For Old Delhi Watchmakers, Time is Friend and Foe | Latest Delhi News
Mohammad Ayaz Khan, a clock repairer, prefers to call himself a craftsman. His workshop in Churiwalan in the walled city is a charming little museum of ancient clocks – mantel, wall, table, and cuckoo clocks – many of which are over a hundred years old. There are others in cardboard boxes that have come in for repair from across the country by courier. “There are a few watchmakers like me who have survived this era of quartz clocks,” says Khan as he examines, like a biologist, the clock plate of a century-old Smiths Enfield clock.
“His rings are worn. I will have to disassemble its entire mechanism and change its socket to make it work again. This British clock was once one of the most sought-after clock brands in the world, ”explains the affable Khan. The walls of his studio have clocks from many of the top brands of yesteryear such as Ansonia, Seth Thomas, Smith Enfield and Seikosha.
For the uninitiated, Ansonia is an American company that began making clocks in Ansonia, Connecticut, in 1851, then moved to Brooklyn New York; Seth Thomas is another American company incorporated in 1853; Smiths Enfield was one of the first UK companies to engage in the mass production of household mechanical wall clocks in the 1930s; and Seikosha is a Japanese company established in 1892, better known today as Seiko.
Spring-loaded mechanical wall clocks, which harness the energy stored in a coiled spring to keep time, have a complex mechanism that includes a mainspring, multiple wheels, levers, and hammer, and a small misadjustment in one of the parts could lead to precision errors. timing or a jarring chime, says Khan.
“These mechanical clocks need to be wound at least once a week and serviced at least once a year in Indian weather conditions. The most common problem that these clocks develop over the decades is ring corrosion which affects the movement of the wheel. People come to us when they can’t get their old clocks repaired elsewhere, ”says Khan, whose desk includes a table lamp, a range of forceps, screwdrivers, brushes, tweezers, spring winders. and pliers. “I get clocks for repair in bungalows in Grand Kailash, Vasant Vihar, Sunder Nagar and the Defense Colony,” Khan explains. He learned clock repair from his father Mohd Ilyas Khan, who opened the workshop in 1972.
“My clients include leading lawyers, including two former attorneys general and many industrialists, who often invite me to their homes or offices to repair their faulty mechanical clocks, some of which are over 200 years old. These wall clocks were once the preserve of the rich, famous and royals, ”Khan explains, adding,“ A watchmaker is a craftsman with a scientist’s temperament.
Indeed, historically, some of the first watchmakers also invented scientific instruments. Take for example John Harrison, the British watchmaker whose marine chronometers revolutionized navigation in the 18th century.
And how much could a repair cost? Anything in between ??300 to 10,000, depending on the age of the clock and the fault, says Khan. “Sometimes it takes hours and sometimes it can take a week. And in some cases, we are unable to fix a clock. It happens when we are unable to obtain or manufacture a part.
Not far from Ayaz Khan’s workshop is the Suhail Watch Company, near Jama Masjid, run by Suhail Akhtar. Akhtar, 63, is a living encyclopedia of mechanical clocks and watches and nothing seems to comfort him more than a conversation about them.
Before the Industrial Revolution, he tells you, clocks were handcrafted and named after individual watchmakers rather than companies.
In the 20th century, standardized designs and parts made it possible to assemble clocks in factories, and watchmakers now specialized in repairing clocks. “But we still need all the skills of these early watchmakers to do our job well,” Akhtar explains.
Most of his customers, he adds, are people who want their grandparents or great-grandparents’ clocks repaired to preserve their memories. “Otherwise, I don’t have a lot of clients these days. Mechanical clocks lost their popularity when quartz watches arrived in the 1970s and became popular in India in the mid-1980s, ”Akhtar explains. It’s 4 p.m. and a grandfather clock in his workshop produces what looks like a single Westminster chime.
Quartz clocks that use an electronic oscillator regulated by a quartz crystal to keep the time, Akhtar says, are slightly more accurate but they have depreciated timepieces and his profession. “In quartz clocks, all you have to do is replace the machinery or the battery. It takes a few minutes, ”he says.
Akhtar, repairer of mechanical clocks for more than 45 years, becomes nostalgic when talking about former clients including the royal family. “Many of them were Zamindars and members of the royal family. A few years ago, I was invited by a former UP royal, who called me to repair the huge clock tower his family had installed in their town. But he said he was unable to afford the fees I requested. They too, like us, have had bad times.