Watchmakers go back in time

Darryn Clark and Anthony Chemalys watches are prized by collectors.

Two Hout Bay watchmakers are turning back the clock to the golden era of timepieces.

The elegant pocket watches restored and produced by Anthony Chemaly and Darryn Clark as the Hout Bay Watch Company have now caught the attention of popular actuality programme Kwela, which will be filming the pair in Hout Bay next week.

What began as a hobby for the friends has now become a fully-fledged side business, with orders coming in from as far afield as Australia and the Netherlands.

Mr Chemaly, who was always interested in classic, mechanical watches of the type that defined the late 19th and early 20th centuries, said he began “messing around” with pocket watches in 2014.

“I discovered you could pick up amazing pocket watches for next to nothing at pawn shops.

“There was a time when millions of these things were made. Pocket watches were the only portable time pieces until the development of wrist watches for soldiers fighting in World War 1, but continued to be used specifically for people working on the railways through to the 1950s,” he said.

“It was the American railway industry which started to ornately decorate the back of these watches as a sales technique. Customers were able to see the inner movements of watches before they bought one, and that was something that intrigued me about that period and made for beautiful wrist watch conversions.

“Because pocket watches became less popular with the arrival of the wrist watch, many people ended up selling granddad’s old watch to pawn shops,”Mr Chemaly said.

“The pawn shop owners only wanted to sell the metal, so they would toss the movements into a bag. I then went around buying up the movements for spares.”

Determined to learn the art of putting these classic watches together, Mr Chemaly turned to Google in the hope of tracking down watchmakers.

“The only places where you could learn this skill were the US, Switzerland and the UK. Then I stumbled across the British Horology Institute. Incredibly, there was a guy from Hout Bay who was listed. That was Darryn.”

Mr Clark trained as a clock and watchmaker in Knysna, and had bought his own watchmaking equipment.

“We struck up a friendship. I knew enough to guide Anthony on how to repair and restore the watches,” he said.

After deciding that he wanted to place his focus on the classic wrist watch, Mr Chemaly set about his work.

“I eventually managed to put one together after about a year. I lifted the dial and noticed that it was marked ‘L. Pinn & Co Adderley Street’. I eventually tracked down a website for Lazerus Pinn, and discovered how he had come to Cape Town from Lithuania in the early 1880s, the local history of the watch intrigued and made for a beautiful watch and story.”

On his watchmaking journey, Mr Chemaly discovered a number of artists in Hout Bay who could assist him in putting the timepieces together.

Roger James from Leather Walls for example, contributes leather work for the custom watch cases and Jacques Lombard from Belt & Band produces hand-stitched custom straps.

“I do as much research around a watch as I can. This way I am able to trace where a watch originally came from.”

As a professional clock-maker, Mr Clark, who runs Time Meanders as well, has restored clocks more than 200 years old, and said it always fascinated him “how much time they kept for someone”.

The men have now sold between 15 and 20 watches to collectors around the world, although they are also keenly aware that watch-making is a costly business.

“For us, it is a passion. It’s about bringing back the art form. It’s a labour of love. We hope that we can be part of a legacy of quality watch-making.”