Quakes make time really fly

Outram watchmaker Jim Hay inspects a barometer  damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes which is...
Outram watchmaker Jim Hay inspects a barometer damaged in the Christchurch earthquakes which is awaiting repair. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.
Outram watchmaker Jim Hay feels for his colleagues in the trade in Christchurch.

With the damage caused to the contents of homes by the earthquakes, they were under "huge pressure" and he could also only imagine what it would be like if his own well-stocked workshop was tipped upside-down.

Some clocks had "just been destroyed" in the quakes, others kept stopping and broken glass and cases meant there were wood and glass splinters all through the mechanisms.

He was aware of one colleague who had 60 grandfather clocks to look at.

"Phones are constantly going up there," Mr Hay said.

He described it as "just the beginning" and people were starting to look further afield for repairs.

At the moment, he has 12 clocks and three barometers from Christchurch in his workshop and the majority were earthquake jobs.

With diminishing numbers working in the watch and clock trade, there was always plenty of work to do - even without the quake damage.

Mr Hay has more than 30 years' experience in what he laughingly described as a "mad" career choice.

Back in 1979, there was an announcement at his school assembly there was a position available at a jewellers. At that stage, Mr Hay was "basically going to school to eat [his] lunch" and he discovered it was a watchmaker's position.

As soon as he saw the workshop, he knew the job was for him and he started work two days later.

He started his business, now known as Timepieces NZ, in Cromwell in 1996, setting up a workshop at the end of a single garage.

He later built a workshop at his home and used it for five years before shifting to Outram eight years ago, again opting for a home workshop.

The job took its toll on both mind and body and Mr Hay said his eyes were starting to show the effects of the painstaking, fiddly work with tiny components.

The beauty of being home-based meant he could return to the workshop at nights, after dinner, although sometimes he could "crack eggs" on the muscles on the back of his neck when he finished for the night.

It was also convenient for customers, as they could call outside usual business opening hours. Customers had to "take us as they find us" and even if he was in the garden in his gumboots, "like Arkwright, I'm open", he quipped.

An enjoyable part of the job was dealing with people's family history and it was interesting to be privy to that.

"There is quite an interesting history behind some of the stuff," he said.

Several years ago, he did a basic service on a pocket-watch which, it transpired, came out on one of the original ships from England.

Mr Hay sometimes had groups like Probus, Rotary and vintage machinery clubs through to view his workshop - "because we're so thin on the ground now, not too many people get to see what we do" - and usually more repair work came out of those visits.

His work has included working on the Dunedin Municipal Chambers clock, Dunedin Railway Station clock and Port Chalmers Iona Church clock.

A challenging restoration job was the highly unusual Beverly clock in the University of Otago physics department.


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