HILLSDALE, N.J. — There are times Russell Andrews has fixed a watch or a clock in his Hillsdale shop, Andrews Clocks and Watches , for a cup of coffee or a bowl of fruit.
Saturday, he sat at this worktable, dealing with customer after customer lining up for his advice and craftsmanship.
For Andrews, this table is the center of the universe. All around him is the ticking and tocking of antique grandfather clocks, carriage clocks, desk clocks, and much more.
Occasionally, a bell or cuckoo sounds.
During a break in the customer flow, Andrew reflected on what he does for a living in the age of smartphones and cheap Chinese timepieces.
“A woman came in who’d been running all over the countryside to fix an eyeglass for her daughter,” Andrews said.
“I should have told her to take it to an eyeglass place,” he added. “Instead I took 20 minutes to find the screw the poor, exasperated lady needed. I made her happy. That’s the core of it.”
He didn’t charge her, either.
Andrews knows his attitude and his business practices are as old as some of the handmade English and French clocks and timepieces all around him.
He likes it that way, even though he also knows he lives in an age when people are most likely to throw away something that doesn’t work.
Andrews likes machines. He finds them interesting.
Besides, a knack for clock repair is in his chromosomes.
Russell’s father, John, ran Andrews Jewelers in Westwood. Before that, his grandfather, Andreas, ran the shop in Leonia.
Today, Russell works in the shop with his daughter, Caitlyn, 27, also a clockmaker.
He reached for an 1800s French clock on his worktable and pointed to the barrel, which has a mainspring in it. The only way to know the condition of the mainspring is to take the clock apart.
So he did, only to find gooey, greasy crude inside.
“But few people today take the time and effort to do things right,” he said. “The amount of time this takes relative to what I charge is out of proportion, but it doesn’t matter.”
For Andrews, the points of satisfaction in his work are knowing how a complex piece of machinery works and bringing things back to life.
But he also knows a secret of his trade: to bring back an old clock is to bring back the past.
He remembered the customer who brought in a cuckoo clock he and his wife had bought when they were married half a century earlier.
The man told Andrews his wife had died and all he had was the clock.
“I fixed it. I shouldn’t have,” Andrews said. “But now when the man hears the clock, he thinks of his wife.”
He’s never been able to put a price on that.