Father time

Paul Niess

Photo By Devanie Angel

Master horologist Paul Niess, who opened Father Time in 1996, arrives at his vintage clock and watch repair shop in the Garden Walk Mall around 6 a.m., flooded with work. Niess calls himself a “big clock geek” and is unbelievably cheery when three people within 15 minutes ask him if he can replace a watch battery—something a half-century away from his craft. He began learning the trade when he was only 10 years old and now draws business from all over the world.

I was expecting some old, grizzled guy

I’m 34. … The average age in our profession is 80. They’re dropping fast and it’s sad, really, because it’s a dying art. [The masters] have a wealth of knowledge and you realize you will never know it all.

So, how did you become a master horologist?

I was very fortunate. I did a private apprenticeship with a master clockmaker and I did [another] with a master watchmaker.

How do you fix the timepieces?

My job is to restore the piece to original by manufacturing exact replica parts. That’s the toughest part of the job—realizing that you can’t buy the parts; you have to manufacture them and you must do it exactly. I mill and lathe the parts, make new gears—everything. … If it’s not perfect, I throw it out and start over.

Do you have a favorite?

Yes. This one was made and sold by Chico’s second mayor in 1860-something-or-other. I found it in a downtown dump shop. I also have a master clock that came out of a high school in Missoula, Mont. in 1935. It was made by IBM, which started as a clock company.

[Clocks begin to chime 12] That sounds cool. Is this your favorite time of day?

I love it. I love noon—not only because it’s lunchtime, but because everything is striking. Most of these clocks are at least 100 years of age and you’re listening to the sounds that our great, great, grandparents would have heard.

It sounds like you love your job.

It’s rewarding. We just did a pocket watch for a lady whose grandfather was assassinated in Europe [70 years ago]. When he was shot, he fell forward on it and broke it. I just gave it back to her last week and you should have seen the look on her face.

You’re not wearing a watch.

I get so inundated by working in a clock shop, when I go home I don’t wear a watch.

Where you will be at midnight on New Year’s Day?

When the clock strikes midnight I will be … with family and friends relaxing with no clocks around.