Taking his time
Plumas Street's newest shop offers a centuries-old skill.
For hundreds of years, people have fixed watches and clocks.
The proprietor of Tic Tockery in Yuba City, 29-year-old Khang Le, is keeping the craft alive.
Although it may seem that electronics and semiconductor chips would mean an end to traditional timepieces, and their repairers, Le said he has put in 10-hour days since he opened his shop April 21.
He figures that customers have brought in about 60 clocks and 100 watches to his 641 Plumas St. store, which, in addition to offering repair service, sells watches and clocks. One such repair was an Austrian clock made in 1690.
Le employs a craft he learned from his father, Huong Le, who repaired watches and cameras in Saigon until the family left the country after the Vietnam War. Khang was 6 years old at that time.
It's not an easy craft to learn, Khang Le said.
"My dad taught a lot of people, but they can't do it," Le said. "They lose patience and break it."
He has been studying the craft since he was 10 years old, and by age 13, he started getting good at it, he said.
Fixing a watch often requires taking the whole movement apart. If one cannot remember how to put the watch together, one is left with a pile of tiny springs and gears.
The tiny parts that make up a watch's movement are easily broken by a clumsy repairer.
Even cleaning a watch requires it to be disassembled. Some shops spray a cleaner on to the mechanism which is good for only about six months, Le said.
The trick to fixing a timepiece, Le said, is knowing how to do the machine work on the mechanisms that move the watches and clocks.
He picked up a watch.
Unless it's a jeweled movement, the metal shafts wear out after a few years, and it's difficult to resize them, Le said.
"It's not easy doing the machine work," Le said.
Le has a shop full of specialized tools, including a miniature lathe and a drill press for the task.
And with some clocks, the mechanism has to fit so it chimes at regular intervals.
"It's very hard," Le said.
But he has always been mechanically inclined, he said. It's a confidence that has transferred to watch repair. He said he doesn't get nervous, even when working on an expensive watch like Rolex models that cost upwards of $10,000.
And the 1690-era clock?
Le said he got it running in a week, and it is back with its owners.
The clock's movement was worn out, and Le had to machine new shafts and bushings.
He is now working on an 1840s kitchen clock, which also requires a complete overhaul.
"When it gets to be that old, I have to restore the whole thing," Le said.
His two brothers are now training with him on the craft of how to repair clocks and watches.
Le said the 500-square-foot Plumas Street shop, the first one he has opened on his own, is the perfect size for one of his brothers to take over. He has his sights set on Roseville and hopes to open a shop there. He said his family has had five stores, opening the first one in 1993, in Eugene, Ore. Le's father runs a store in Medford, Ore.
Appeal-Democrat reporter John Dickey can be reached at 749-4711. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.