GALAX — Adams Jewelers Certified watch repairman Clayton Stockner represents the obverse side of the phrase, “time waits for no one.” He certainly has spent his time (more than 60 years) since March of 1955 patiently at a succession of desks keeping local timepieces in working order.
Stockner, who is in his 80s, said he learned the trade through the GI Bill, after returning from service in the Korean War. He started at Montgomery Jewelry before working the past 22 years at Lemons’ Jewelry before his present assignment at Adams Jewelers.
He explained Lemons let him keep the work desk he’d used for years when the Montgomery closed in 1992. He set up the desk at home and worked from there for a short time. Interest in fixing things began early for Stockner.
“I always liked to repair anything I could,” said Stockner.
He said recent trends steering students to technical careers were similar to the national climate when he returned from military service and enrolled in a four-year program offered through an instructor at Galax High School. He said many of his friends who served took advantage of training offered to learn a trade.
Stockner said technology following WWII has also affected his trade with the appearance of better batteries and electronic watches. He said some items, such as kitchen clocks and digital clocks, were designed to be replaced rather than repaired.
“Watches have changed. Most are electronic now. It’s changed so much there’s some things I can’t do. I try to repair some but sometimes you have to just replace the entire movement,” Stockner said. “Some functions on watches, I don’t even know what they are. I just like to repair things. I enjoy it. That’s my life.”
He said he has also seen steady changes in watch manufacturers as items made in America switched to Japan and now to China due to economic pressure. He said he truly misses American-made watches and admitted a professional in the craft tends to accumulate a lot of tools.
“You gotta have a lot of stuff to do this,” said Stockner, who typically works four days a week at Adams. “Memory is the thing with me now. I remember every one of the watches I have worked on, but ask me what I did yesterday (other than that) and I can’t tell you. I’ve really enjoyed what I do though. Mr. (George) Adams has been so good to me. He and everybody here has been so nice. I’ve so much to be thankful for.”
Stockner said another development is no younger people coming forward to learn the watch repair trade in the wake of new technology and a disposal mindset concerning tools, devices and appliances.
“We were so happy and excited to get him,” said Adams. “He is able to do things other jewelers don’t offer anymore. People are calling his home to find him. There’s a lot of work that only he can do. A lot of word-of-mouth advertising has added to his solid reputation. We’re able to do things and offer services others can’t without charging an outrageous price.”
Adams said Stockner’s work ethic impresses him. He said it seems he can’t not work and that it’s not a job, but passion and drive balanced with a love of helping people. Stockner said one of his favorite memories is a 50-year-old customer who sent a thank you letter for him repairing a watch given to her by her father.
“She thought it would never be any good anymore,” recalled Stockner. “That’s the things that make you feel good.”
Adams Jewelers is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is closed Sundays.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on [email protected]