Press..Irish Times - 'ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD' Saturday May 18, 2002

While many people check the time on their mobile phones instead of timepieces, watch-and clock-menders Paul Lawlor and William Lawless still maintain a workshop on Wicklow Street. Rosita Boland steps back in time when she takes her own watch for repair.

There is a lot of ticking and chiming in the Wicklow Street attic workshop of Lawlor and Lawless, since Paul and William are, respectively, a watchmender and clockmender.

There is only the most discreet sign on the Wicklow Street entrance, and Lawlor and Lawless do not advertise, but people still find them, guided there mainly by word of mouth. Paul Lawlor has been there for 25 years, and William Lawless 18. Between them, they offer a service of a kind which no longer exist: factories which assembled the pieces of clocks and watches which were imported. It was cheaper to import the pieces and assemble them here than to buy them ready-made. Lawlor then worked for some years repairing the instrument panels of cars. They met up again by chance, remembered each other from early days, and Lawless joined Lawlor's Wicklow Street workshop in Dublin.

Amid the pulse of all the ticking, Lawlor invites me to take his chair, which he has customised by placing a wooden box on the seat, raising him closer to the workbench. The box contains dozens of glass faces for pocket watches, which possibly makes it the most unconventional form of cushion in Ireland.

Both Lawlor and Lawless agree business is good, and has increased in recent years. When it comes to timepieces, we are not yet quite the disposable society. ‘People are beginning to appreciate the old things,' Lawlor comments. ‘It's a way of keeping touch with the past,' says Lawless. 'People come in with old clocks or old watches that belonged in the family, and they want to get them going again. Or we'd get pocket watches that belonged to a grandfather. And you find a lot of daughters wearing their father's watches.' Clocks tend to be more robust than watches, which have a more delicate mechanism, no matter how well they have been made. 'You can sometimes make new parts, but watches do wear out,' says Lawlor. But, says Lawless: 'The majority of old clocks can be repaired.' They both reckon they can make a fairly accurate estimation of how long the job will take when they first look at what the customer has brought in. Lawless makes replacement wheels, cogs, or pivots as needed. He has a stack of old clocks but, unlike cars, old clocks are not much good for reuse of parts. 'Every clock is different. They're like people. You can't interchange bits and pieces, unless it is the exact same model, and that rarely happens,' he explains. What sometimes comes in useful are the many keys in the workshop, which he keeps in case one will fit and replace a missing key for an old clock.

The oldest clock he has mended dates from 1710, and he regularly gets grandfather clocks. Every job is different, both for watches and clocks, so there are no fixed prices. However, the starting price for mending a grandfather clock, which will not need to have new parts made for it, a job of two to three day's work, is € 450. The most interesting clock Lawless has mended was 'a clock out of the House of Lords in the Bank of Ireland, which didn't seem as if it had even been mended before'. He also fixed the clock of David La Touche, the first governor of the Bank of Ireland; it now hangs in the bank's Arts Centre. They keep clocks and watches for about a week after they've been mended, so they can be sure they're working properly. Red stickers on a number of clock faces on the wall indicate those that are mended and awaiting collection, subject to completing their test. The world is currently divided neatly into two kinds of watch-wearers: those who have quartz watches, operated by battery, and those who wear mechanical watches. Lawlor reckons he sees about a 50-50 representation of each type of watch, but he's very clear about which type he prefers to work on. 'Quartz is only junk,' he says decisively. 'Mechanical watches are much more interesting to look at, and to work on.' If you're of a curious nature, the next time you take a mechanical watch to be repaired or overhauled, ask if you can see the watch being opened. It's the tradition of clock-and watch menders to keep a log of the work they do, either on the back of the clock-face or on the inside of the watch back.

If it is old, your watch may contain a tiny log of its history, recording each date it was mended and the initials of the person who mended it. Three years ago, Lawlor was able to tell me that my mother's 1950s cocktail watch had last been mended in 1971 in Weirs, where it had been bought. Not having been wound for several years, it had stopped, seemingly irrevocably so, since no-one in Ireland would touch it when I tried to get it mended, everyone citing expense and the hopeless prospects of the end result as their reasons. Like most people, I discovered the Wicklow Street workshop through word of mouth and gave it a try. Lawlor mended the watch for £ 25, which included a one year guarantee. It has worked perfectly since. Ironically, although he hates them. Lawlor's own watch is quartz. 'It has to be bang on, so that I can check the watches I mend against it,' he explains. Ever had a watch which loses time or gains time? Lawlor will put the watch on a black box, which acts as a sensor, recording by how many seconds it is out. Then he takes it off the box, opens the back, and readjusts the mechanism in about a half a second, puts it back on the sensor, which beats out its red figures – now punctual – like a heartbeat. Despite a significant increase in rent some months ago, Lawlor and Lawless managed to keep on their city-centre premises. Profit margins are modest, but they say they are adequate for their needs at this stage of their lives, and they like providing their special service: something which everyone who needs a clock or watch mended can be grateful for.