the gears.

"An average watch has over 100 parts," he says. "So with experience you learn to familiarize yourself and memorize where each part goes... It's very tedious. You really need to have a calling to learn this trade.

Still, he says sitting in his office all day, listening to time tick by can be a little lonely. So he likes to meet up with other watchmakers when he can.

“We all like to put on the fanciest watches we have, just to show off that you’re really doing well,” he says. 

Time changes, but some things remain the same

Novik says he and fellow watchmakers were worried when digital and quartz watches started flooding the market years ago.

"I remember being in the watch repair shop and there were 20-such watch makers and they were all worried that maybe another five, ten years they were not going to have a job,” he says. “Because digital and quartz watches, they don’t need as much servicing, because it’s just a battery replacement."

But Novik says business is good these days. Even with smartphones, people still wear watches, and watches still require servicing.

"The maintenance is not going to be done by robots," says Novik. “Somebody will have to repair them. I know that I’m as busy as I could be.”Plus, he says, for watchmakers, it’s tough to be off the clock.

“I go on vacation I still look at the time. You cannot get away from time. Really, it’s all around us, no?”

So times may change, and telling time may change. But Novik says he’s here to stay. 

[Music: "As Time Goes By" by Teddy Wilson from Jazz 'Round Midnight: Piano]

Photos: Watchmaking

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