Rare mastery of repairing old timepieces

Gennady Martirosyan is among Minsk’s oldest watch repairers, having been immersed in clock mechanisms for almost half a century, so might easily be called ‘a lord of time’

By Yevgenia Ivashkina

In his workshop, he appears much like a surgeon, dressed in a white gown and wearing glasses with an additional lens. He holds a pincer, while his ‘patients’ tick peacefully on his wall. Among them is a cuckoo clock, once symbolising a Soviet family’s wealth. It neighbours a modest clock, which has probably come from a village, bearing a simple fairytale painting. A rarity from the late 19th-early 20th century hangs nearby…

Mr. Martirosyan complains that people bring clocks for repair less often than they used to. “Our profession is dying,” he sighs, adding, “Youngsters seldom come to train; the youngest master at the plant is 38. It was different in 1961, when I was an apprentice. Study began at the age of 16-18 and there were twelve of us. We became highly qualified professional watch masters, but most are now dead or have left the country. Only four or five masters remain in Minsk, from its population of almost 2m. They are the only ones able to undertake repairs of any complexity.”

Gennady’s ‘operating room’ includes a tray containing a few hundred disassembled wrist watches, kept in a drawer. “People bring us watches which have not been able to be repaired elsewhere. We then dissemble them, reconstructing from individual components. Many hail from Soviet times, being passed down by parents. Plenty of people enjoy wearing our vintage timepieces, which are of good quality; they even rival Swiss-made watches.”

People bring wrist watches and pocket watches in equal number to wall and longcase clocks. “We have Soviet chronographs and ship watches. We’ve seen many interesting examples,” he notes. “Modern watches tend to run for just 3-4 years before losing time; they’re far inferior to those made 35 or 40 years ago. I recently repaired a tank watch for a Muscovite, made after the war. I spent almost two days mending its spring and think it should last another 60 years now. Mechanisms were produced to last in those days. Expensive and prestigious watches do boast high quality today but it’s not easy to repair them.”

Mr. Martirosyan admits that his favourite watch is one made in Orel many years ago, known for chiming every 15 minutes. He even has one in his own home. He dreams of having his own collection of Soviet watches, adding that they need to be in good working order. Mr. Martirosyan loves his vocation, although stresses that it’s no easy task to repair clocks. He would love to allow the public to visit, giving them the chance to see him at work, but fears that the valuable watches and clocks within might inspire a burglary. He fears that people are not as honest as they once were.

Naturally, he’s delighted that his son is following in his footsteps. “I won’t comment on his level of mastery. I’ll let others decide,” he says modestly, adding, “I can only say that I share all my knowledge with him. My sister also works as a watch repairer abroad, continuing the business of our father.”

No doubt, his path has been full of challenges. He was born to follow his vocation however. Even talking to me, Mr. Martirosyan continues working, polishing the glass of a wrist watch and then changing its batteries. Suddenly, he stands up and places a golden watch case into a cleaning solution, held delicately in the clutches of a pincer. The case becomes bright as never before and another component is ready for assembly…

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