Harold Paige (Third Generation Watchmaker and Father of Richard Paige)
My Dad is visiting me from New England these next two weeks, and he’s been very curious why I’m always at the computer and have to be torn away to get up and go to work. I’ve tried to explain to him about what’s going on here on Timezone, and how exciting it is, but I’m not sure he really understands about the new world of watches.
He’s s 3rd generation Watchmaker/jeweler, and is in his seventies. He still likes to putter around in my younger brothers store, which used to be his, until he semi-retired several years ago. The new way of doing business confuses and confounds him, and he hardly recognizes it as the watch business anymore.
Here’s an interview I did with him over the weekend……..I’m hoping that you will get some insights into the history of the watch business from this interview.
RP: Dad, I know you don’t know what the internet is really all about, so maybe you should ask me the first question about what this interview is all about.
HP: The Internet to my generation, at my age is a big mystery, and my greatest fear from what you hear is that if you do something wrong that we’re going to destroy everything in it, at least that’s the impression we get. But we don’t doubt that it’s the future, and it will affect how we do business in the future.
RP: Dad, let me assure you, since I’ll be typing in the answers to your questions, that sitting across from me, you can’t do any harm to the computer. I’ll start by explaining that the TimeZone is like a magazine that only exists in your computer screen, fair enough.
RP: Dad, do you have any idea what I’m really doing with watches and the internet.
HP: I have no idea .
RP: Okay, fair enough. But have you ever had any idea what I was doing with watches at all, in any of my stores?
HP: No, But I knew you had built up a clientele for expensive watches, and although I had been in this business all these years, I never was involved with watches in the prices that you sold. The watches I dealt with were your average watches: Bulova, Omega , Wittnauer…because I was involved in a small town these watches seemed to be where my range of the watches were.
RP: Where was this so called small town, and what was it like when you first opened.
HP: Westboro, Massachusetts. When I first opened in 1952, there was only 1 other jewelry store there, and I could start a business with only $300 and a lot of debt. In the beginning I only existed doing watch repair trade work for other stores.
RP: How and why did you become a watchmaker.
HP: After I got out of the service from WWII, in 1945, I had no job and no trade, but the army gave me a chance by doing on the job training. They gave you a choice, you could go on to school and they would pay for it, or you could go on the job and they would pay the employer. In the beginning they would pay $50 to the employer and the employer would pay you $25, plus the $50 from the government. $75 a week was considered a fair wage.
RP: So why watch repair, was it considered a desirable profession?
HP: It was considered a desirable profession. It was a good trade. And I had an opportunity to learn from my uncle who had a jewelry store. He took me on as an apprentice as on the job training in cooperation with the government program. He taught me watch repair for 4 years. There was no competency test, so after the 4 year program you were on your own, and I knew all the fundamentals and could call myself a watchmaker.
RP: What other profession was it comparable to?
HP: I considered myself a highly skilled repairer. I think you can learn more by actually working on the job learning all the short cuts in dealing with the problem right up front. As my uncle use to say: your job is to make sure that all the wheels had the spokes there, not how many spokes it needed, that was figured out by the engineers. I was proud to be a watch repairer. It was looked up to.
RP: When you do think that people in the USA stopped looking up to watch repairers.
HP: I believe that to this day, people still look up to them, it’s still specialized work. People have faith in your work, that has never changed. The things that have changed is not that end of it , not the repair end of it. The watch business has changed radically. Since they have been able to make cheap quartz movements, they have flooded the market with inexpensive junk…….that worked!! At one time, graduation was a big watch season, the youngster got to own their first good watch. Now, he’s already owned a dozen throw away watches, he’s not interested in a watch for a graduation present. He want s a car, he could of bought the watch himself.
RP: What year did you start fixing watches, and what name brands were considered of high quality in these years.
HP: In the year 1945, when I started repairing watches, the watches we saw were Bulovas, Gruens, Elgins, Benrus, Walthams. The upgraded watches were Omegas, and Longines. The Patek Philippes and Vacherons were watches we heard about but never saw.
RP: Why didn’t you see Pateks and Vacherons?
HP: Because very few people could afford them then, and the ones we did see were hand-me -downs. What we considered expensive watches were solid gold Longines, Hamiltons, that sold in the range of $400 to $500 . Those were big sales. Ladies watches were the most expensive, because a lot of them carried diamonds. Also, you could make your profit, the competition was gentlemanly. You didn’t name your competition by name in those days, and your customers were your customers. The customer had a dentist, a doctor and a jeweler. Your reputation was everything. You dealt with the public fairly, your word was your bond.
RP: It’s not like that now?
HP: No, today, it’s dog eat dog. The gloves are off. I admit that I had the good times in retail, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
RP: Where the Swiss watches considered of higher quality even back then?
HP: Yes, the Swiss were considered excellent watches, but so were the Hamiltons and the Bulovas. But at that time, Japanese watches were considered toys. The big names of today where the big names then too. At the time, my main Swiss watch was Longines.
RP: How about Movado, Jules Jurgenson, Ulysse Nardin, Rolex???
HP: We knew of them, but there was no call for them, at least where I was. There was not enough business for us to warrant carrying them. I don’t think people at that time were looking for the extraordinary , they just wanted the solid citizen watches.
RP: Solid citizen watches? You’re not referring to Citizen watches are you?
HP: No, no, no. It has nothing to do with the Citizen Watch Company, I meant the watches that people were buying at the time.
RP: Why did you decide to teach me watch repairing.
HP: Because I thought, and I still think, that a person should have a trade. Like the old saying ” if you’re out of a job at least you know what job you’re out of.” And I’m glad to admit that you’ve gone way beyond me. You’ve taken watches to the next level. I thought watch repair was a good trade , it did well for me, and all the members of our family were involved with it one way or the other. And now your the 4th generation. It was your great grandfather who was actually the first, and everybody branched out from him. The sons and the nephews. This goes back at least 85 years.
RP: How did the quartz revolution affect you and your business.
HP: I think, the most influential thing was the quartz movement in watch repair. It was also the greatest timekeepers ever made. When you stop to think that in 1945, any watch running 3 to 5 minutes fast or slow a day, by government standards, was keeping accurate time. But most of them kept better time than that. Now, with quartz, it’s a minute a year. The public has a watch they can depend upon a minute a year. But as an old timer, I miss the gold filled cases. They were substantial, we could guaranty them for 20 years, and knew they would last. The prices for watches today blow my mind, along with the prices for repair.
RP: Blow my mind? Dad, I thought you were from the Frank Sinatra generation, I never heard you use this saying before. Do you secretly like Jimi Hendrix or were you taking drugs, and never told me.
HP: No never took them. Mind your manners, you’re not too old to spank.
RP: Dad, as a watchmaker, what do you think of these 2 watches.(Dubey & Schaldenbrand Aerodyn Duo, and Ventura V-matic titanium chrono).
HP: First of all I’d say they are most unusual. I have nothing to compare them to, the watches that I carried were “solid Citizens”, for the regular guy. These are names I never even heard of or knew existed. I have no idea what the functions are for, why do you need a dual time watch. It’s just a show piece. I know that if you have it it must be expensive. Anything above $1000 is expensive to me and my generation, these watches are not my style. It’s not necessary to my way of thinking, because most people have no need for chronographs or second times zones. The color of the case intrigues me. It’s got an open back, and I see it’s a automatic watch. I wouldn’t personally wear these, it’s not my type of watch. I wear a plain gold Omega.
RP: What is it about your Omega that you like so much? Let me see it, Oh my God, it’s quartz!!
HP: I’m not against quartz. I think it’s the best timekeeping available.
RP: What about movement poetry and soul.
HP: It sounds like beautiful words, but a watch is a watch is a watch.
RP: So as a watchmaker, you’ve given up on mechanical.
HP: No a mechanical is a still a watch I can understand, it’s what I cut my teeth on. But I think quartz watches are better timekeepers. I don’t have to think about. You don’t see the mechanical watches anymore, only as a keepsake.
RP: Dad, not in my world.
HP: Well, people like to keep in touch with the past.
RP: But the people who are wearing these were brought up with quartz, they don’t know any better , yet they choose a mechanical. It’s not because of timing.
HP: I’m happy to see them still carrying the mechanical watch. It is a thing of beauty to look in the insides. There’s no question about, it looks like a what a watch should be like. I just don’t understand about the prices today, it makes no sense. just like you can’t understand anymore about the $5.00 repair, or $2.00 for a crystal, or $2.50 for a stem and crown. But you’ve been in the business long enough to remember these prices.It still hard for me to accept the new watch prices. I feel like a dinosaur, in my own profession. I saw all the good days, life was easier, repairs were simpler. It’s become very complicated. The needs are different , is the two time zone a necessity today??
It amazes me what they’ve come up with and keep coming up with. The Big thing in my time was a Skeleton watch, or an elgin with a duro- power mainsprings, that didn’t break. The incabloc was also my time’s big innovation. Benrus’ “embraceable” was a big deal. It clamped over the cuff.