The Long and “Winding” Road: Harold Paige (Third Generation Watchmaker and Father of Richard Paige)


Interviewer: Richard Paige

April, 1999

 I’ve spent the week in New England visiting my parents. And once again I’ve been trying to attempt to show my 78 year old Dad what I’ve been doing on the internet with TimeZone. I think he understands a lot more than he did since the first interview I did with him last year (Click Here). He’s a 3rd generation Watchmaker who’s now “semi-retired”…he still likes to go into his store a few times a week and help out my younger brother who took over his business.

The interview took place on April 8 and 9th.

RP:  Richard Paige –
HP:  Harold Paige

RP:   Dad, do you still have no idea what-so-ever what I’m doing on the internet, or does it seem a little easier to understand after we’ve surfed the site for a few hours.

HP:   It’s beginning to make sense now. The potential is amazing. It’s a whole new ball game. Different players, different set-up, there’s no old rules, there’s no guidelines.

RP:   Is that good or bad?

HP:   It’s too early to hasn’t affected us on our end..but we’re beginning to see the edges crumble on the old way of doing business. It’s new competition.

RP:   Competition from whom?

HP:   I don’t know. I used to think there was no competition from the internet, but after seeing the what’s going on, on the eyes have been opened wider. Watch stores are not going to able to compete, they’ll be a price war. The stores only salvation is immediacy, we can deliver immediately.

RP:   But so can internet players?

HP:   But there’s still something to showing the customer the item, and let him handle it.

RP:   But TimeZone gives the visitor the same experience, only not in the physical world. They can learn everything about a particular watch right online.

HP:   To the watch industry it’s scary. it’s going to be our toughest competition.

RP:   Then why not embrace it..take the attitude: if you can’t beat them join them?

HP:   Then we’ll service the watches that the internet people sell.

RP:   And you can make a living on this??

HP:   We’re going to have to try. I guess we’ll end up as a service store. We should be able to get the watch back quicker when it needs service after the warranty is up. I think that the average person would rather bring it to the local store then send it back to the factory. Once it’s out of warranty, the factory charges a lot more so that they’re not competing with their own customers ( the retailer).

RP:   So, is that what you think the strategy is by the watch companies: to charge more so as not to compete with the retailers. I never really thought about it this way. Seems strange to me, has this been the manufacturers strategy since you started in the 1950’s?

HP:   They haven’t told me as much, but I can figure it out. They’re always on the high side. I think they’re trying to protect the retailer, they’d rather have the retailer do it.

RP:   Dad, I’m not so sure about this theory. I’ll have to think about this for awhile. Can independent watch makers make a decent living these days?

HP:   The answer to that is yes, especially when I compare it to the pittance that we used to get for the same work.

RP:   But are you talking about relative to what the dollar was worth or is it higher, based on the average wage. What were some prices like for repair in the 1960’s?

HP:   Well I started fixing watches in 1945. A complete overhaul was $5.00, stem and crown was $2.50, a mainspring was $2.50, a round crystal was a $1.00, a fancy crystal was $2.00. In the 1950’s the prices were about the same, then they started to creep up, but slowly in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Until around 1985, when prices seem to just have no ceiling.

RP:   Huh, that was about the time of the big resurgence in collecting mechanical watches. I remember hearing that the average age of a watch maker in 1975 was 55 years old… you think that the demand was greater than the amount of qualified watchmakers.

HP:   Well everybody was wearing a quartz watch, so the watchmaker became finally a unique repairman and he could demand the price he wanted.

RP:   Dad, I was still fixing watches in 1985, and I don’t remember getting rich fixing watches, in fact, I remember it as lean times for watchmakers. What I think happened is that in the 1990’s the mechanical watch was finally marketed again to the consumers as a worthy investment over the quartz, and the watch companies now needed more highly qualified they had to pay more to attract talent.

HP:   I’ll buy that. It sounds right, the watchmakers are demanding more nowadays, and we have to give it to keep good watchmakers.

RP:   What do you think of the TimeZone Watch School.

HP:   I’m amazed. It’s a new concept to me. I was taught by other uncles.

RP:   Well this just gives everybody a chance to learn, not everybody has an uncle who can teach them. In fact, the guy teaching the watch school probably knows more than most watchmakers I’ve ever met.

HP:   I should hope so. Well, you are a watchmaker, what so impressive about this particular guy.

RP:   Well, he very interesting..he’s self taught. But he almost sees it as art. Did I tell you that he once spent 17 hours seeing if he could revibrate a hairspring by hand, and he succeeded…!!

HP:   That’s amazing. That’s a rough job. Why did he do something so foolish.

RP:   That’s what I mean about him….he just saw it as challenge he needed to overcome, and decided he was going to do it. he had no other compelling reason. he certainly could of just bought a new one like most sane watchmakers, or had it revibrated by a company that does only this.

HP:   Yes, I think it only costs about $15.00 to put a whole new balance complete, that means he’s working for less than $1.00 an hour. It’s a lot cheaper to have this done then to spend 17 hours doing it…I take my hat off to’s one of the toughest jobs in the book. If he’s that dedicated he got to be an excellent teacher.

RP:   So, what do you think about us doing an international online watch school.

HP:   Are you teaching these people to do it as a living?

RP:   (Laughing) No, dad, these are hobbyist..they just want to know everything they can about how a watch works…like guys who want to know about car engines and repair. It’s really for entertainment and fun, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some went on to doing it for wages.

HP:   Well why not, there’s more watches on the market now than there has ever been before. Now people own 5 or 6 watches.

RP:   Dad, a lot of TimeZoners have collections that would make your head spin…much more than 6 watches. What do you think of my TimeZone limited Edition watches?

HP:   For the individual who wants to own what nobody else has I think it’s a tremendous idea….have you sold any of these?

RP:   Would you be surprised if I told you that they’re doing very well?

HP:   No, knowing you, no……But I really don’t understand what it’s all about. I’ve never sold a limited edition watch, and my customers wouldn’t want this particular kind of watch. They buy watches like Tissot, Swiss army, Bulova, Raymond Weil.

RP:   But Dad, I’m wondering if you introduced watches like this to your customers they might take to it.

HP:   it would be a gamble. We tried carrying expensive watches, but it never worked: water seeks it’s own level. If 47 years taught me anything, it’s you go with the flow.

RP:   Dad, tell me about the fair trade laws of yesteryear.

HP:   Well, you weren’t allowed to sell below a certain price.You couldn’t advertise it below a certain price, When a customer came in you could sell it for whatever you wanted..but you couldn’t advertise it.

RP:   What happens if you did sell it for less or advertised it?

HP:   If they caught you they could take away your dealership.

RP:   Who made the fair trade laws…was it the watch companies or the government?

HP:   I think the states controlled it. Yes, I believe it was a state law.

RP:   All states???

HP:   I’m not sure, but a good many of them had it.

RP:   Wasn’t this antitrust?

HP:   Probably……..that’s what broke it. I think they started it after the war and stopped it around 1970. It really helped the mom and pop stores. After they stopped it the little store suffered tremendously, and those that couldn’t compete with discounters went out of business.The most sacred thing a store owned was the service department and trust, so without the price fixing they didn’t have a retail end of it. Remember every product was fair traded, not just watches…….luggage, dishes, etc…major consumer items were fair traded.

RP:   Wasn’t this good for the consumer when they dropped the law.

HP:   That’s why they dropped it.

RP:   When was the last time you actually fixed a watch?

HP:   About 2 years ago.

RP:   Do you still overhaul watches the traditional method, or do you use plastic solutions in the cleaning machine. (Plastic solutions refers to the cleaning method which coats each part in the cleaning machine with a kind of Teflon coating, this allows the watchmaker not to have oil the most of the watch and saves about 80% of the cleaning time. Most old school watchmakers find this method to be a substandard way of overhauling watches).

HP:   I still believe in the old fashion way of stripping the movement down. I think the plastic solutions only do a partial job because you can’t see in between the plates.

RP:   Dad, I think most new watchmakers today use the plastic solutions.. it seems sad to me.

HP:   Yes, definitely, the plastic solutions seem to be a shortcut that works most of the time but not all of the time.

RP:   Well, how about another “words of wisdom” from you for the reader of this interview.

HP:   I hope you know what you’re doing..!!!!!