LARSON: Grandfather clocks time over three centuries

Gary Wilson

Gary Wilson

It’s about time. Well, at least for Gary Wilson it is. Way back in the nineteenth century, his maternal great great grandfather, Franklin Sylvester Maxwell was a watchmaker in Martinsville, Ill. Back then it was pretty common for such professions to be carried on through the family, which in this case it was, but not quite as directly as usual.

It was Wilson’s grandfather’s sister’s son, Clarence Hood, who created the next point on this timeline of watchmakers. It was Hood who then mentored Wilson and inspired him to study watchmaking at Parkland College in Illinois. Wilson worked his way down to Gwinnett County by way of employment at Westclox in Davidson, N.C., and then some highly technical jobs in Tucker and at Technology Park in Norcross.

He worked for a few years at Mayor’s Jewelers and in 1977 became the first — and remains — the only Certified Master Watchmaker in the state of Georgia. In 1987, he started his own business, Wilson Watch Company in Lawrenceville and now claims the prestigious award of “Certified Masters Watchmakers 21.”

Watchmaking involves micro precision technology and lots of time and patience. For example, the Bulova Accutron, the world’s first fully electronic watch which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year is controlled by a tuning fork. The vibrations of this tuning fork drive the index wheel which contains 300 teeth.

“It takes a 20 power microscope to even see the wheel,” Wilson said.

Even with the availability of cellphone technology and throwaway watches from the dollar store, classic pieces like Omega, Hamilton and Rolex remain very popular, especially among collectors. And many organizations like the Lawrenceville Police Department, still give classic engraved watches to their retirees. But it’s not sales alone that keep Wilson in business.

“A Rolex needs to be cleaned every three to five years,” Wilson said, “and it takes five different oils to do the job.”

For that reason, among others, Wilson is required by Rolex to wear a white lab coat while on the job to reflect the scientific demands of his profession.

Actually, even in this depressed job market, Wilson said there is a shortage of watchmakers and the job training is free. However, it does take time and great commitment. Even certified watchmakers must spend several weeks each year with further training.

Wilson’s young employee, Josh Gordillo, isn’t necessarily looking to be a watchmaker, but he does admit a fascination with what he is learning on the job.

“This is a thrilling experience. When I started I knew nothing but this really opened my eyes. Now I’m saving to buy a Hamilton watch,” he said.

As for the future of watchmaking in the Wilson family, he does have five grandchildren, Samuel, Annabelle, Sabrina, Raegan and Jameson, whom he loves keeping close watch on. Will any of them follow in his footsteps?

Only time will tell.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.