With steady hands, along with a good magnifier and plenty of patience, Thomas Scott meticulously gets into the guts of a pocketwatch.
His arms rest on a table he’s used for more than three decades. Next to the table is a treasured desk given to him by J.C. Graves, a longtime jeweler who also was a mentor of Scott.
The work is tedious and time-consuming at times, but Scott is good at what he does. And he enjoys it.
“I’ve been doing watch repair for 35 years,” he said. “I’ve been in the jewelry business since I was 15, when I started working for Riley’s in downtown Tupelo.”
Scott is also among what some would call a dying breed – watch repairers. With the advent of the quartz watch and cell phones, the number of repairers has dwindled from tens of thousands to about 7,000 today.
Jim Lubic, executive director of the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute, said the good news is that the remaining repairers are doing better now than they were 20 years go.
And “there’s a big demand for them because of luxury watchmakers like Rolex, Omega, Tag Heuer and Cartier,” Lubic said. “Those are still selling well, and there’s a big need for repairers.”
Even non-luxury brands need repair every now and then, and Scott is the go-to guy in the area.
“I’ve worked on all brands, including Rolex,” he said. “I guess word has gotten around, and I do quite a bit of repair work.”
Scott also sells watches and jewelry but admits many people are surprised to know that he has a retail side to his store at the corner of West Main and Nelle streets.
“I suppose I should have used a different name other than ‘Scott’s Watch and Jewelry,'” he said with a laugh. “But I don’t think I could have survived on my own just doing retail.”
And Scott went out on his own a decade ago, opening his own store after working at Way-Fil Jewelry for 25 years. There, he apprenticed under Wayne Hunter after leaving Riley’s.
“Mr. Hunter taught me a good bit,” Scott said. “One of the first things he did was give me an old watch, told me to take it apart and then put it back together. He made me do it over and over.”
Demand and supply
In an age where consumer products are more often replaced than repaired, watch buyers have not disappeared, Scott said.
“There are a lot of people who do still have and buy watches, and they’re all different ages,” he said, dispelling the notion that only “older” people appreciate quality timepieces.
“I sell Seiko and Bulova watches, and I work on all watches, and I see a good cross-section of people.”
And Lubic said that demand for repairers is outstripping supply.
Lubic said the AWCI had about 4,800 members in 2000. That number had dropped by nearly half, to 2,500. Repairers also are getting older, too.
“We did a survey in 2007, and about 50 percent of our members were over the age of 62,” he said. “The average age, in fact, was 72. So, you can see why our numbers are dwindling.”
About a dozen schools scattered across the country have a watch repair program, which can take 18-24 months to compete. Several are sponsored by watchmakers such as Rolex and Cartier.
But Lubric said the schools aren’t producing enough graduates.
“We’re graduating anywhere from 80 to 100 each year, and that’s simply not enough,” he said.
Lubric said full-time watch repairers can start out at about $45,000 annually, and after a few years can make around $72,000 in larger markets.
Scott, who turns 57 on Friday, isn’t in a “larger” markets, but he thinks he’s the only business that does its own in-house watch repair.
In fact, some stores in the region send their repairs for him to fix.
“There’s nothing more satisfying,” he said, “than taking an old timepiece and getting it working again.”
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1605 or firstname.lastname@example.org.