Local Business News on the Southern Oregon Coast
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Fine Timed Collectables  

By Lisa Carroll, Staff Writer

John Boatman, creator and owner of Fine Timed Collectables, is one of the few remaining watch repairers in the country. “I’m a horologist. Horology is the study of time and time-keeping,” he explained. Horology goes back to our earliest human history. “Cavemen started measuring time with a post they drove into the ground. They knew by the length of the shadow what season it was going to be. So, they knew when to move their camps to warmer climates or where to follow the food for the seasons. The Egyptians studied the stars and they designed the first water or sand time pieces. The pyramids they built were lined up to measure the stars, through which they could tell the seasons and the rotation of the Earth. It was the Greeks who developed the first mechanical timepiece, though.” John goes on to talk about the Antikythera mechanism, discovered by sponge divers in a shipwreck from the 1st Century BC, at the edge of the Aegean Sea. “It is the oldest exact timepiece, it’s all gears, and I mean it measured everything. The sun, the moon, and all of the stars and constellations. It’s just amazing.”

Every mechanical device that sprung up during the Industrial Age was born from the clock-making industry. “Clock-makers were the first ones to figure out how to temper metals, so they could have a spring. They figured out how to do gear reductions so energy could be transferred. They started making mechanical clocks in Europe during the 1500’s. If you look on an old world map of England, you’ll see how all the other industries began springing up around the clockmaker shops, because clockmakers knew how to work with metals and gears.”

John Boatman, of Fine Timed Collectables, is not only a highly talented horologist, but an engaging  historian as well.  (Photo By Lisa Carroll)

So, a professional horologist has to be a metallurgist as well. “I can make all the parts,” John continued, motioning towards a little metal lathe. “I have the milling equipment, the gear company equipment.” John rummaged around in a drawer and pulled out a small case. In it were various tiny gears. “Little bitty gears, like these, we make. For wrist watches, some of them are 0.001 inch.” John also showed me screws he made that are so miniscule one cannot see with the naked eye that they are screws. How does he work with something so tiny? “Screws that look like grains of sand, screwdrivers that are as fine as hairs. You have to learn how to work with magnification all day long. And, magnetization. We’re constantly magnetizing the screwdriver so we can stand up the screw, hold onto it, screw it in. Then then you demagnetize, or degauss it.”

I asked John what led him to become an horologist. “I grew up in rural Oregon. In the 40’s and 50’s, every time we’d go up to Portland to see my grandparents, I’d have my folks drop me off at an old junk store. With money I’d saved from working on the farm, I’d buy old clocks, bring them home and work on them. But the time I was 10 years old, I could take any clock apart and put it back together, have it running again. The neighbors started sending over their old clocks and watches to be repaired. Well, later, when I went to college, that’s what got me into mechanical engineering, in which I have my degree.”

Fine Timed is tucked away and nestled quietly amongst miles of cranberry bogs, and surrounded by myrtle wood groves. I wondered how John ever got any business. Turns out, horologists are becoming a rare breed, and after decades in the business, people still seek him out. “I advertise in The Shopper, I have a website, and I’ve been doing it so long on the coast here, people find me. Lots of people have heirloom watches they want restored, and there are only a couple of us in the country that completely restore old timepieces.”

John would like to pass along the art of building and repairing timepieces, but so far he’s not found a taker. “It’s almost impossible to find an apprentice who wants to take the time to learn anymore. I called the college, and told them anybody with high math skills could come to see me. I’d love to teach horology to some of them. Well, these days they’ll come out and the first question they ask is “Where’s your computer to tell you how to do all this?”” John smiled and pointed to his head. “There isn’t a computer program that can teach this. You have to use your logical mind, you do it in your head.”

Fine Timed Collectables also has a fascinating museum to visit, with clocks from the 1600’s, early American timepieces, clockworks toys from the 1890’s, train clocks and ship clocks, and so much more. The shop is located at 85877 North Bank Lane, just a few miles off Hwy 101. You can contact John Boatman at 1-541-347-2234, or visit the website www.finetimed.com to learn more.

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