Blacksmiths, coopers and other old-school trades masters thrive on LI
Updated November 14, 2015
By STEPHEN LEVINE
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Jacques Chalikian is a fourth-generation clock repairman at his family's Oyster Bay business, which specializes in repairs but also operates as a jeweler and restoration boutique.
The family trade started in Turkey in 1864, moved to Paris in 1920, New York in 1939 and its Nassau location in 1950.
Chalikian, 70, who goes by Jack, said he has always had an interest in the trade, even though he wanted to be a surgeon growing up. In his junior year of college, he said he knew he had the "talent in his hands" for clockwork.
He laments the lack of interest in the craft or in apprenticeships.
"The success in restoring pieces and bringing them back to life are the reasons why I rush back into work," Chalikian said.
As seen in March, 2006
by Eve Kahn
For four generations the Chalikian family had been ticking along. Here the latest generation answers those little questions we have about our clocks.
Why do clocks stop?
A million of reasons, but in general because the oil dries up. And even if there is still some oil left in the works, after years and years it gets contaminated with tiny particles that are churned up as the metal parts wear against each other. The oil turns into a green-black sticky mess that glues the gears to a stopped position.
So how often does a clock need a proper oiling and cleaning?
Every one is different. Technically, every three to five years it should at least be oiled. You'll know when it needs oil: it will start to act up and not keep time well, or make funny noises. Assign one person in your house to make sure to do the winding each week, to follow a schedule, and get in tune with how the clock behaves. The sound of clocks ticking makes a house a home. They become members of the family. You notice if there is silence right away.
Any tips for winding well?
Turn as far as you can go at a slow, even, gentle pace. Don't grind away. Everyone is always in a rush these days.
What if a key gets lost?
It's not a crisis. I have drawers full of replacements. Though there are some original signed keys you'd hate to lose.
Is there such a thing as a job too difficult for you, a job you would turn down?
Almost anything can be fixed. Even electric clocks that burn out, some of those motors are still being made, or you can put a battery quartz movement if the clock is not too valuable a collectible. Just about any metal part I need, I can make or buy or find in the drawers here. I have all kind of gears, hands, springs, platforms, movements, hand-painted faces, beveled European crystals, bits of ivory from piano keys, all waiting for the right clock to come along. I can cut leather for the bellows that make the whistle sound inside the cuckoo clocks. I know craftspeople who can repair stone, enamel, porcelain, gilding, inlaid wood, little landscapes on painted glass, anything.
But there are so many clocks around that would cost more to fix than they are worth. There's no point in treating them that well unless they have great sentimental value. I have some clocks that are sitting here because the owners never came back to pick them up after hearing the estimate. My repairs start around $100 for a pocket watch. A tall case clock in bad shape can cost thousands of dollars.
How did you get into this business?
My Armenian great-grandfather started as an apprentice in Turkey in the 1860s. My grandparents were able to survive the genocides in the 1910s because they repaired some watches for the mayor.
My father moved the family to America in the 1930s. From the time I was little, I would stand watching him work. I got a feel for the tools and a sense that I'd be good at it. I learned to never take shortcuts. I learned there is a reason for every step my father took. In 1972 we bought the building I am in now. I have hundreds of my own clocks that need fixing here, and more stuffed into my house. I only ever seem to have the time to fix the customer items. Normally the soonest I can finish something is eight weeks.
What's the most serious case in your shop right now?
A 1752 mahogany -inlaid English quarter-striking short-case. It had been repaired badly and added on to many, many times over the years. The controls for the hammer and bell were broken, so the bell just kept ringing and ringing. The weights aren't original, and they have rough lumps of lead stuck onto the top and bottom. They're ugly, but they work.
Do you ever make house calls?
Yes, if it's not too far away. Last summer I was called to a 1890s town clock in a historic village near mine. It's a four-story granite tower. A shaft for one of the clock dials had gotten jammed somehow. People in town were complaining, "We don't hear the chiming anymore."