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Local horologist's clock business keeps on ticking

by AMY QUINLIVAN
Mineral Independent | April 24, 2024 12:00 AM

Benjamin Franklin stated in 1747, “Lost time is never found again.”

Yet long before this famous quote, came the dawning of keeping time at all. First with sundials, then water clocks, sands sifting through the hourglass, and even astronomical method. In the 15th Century, the first spring-driven clock was invented, shortly after the pendulum swung into existence, and the most recent was the atomic clock in 1955. All various instruments and conceptions of observing time.

Horology is the study of time and the art of measuring it. It encompasses the design, construction and maintenance of clocks, watches and other timepieces. Horology is an intriguing field that intertwines both mechanical and artistic qualities, something that Christopher Anderson, deeply appreciates.

Anderson is a local horologist. But at face value, the average glance at your smartphone digital clock kind of person probably wouldn’t admit to knowing what that is. He and his wife Mia came together like sort of like clockwork to run their small business, Saint Regis Clocks and Collectibles. They are a registered business with the state, servicing and selling antique and vintage clocks from all over the world.

Born in the small town of Bottineau, North Dakota, Anderson joined the Marine Corps then trained, traveled and worked. 

While assigned in Germany as a contractor Anderson recalled, “I learned to appreciate antique clocks and became a collector. When I would stop in at a clock and antique shop near Henschtal, the owner would show me different things about them.”

The shop owner was a second-generation master clock maker. 

“He asked me if I could help him in the shop because he was so far behind in his work," Anderson said. "In return, he promised to teach me what he knew and had learned from his father. After my apprenticeship for nearly five years and working on dozens of other clocks for friends, family, and myself, I mastered the trade.”

Anderson retired from the Marines in 2006 following two decades of service as a communications and information cecurity manager. He worked as a government contractor in various locations on different programs until he and his wife relocated to Saint Regis in 2021. 

“I met the mark in Germany just before repatriating back to the U.S. in 2017 and have been repairing and selling clocks ever since,” he said.

He explained, “I specialize mostly in anything that is mechanical (winds or has weights) with my favorite being cuckoo clocks. I can and do work on some newer quartz clocks, but it's not always easy to save them because of the way they are sealed or glued together.” 

So far, he hasn’t had one mechanical clock that he wasn't able to service or repair.

“I get a lot of pleasure saving old clocks because they were so well crafted and important to people back in their day. Especially those that have been in the family or passed down from one generation to another which makes them invaluable,” Anderson shared. “I think it would be such a shame if they ended up in the trash or the dump. I really get a lot of satisfaction by making folks happy by repairing, servicing, and restoring clocks. Plus, these clocks are very eco-friendly...they don't take batteries.”

Finding older or specialized replacement parts can be especially challenging and sometimes impossible. 

Anderson noted, “Many times, I have to find used parts online, or get them shipped from somewhere in Europe.”

Clocks that are pr-1950s have a lot of wear on their movements, also known as their caliber, the mechanism of a watch or clock. 

“A lot of the time, the arbors have worn the pivot points out and caused the pivot to elongate or become oval-shaped," he said. "When this happens, the wheels (gears) can be too tight or too loose and make the rotation seize up.”

About 60% of clocks that Anderson inspects that are post-1950s need cleanings and major and minor adjustments. 

He added, “An important thing to note is that clocks from different parts of the world wear faster than others because of the way they were made. Also, the cases, wood, bronze, or marble can be a bit of work as well; many have their parts missing, are cracked, or are severely broken (in pieces) when I get them.”

As one can imagine the tools used to work on the movements are tiny. 

“It's a must to have many different-sized screwdrivers as well as various tweezers, clamps, dikes, hammers, punches, drill bits, etc.,” he said. 

He continued, “I have several magnifying glasses and a few different magnifying loupes as well.”

Ideally, older handcrafted clocks are designed to last a lifetime. 

“That is the intention, but seldom happens," Anderson said. "If a mechanical clock is cleaned and adjusted regularly, it can last two hundred years or more before something major goes kaput.”

In addition to repairing clocks and tinkering on them, Anderson builds them as well.

“I am currently working on a prototype to make cuckoo clocks," he said. "I am building/crafting the cases and dials myself with imported and installed movements from Germany.”

So, how many clocks does a horologist need? Anderson admitted, “Too many to count. Right now, I have at least one clock in each room and dozens more in storage. I own quite a few older pocket watches as well. My favorites are my older Black Forest cuckoo clock and my Lenzkirch grandfather clock, both from Germany.”

For someone who’s stared at countless clocks in his lifetime, Anderson would likely agree that time moves slowly, but passes quickly. 

He expressed, “I've been married to my wonderful wife for 36 years this June. We have two grown children; a son who is 34 years old and lives in Bozeman, and a daughter who is 25 years old and lives in Santa Monica, California.” 

Anderson loves all the outdoor ventures Montana has to offer, hiking fishing, skiing, hunting, off-roading, foraging, and gardening. 

Inside, he said, “I enjoy tinkering with things, and playing board games and cards.”

For his horology services and expertise, Anderson explained, “I do charge an hourly rate, depending on the type of clock I am working on. There are set prices for the different levels of cleanings based on the type of movement and number of gear trains it has.”

If your watch is off or your clock has stopped moving, email Christopher Anderson at ChrisTheClockman@gmail.com. He responds quickly and is very punctual with his correspondence. This is no surprise really, because working on clocks is one line of work that really makes that guy tick.