Gepubliceerd op: 28 November 2018

Clockmakers work overtime to set the hands right

Adjusting a clock for daylight saving time is easy. Putting them back, as was necessary this weekend, causes problems especially with antiques. Then the specialist must come in handy. “Many watches have to go ahead 23 hours.”

Few households still employ white-collar workers in our time. A fascinating lesson that we can learn from the Bossche clockmaker and restorer Frank van Nuus is that it is nevertheless always servants and servants who fail to set beautiful antique clocks back one hour.

The day after the start of winter time, it is a fixed scene for Van Nuus’ beautiful shop with 17th and 18th century clocks on the Zuid Willemsvaart in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. A usually large car drives in front of it. A gentleman with a precious old clock steps out. That gentleman says, “The help has done something wrong.”

Such a gentleman never knows that the three patients who visited clock doctor Van Nuus for him also all fell victim to blundering staff. As a proud antique clock owner, just admit that it was you who tried to enforce winter time because no servant should ever have touched your most beautiful possession – and that the soothing tick that resembles the heartbeat then stopped. “The more prosperous the customer, the more often the help has done it,” says Van Nuus.

If only antique clocks let themselves be transported into winter time as easily as summer time. In the last weekend of March, a push against the clock is enough. However, if you reset those hands without expertise, a lever will fall, with all the consequences that entails.

Peak in patronage

We live in times of automatically jumping numbers on screens, algorithms and robots. The beginning of winter is special because it is still accompanied by a lot of craft activities.

Moving watches and clocks cannot be automated – after all, most timepieces are just like most people: they all appear to have other idiosyncrasies and idiosyncrasies. Some watchmakers may, for personal or ‘biological’ reasons, have a preference for abolishing the adjustment of the clock, as advocated by the European Commission – in terms of clientele, winter time invariably guarantees a peak.

‘Clockwoman’ Lisette van Driel of the Vughtse watch workshop Bij de Tijd usually notices days in advance that winter time is coming. Older people in particular enter her studio with timepieces that refuse to reveal their secrets to lay people. During the first week of winter time, she is always busy replacing broken crowns. Whether it’s the lack of quality of some modern watches or the lack of skill of some modern people, a lot breaks down at the start of winter time.

All leaves are revoked

Suppose you have to manually reset not one but a thousand and one watches – whoever shouts: ‘no start!’, should know that this is a fixed ritual in many jewelry stores and department stores on the last weekend of October. Last weekend, for example, all furloughs were canceled at the watch department of the Bijenkorf in The Hague. You can go a long way with ten people, but ‘your nails are done, at the end of the day’, a saleswoman reported. At Siebel Juweliers in Den Bosch, the three of them were there all Sunday afternoon Winter time requires considerably more effort than summer time, says watch expert Ine. In practice, you have to put many watches not one hour back, but forward 23 hours – and then manually adjust the date again.

We learn from Katinka van Grinsven of the Bossche jeweler Van Grinsven that one watch is easier to adjust than the other. A popular watch that owners often take to the jeweler after an afternoon of tinkering at the start of winter time is the Tissot T Touch, a contemporary Swiss piece of art that is operated with light touches. Van Grinsven also sells beautiful watches with built-in GPS, which automatically switch to winter time. However: if they are not set up properly, the owner will suddenly wake up in Tokyo or Melbourne on the last Sunday of October.

1,500 bells twice a year

As with many jewellers, only a part of the watches at Van Grinsven are equal. Most of them stand still ‘until a customer comes along’, just like most antique shops and specialty stores. A spokesperson for the Netherlands’ largest clock specialist store, Broekhuis Klokkenmakerij in Steenbergen, puts it this way: “Did you really think that we would move 1,500 clocks twice a year!?”

In shops where time stands still, it often deliberately stops at a certain time. Watchmaker and restorer Frank van Nuus has magnificent burl walnut clocks, mainly from the 18th century, all of which deserve the predicate Gesamtkunstwerk – on all those clocks it is either ten to two or ten past ten. This not only creates a beautiful symmetry on the dial, explains Van Nuus: at these times, time smiles at you like life itself, the hands are upturned corners of the mouth. “If you turn it around, so ten past four or ten to eight thirty, then you also have symmetry, but then the clock looks gloomy.”

Sad bells

There is only one thing worse for sales than sad clocks, Van Nuus knows, namely clocks that are all different. “In stores where that is the case, it automatically causes unrest among customers.” There can only be one time to be the best. On the world’s most beautiful clocks it should always be ten past ten.

Volkskrant 28 November 2018 – Olaf Tempelman