Keeping The Time

Adams County Record profiles the process of cleaning a 50-year old watch

By COLE BENZ | Record Editor

It’s a timeless trait.

The ability to take a part a small wrist watch, and re-assemble the nearly crumb-size pieces after a good cleaning.

But that’s just another day at the office for local clockmaker Kent Brackel, who co-owns KB Jewelers with his wife Kathleen.

Many of the pieces of the Elgin watch were the size of a pencil dot, as shown next to one of the tools required to disassemble the mechanisms. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

Clocks are a an easy object to display his talents. They’re larger, sit on the wall or on a prominent shelf and can be viewed just by passing by.

But a wrist watch is much smaller, doesn’t garner the attention of a wall clock, and the intricacies of the tiny moving parts.

So what was Brackel’s latest project? A nearly 60-year old Elgin self winding wrist watch. He said these types of watches—watches that kept time by the movement of the persons wrist—were very popular prior to battery operated units.

The Record was invited down to the local jewelry shop to profile the steps it takes to clean such a small machine.

Brackel said that the whole process of taking it apart and putting it back together takes roughly 45 minutes. Which seems like a quick process, but in between the start and finish he cleaned the individual pieces, and tries not to take a deep breathe or sneeze while he’s performing the task.

The Elgin watch after it has been taken apart, cleaned, and reassembled. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

“You really have to be careful,” Brackel said. “I’ve spent many hours on that floor looking for parts, believe me.”

Parts are not easy to come by for a watch thats more than 50 years old. He’s been on his hands and knees with lights, magnifying glasses and magnets searching for tiny parts.

“You can’t imagine how sensitive my ears get when something blows away,” he said. “To see if it dropped and hit on the carpet.”

After the watch is in pieces, Brackel puts it through his cleaner and applies other solutions to the components to make the watch run better. It’s self winding, so the cleaner the unit, the more efficient it should run.

Those with Brackel’s skill set are beginning to be few and far between. North Dakota no longer requires clock makers to be licensed with the state. And in fact Brackel last had his license renewed in 1983, to which he still carries his card.