The recession has been good to Josh Pugh, a watchmaker who is busier than ever. Pugh, who turns 30 next month, has worked for Alson Jewelers in Woodmere since late 2004. He repairs mainly quartz watches, because they predominate, but is more than capable of repairing – even constructing – mechanical watches. With business booming, OhioAuthority caught up with Pugh to see what makes him tick, and get some input on what's making others tick, too.
OhioAuthority: How did you get into this?
Josh Pugh: I worked in a mall for a while, doing batteries and stuff, bands, things like that. Saw a high-end watch magazine one day, figured I’d look into it, started to think, "that’s pretty cool," found a school that was doing watchmaking – Seattle Community College. They directed me to a place in Pennsylvania, the Lititz Watch Technicum. I started there in 2002 and graduated in 2004 with a diploma and a WOSTEP degree. (That stands for Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program. Josh also has certification from the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute.)
OA: What did this equip you to do?
JP: It gives you the basic knowledge of the craft to be able to repair watches. In the first year, you do all micromechanics: lathe work, I made parts, made a watch. The second year was all learning about watches: watch repair, escapements, actually doing the job. Nowadays, the watchmaker’s job is more repairing than actually making the pieces. You can hand-make a stem, charge somebody a couple hundred dollars, or buy one from the factory for a fraction of that. You still have to do that with certain parts, because there are watches there are no parts for anymore. If I had to hand cut a stem it might take a day to do correctly, and [I would] charge a couple hundred bucks.
OA: What is the most difficult aspect of watch repair?
JP: The escapement, which includes the balance wheel, the pallet fork and the escape wheel. It’s the heart and brain of the watch. It sends power into the watch and pushes power out of it. It’s called the escapement because that’s where the energy escapes.
OA: Have you worked on a tourbillon watch? (A tourbillon counters the effects of gravity by mounting the escapement and balance wheel in a rotating cage.)
JP: Have not and probably won’t. I think they’re a gimmick and cost lots of money for something that’s not necessary. But they are sweet. Pricewise, if I had that money to spend on a watch, I’d buy a minute repeater, a chiming watch.
OA: Have you made a watch?
JP: I have.
OA: Will you make more?
JP: As of now, probably not, only because of the time and money. The tools ... even [for] the small ones, the prices are extraordinary. Even in the U.S., it’s hard to find cases and dials, certain parts that over in Europe you can get a lot easier. That’s where they come from. It is fun making your own watch. It’s a mechanical, manual wind wristwatch. I can’t make jewels; hair springs, most of the gears, you can’t make. Even large companies don’t make their own stuff.
OA: What are your favorite brands?
JP: Rolex, Omega for the big guys. Then there are small brands very few people know of: F.P. Journe, there’s a guy named Philippe Dufour.
OA: What are today’s favorite styles?
JP: Ceramic. Women are into ceramics, and the men are all [into] black, blacked out watches. And size. Even women’s watches are getting bigger.
OA: Strap or bracelet?
JP: It depends on the watch. A businessman will wear a slimmer Patek with a strap, it looks better with a suit.
OA: What do customers prefer?
JP: A lot of it deals with what the watch originally came with. Every once in a while, a customer will come in and want to switch from a strap to a bracelet. Then they find out the strap costs $200 and the bracelet costs $1,000.
OA: Are men more frequent watch buyers than women?
JP: Yes. I think it has to do with the gadget mechanical thing – more buttons. Women look at it more as a fashion accessory. A lot of companies are making a lot more women’s watches on the complicated side, and more as well as of the higher end. A lot of women’s watches are quartz, but they’re coming out with more mechanical ones because women are understanding that more.
OA: Who’s your typical customer?
JP: Everything from the bottom to the top. I change batteries on Timex and do full-service on Rolex. An overhaul of a Rolex costs, for a steel model, the initial cost is $555 for a straight overhaul. Gold or platinum I believe costs $750. Things like crystals, hands, certain parts of the movement, like crowns, those would be extra, especially the gold models.
OA: What’s the most frequent reason for repair?
JP: Water damage.
OA: What breaks down the most in a mechanical watch?
JP: You probably get a lot of broken mainsprings, from people over-winding them.
OA: Are there rules for watch maintenance?
JP: On average, a mechanical watch should be serviced every five years. People suggest taking it in every six to eight months to check for water resistance, to make sure the seals are tight. There are rubber o-rings and gaskets on most, and they dry out and crack.
OA: I assume many of your customers come in with older timepieces that require an overhaul. How do you deal with movements that are no longer made?
JP: I do have suppliers. The closest one is Cas-Ker [Jewelers Supplies] in Cincinnati. They have parts and movements. A lot of times for the old stuff, unfortunately, we try to send them out to be restored. There are a couple of different places. I go online if I ever have to look, try to find somebody who is reputable. For the time and effort on a lot of old watches, it’s just not worth it.
OA: Since the recession hit two years ago, have you seen an increase in business?
JP: Yes. Not particularly in sales for the store, but I’ve seen an increase in repairs. I’m constantly busy now as compared to having downtime. It’s nonstop all the time. It’s cheaper to get things repaired than to buy new ones.
OA: Advice for the prospective watch buyer?
JP: It’s like a car. You buy a car, soon as you drive it off the lot, it’s worth half. But there are companies and brands that make certain pieces that will continue to grow as investments. [He shows me the watch he’s wearing, a favorite.] This is one [is] a stainless steel Rolex Daytona. I got this from a store in Chicago; it was the only one they got in for the entire year. I paid full retail price, which was the deal of the century. When I got it, I paid $7,800, and I could have sold it for $12,000 the same day. Brand-new ones now cost $10,000. There’s nothing crazy about them. People just want them.
OA: What do you think of shopping for watches online?
JP: Be careful. Go to good sites. Timezone.com has a really good sales corner. Go on eBay, who knows what you’re getting? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Pugh works from 10 am to 5 pm, Tuesday through Saturday at Alson Jewelers. His phone number is 216-464-6767.