Like clockwork

Paul Niess

Photo By Monica Unhold

Though he passes his time restoring antique clocks, Paul Niess rarely wears a watch. Niess, owner of Father Time Co. in the Garden Walk in downtown Chico, is not particularly concerned about time; he’s already ahead of the curve as one of the youngest clockmakers in the business (he’s 36). In his shop among the ticking and chiming, Niess talks about his passion for fixing up timepieces and the future of the trade.

How did you get interested in clocks?

When I was a little boy, I did an apprenticeship with a family friend who was a master clock maker in Sonoma. I loved it. I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.

How did you get started here in Chico?

I’ve been in business 12 years here. I went to Chico State and majored in history, psychology and education. I was actually planning to go to grad school, but I wanted to take a year off. I took my life’s savings, which was $1,000 at the time, and opened a store in the Garden Walk. This was the storage closet at the time, so it took a few guys and a lot of pizza and beer to get set up. I was only planning to be open a year, but I’m so glad things happened this way. I hope everyone gets to do something that they love as much as this because that’s really the key to happiness.

Do you have a favorite clock in the shop?

I do, I found it (pictured) at Alameda Antique Fair one Sunday. I went to a junk dealer’s booth and dug out of this box a 17th-century clock that was all in pieces. It took me two years to put it back together. It was like a jigsaw puzzle. But it’s so neat because every piece is hand-cut, every single tooth is cut by hand.

With all these clocks around, are you a particularly punctual person?

You know I hardly ever wear a watch, but yeah, I guess I’m punctual. When you work on timepieces all day long sometimes you go home and still hear ticking. It’s like Alice in Wonderland, you’ll have dreams that “I’m going to be late! I’m going to be late!” like clocks are chasing you.

There seem to be a lot fewer craftsmen these days. What do you think about the future of the business?

The future of the business is very good. It is a dying art, a dying trade. Young people aren’t going into it. The average age of a clockmaker or watchmaker is 80. I kind of screwed up the pie-chart [laughing].