- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Amid family photos, vintage jewelry and drawings by young children in an O’Hara basement is a vast collection of watches.

The basement is Kieran Lynch’s workshop, where he spends hours each day examining and repairing watches.

Fascinated by their mechanics, Mr. Lynch, 51, has collected timepieces since he was a boy growing up in Squirrel Hill. He turned his passion into a profession through mentoring from older, now retired watchmakers in Pittsburgh.

In an age of smartphones, Fitbits and the soon-to-be-released Apple Watch, millions of people have stopped relying on traditional timepieces.

As we “spring forward” Sunday to begin daylight saving time, fewer people will need to physically change the time on a clock because the change occurs automatically on smartphones, computers, tablets and many other electronic household devices.

Mr. Lynch works on both mechanical watches and the more modern quartz watches. Mechanical watches are driven by springs that must be wound periodically to measure time, while quartz watches are battery powered.

He prefers tackling the challenges presented by mechanical watches and is especially attracted to the complexities, size, craftsmanship and, now, the rarity of mechanical pocket watches.

Repairing watches is like detective work, he said. It takes common sense and keen observation skills.

Well-seasoned in winding and repairing timepieces, Mr. Lynch belongs to a dwindling population. Most old-timers in the trade have retired, and fewer people are entering the field.

“Anyone who does this is old,” he said.

Watchmaking and repair, however, has become a “strange business juxtaposed between the old and the new,” Mr. Lynch said. The watches and the tools used in the trade may come from an era when cell phones didn’t exist, but the ways of doing business have changed to keep up with the times.

These days, Mr. Lynch conducts most of his business online, typically buying watches through eBay or Craigslist, repairing them and then reselling them on the Internet.

His customers range from clients in California to businessmen living in China.

“There’s a limited market in one given area,” he explained. Relying solely on customers in one geographical area is inefficient, and it’s better for business to buy and sell across the country and internationally.

Locally, a few jewelry and repair shops can fix wind-up watches, but they typically are shipped to another location for the work to be done. Batteries in quartz watches can be replaced at many jewelry shops and other stores.

As people rely more on digital timepieces, mechanical watches are becoming novelty items.

Mr. Lynch’s collection includes pocket and wristwatches, early LED watches, parts to use for repairs and repairing tools. The oldest watches in his collection date to the 1800s.

Each watch links Mr. Lynch to small pieces of history.

One pocket watch came from an older woman, and after researching the name engraved on it, Mr. Lynch discovered that the man who owned the watch had died in a mining explosion.

Another pocket watch revealed Masonic symbols and a photograph of a young boy and girl when it was opened. It dated to 1915.

Often, Mr. Lynch receives watches from people who believe the timepieces are too old or beyond repair. That is rarely the case, he said. Sometimes a watch just requires some creativity to run again.

The watch Mr. Lynch wears was waterlogged when he bought it, but he was able to fix it and get it running. Another watch he often wears just needed a half-dollar coin to properly seal it shut.

In his workshop, Mr. Lynch expertly slides a thin knife through multiple pocket watches to open them and begin repairs.

He opens two watches that resemble each other on the face but are opposite on the inside: one is mechanical and the other is a modern quartz watch.

He said he wishes he had more time to focus on his work, but he spends most of his time with his four children.

Although the number of watchmakers is declining as the years tick by, Mr. Lynch believes those who are interested in the trade will persist, although doing business mostly online.

He used to work as a marketing consultant but found watchmaking addictive.

“There’s this feeling of accomplishment when you can get the right piece in, and get the watch moving,” he said.

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

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