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In a tiny West Village shop, frozen in time, horologist Grace Szuwala keeps New Yorkers’ clocks and watches ticking.
Years ago there were only mechanical watches.
Now you have battery watches, sports watches, on your phone you have a watch. I just fix the watches that are mechanical and worth some money. People bring me watches that was grandfather’s watch that they found in the attic or something. And I bring it back to life.
It’s a dying trade. Definitely there’s less and less people doing that.
This year will be 36 years that I’m here. But I guess I like it. I love my watches and I love my clocks. You meet different people. There is a lot of people who care about time and watches and clocks.
I think I need a new battery…How long do you think?
About 15 minutes.
Ok. Thank you!
I open up 10:30, come in and I start to work watches or take a clock apart. Sometimes I have replacement parts, but most I have to make.
It’s (an) English clock. About eight feet tall. Thick, beautiful case. Very elaborate case.
This was loose, this was worn out. So as I’m going along, I fix it step by step, whatever I see wrong.
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 doing a puzzle. The more pieces you take, the more you get into it and the more you feel like you have to finish this up.
Maybe the digital watch will keep better time, but this is a piece of art, the way watches were made years ago. Some are worth hundreds or millions of dollars.
That’s a nice sound right?
I see it works and it makes me happy.
Grace Szuwala fixed her first clock when she was 10 years old.
As a child in Poland, she fixed cars with her father in his garage. When she realized the watch she’d gotten for her tenth birthday didn’t work, Grace took it apart and made it tick.
“Everyone was very impressed,” she said.
Years later, she graduated from a Polish clockmaking school near her home — the only woman in a class of about 400 men. Grace next moved to New York City and found work at a tiny clock shop on Greenwich Street. Thirty six years later, Grace now owns Time Pieces, where she restores and sells antique watches and clocks. Some of her customers send their broken watches from as far away as Tokyo.
“I guess I like it,” she said, smiling. “That’s why I didn’t ever leave. You meet all different kinds of people.”
The neighborhood around her has changed through the years, but Grace’s clock shop looks exactly the same, as though frozen in time.
But Grace says clockmakers like herself are hard to find these days. Her assistant passed away last year and she hasn’t been able to find a replacement.
“There’s not so many people doing this anymore,” she said. “The school I went doesn’t exist. It’s long gone.”
The clock making business may have changed, but Grace said she wasn’t worried about having no business.
“There will always be people who have old Paddocks or old Rolexes that were their father’s or grandfathers and they want to keep them going,” she said. “It’s a piece of history.”