Piecing time together – by Camilo Gomez

Grace Szuwala is a clockmaker in a trade dominated by men. One that is also going through a slow decline…

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Transcript :

For me, the most intriguing thing is, if somebody brings them and they’re broken, in pieces, and I bring them back to life. I see it work, and it makes me happy…

In the beginning when I start to work, people would come with watches and they would say, “Where is the guy? Where is the boss?” And I would say, “well, it’s me.” They wouldn’t want to trust me. So I used to say, “Well… he went for lunch, he stepped out, he’ll be back later”… I used to lie. Just to keep them in! Then, after a while they learned to trust me.

I am here since December 5 1978. The store was here before me.

The junior generation, nobody is learning that. They’ll know how to change a battery, like the basics. Everybody is learning to use the iwatches, you know, electronics, not the mechanical ones.

Some people think I need a lot of patience to do this but it’s the opposite, it’s soothing. It’s like you’re almost doing a puzzle. The more pieces you take, the more you get into it and then you feel like you have to finish this out.

I always was with my father, in his garage, working on his cars, doing mechanical things. Never like a girly girl.

People bring you watches that they found it in the attic or something, or somebody passed away… I like what I do and I’m proud of it.

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Grace Szuwala works in Greenwich Avenue, in Manhattan, in Time Pieces, a clock and watch repair shop that she owns. Originally from Poland — the country where she learned her craft — she has made New York her home, and has worked in the same place for 36 years.

Szuwala’s is a male-dominated profession.

“When I graduated it was like 400 students, I was the only girl”, she says.

But even after she became self-employed in New York City, she had trouble with clients who wanted to talk to “the boss.”

“They wanted to see a guy, not me,” says Szuwala.

So, at first, she would pretend that a fictitious male employer was away from the shop when clients demanded to see him, just to keep them in.

After more than three decades in the business, she has a steady influx of clients. But the future of clock making may not look as bright.

“There’s no more schools to teach watch making, ” she says, noting that the school that taught her the craft in her home country no longer exists.

“The new generations, I don’t think are really learning,” she says. “They’ll know how to change the batteries, like, the basics.”

And even though younger people may not be learning the trade, she thinks that there will always be someone in need of a professional to get his grand father’s clock running again after finding it in the attic.

“I bring them back to life,” she says.


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