Keeping the Time: Local clock maker one of the last few in North Dakota

It’s a timeless trade.

The art of clock making has been around for centuries, and the craftsmen who have honed this skill have kept humanity running on schedule for years.

Kent Brackel (RGB)

By COLE BENZ | Record Editor |

It’s a timeless trade.

The art of clock making has been around for centuries, and the craftsmen who have honed this skill have kept humanity running on schedule for years.

But in today’s world of cell phone displays, batteries, and kitschy battery-operated wall clocks, the necessity for clock-making services are becoming less and less desired.

But there is still one man in the area who practices this ageless skill, and he operates in the community.

Kent Brackel of KB Jewelers was first taught the clock-making repair skills from his father, who got into the business with his brother, Brackel’s uncle.

Brackel is a member of a small group of people that can still work on and repair key-winded clocks, watches and their mechanisms.

Brackel entered the field in the late 70s. He had been exposed to the trade by his father. Unsure of what to do with his life, he purchased his first set of tools from his late uncle’s wife when he was a senior in high school. Shortly after buying the supplies he took a watch-repairing certification class via correspondence from a school in Chicago, Ill. When he was finished with the curriculum he took his North Dakota test and became certified to repair watches.

During that time a watch/clock maker needed to be licensed in the state. But as the trade has filtered out, the board disbanded, and certification is no longer required. There never was a test for clocks, but Brackel said that the concepts to repairing both are similar.

At this point in time, Brackel said there couldn’t be more than a dozen clock makers in the state, so the industry is desperate for his services.

Brackel has serviced clocks from all around the country. He said much of his business is word-of-mouth, and when relatives of Hettinger-area residents get wind that there is a clock maker in town, they quickly come calling.

Many of those customers bring in family heirlooms, or old clocks found tucked away in storage. Most of the time the clocks he repairs are no longer the primary time-keeper of the households. But his job is slowly getting to be more of a challenge, because sometimes parts just can’t be found.

Brackel said parts are getting harder to come by. There are only a handful of companies in the world that make clocks that require so much maintenance. And as a result the parts just aren’t there.

He also added that a quick fix might be replacing the original movement with an updated movement, but that degrades all the antique value.

Revitalizing these old clocks is one of Brackel’s favorite duties at the jewelry store.

“I take something that is not working, and probably needs some tender loving care, put it back together and make it run.” Brackel said. “It’s very satisfying to be able to do that.”

One of the oldest clocks Brackel has worked on was dated back to the 1800s. It was an old grandfather clock and it was so delicate that it couldn’t be brought to his shop. The wood was too fragile to move so Brackel opened up the clock and removed the mechanism, brought it back to his work station and was able to fix the components. Brackel said that he does not operate on the casings of the clocks. He only touches the movement.

When asked what has changed in the business throughout the last 38 years, he said there wasn’t much. The art is almost frozen in time. Brackel works on the same components with similar tools as those from the past.

The future of clock making is bleak, according to Brackel.

“Oh, it’s (clock making) dying,” Brackel said. “In ten years, I bet you won’t find hardly anybody, anywhere that’s going to repair a clock.”

It’s a sad inevitability for such a timeless trade.

But just because the future doesn’t look bright overall for the clock making industry, Brackel is not about to hang up his tools anytime soon. He plans to work on clocks well into retirement, he chalks that up to his personality.

“If there’s something not working, I’m going to figure out why it’s not working and try and fix it,” Brackel said.