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Inheritance Turned Into A Hobby And A Collection

Published on: 25 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 1 Sep, 2020

By Hugh Coakley

“It was an inheritance that started me repairing pocket watches.” said Mike Stokes. “My wife, Rosemary, had a load of clocks and watches from her aunt and when I was told by an horologist they weren’t worth repairing, it sparked my interest and I had a go, just for fun.”

Mike Stokes with some of the pocket watches that he has collected over the last year. “I don’t want it to be an obsession but the temptation is enormous.” said Mike. Click on the images to enlarge them in a new window.

That was about a year ago and this legacy is now not just an absorbing hobby but a collection of 30 stunning pocket watches, up to 150 years old. I spoke to Mike about his new hobby in his home in Guildford, with the quiet but noticeable ticking of watches and clocks in the background.

Mike worked for six hours in one day on this 100-year-old Swiss wrist watch.

“I do minimum two hour stints in a day, three times a week, repairing the watches.” said Mike, though this was disputed by his wife as a gross underestimate.

He had to concede that he had “spent six hours yesterday trying to get this bastard to work but I’m not giving up.” He was referring to a 100-year-old Swiss-made wrist watch in a battered English silver case that his brother had bought at a car boot sale 10 years ago.

Mike at his work table in the front room.

“I can see that it is eager to work, it just needs a tiny repair to the barrel.” said Mike enthusiastically as he demonstrated the intricate parts were moving,

Close work on the tiny, intricate watches.

“I love finding a ‘work around’ and fixing something that wasn’t working before; I love it, the sense of achievement.”

Mike Stokes wearing the watchmaker’s eye glass that is essential for the close work.

Finding suitable training courses has been difficult so he has taught himself from books and the internet.

To go much further though, he feels that he will need personal tuition; and that is hard to find now with watchmakers and repairers getting older and retiring.

He chose to work on pocket watches rather than clocks because they took up less space in the house but they need specialist tools for the minute parts and that looks to be part of the fun for him. He seems to take as much pleasure in using and collecting the watchmaker’s tools as the watches themselves.

Antique specialist tools from Leipzig to replace watch jewels.

Repairing the watches was one thing but the collecting aspect has surprised him. He discovered that he was a collector at heart. “I hadn’t realised how much there was out there and modestly priced. I don’t want it to become an obsession but the temptation is enormous when I see a watch that I like.”

Some of his collection including Russian, Swiss and English pocket watches.

His average spend is about £100 on watches good enough to display and a lot less on “non-runners” which he tries to repair. “I bought really cheap ones to start with, between £5 and £10. Some were successful but some I completely trashed.”

His favourite pocket watch, sitting on a stand on his desk, is a seven day Hebdomas made in 1920 that his wife bought for him. “Part of the delight has been researching their history, who made them and the quality.

“I wind them up every Sunday to keep the oil moving and just to listen to them working. It is such a pleasure.”

An eight day Hebdomas pocket watch is Mike’s favourite in his 30-watch collection.

Being a systematic man, he is working out in his mind how he will overcome his next watchmaking challenges, that is replacing jewels and repairing a watch balance.

The internet is great but without personal tuition, that is a daunting task. “I am part of watch repair forums but I would like to contact fellow amateurs, in the local area if possible, to pool advice and information and to be able to chat about problems. If anyone is interested, you can contact me on mike.stokes7@btinternet.com.”

What’s the next step with the collection? “I don’t want it to get much bigger but I may trade the work I repair if I see something I really like.” said Mike a touch wistfully.

Mike said he needs a pipe ocassionally when he has a problem to think through.

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