CAMDEN, Maine — The Watch Repair Center always has had a reputation for detailed craftsmanship and customer service, and Errol and Michelle Stewart intend to keep it that way.
The Stewarts took over the shop at Knox Mill after the death of their friend and center founder Peter Theriault this spring. Theriault had earned an international reputation as a gemologist and watchmaker during more than two decades in business. He passed away in March while on vacation in Florida.
“Peter was an incredible craftsman and such a likable guy,” Stewart said of his friend. “He was known, practically all over the world. He had such a vast knowledge of the value of things. He would know instantly just by looking at a piece what its value was.”
The Stewarts have been repairing jewelry, clocks and watches together since they met on the West Coast in the early 1990s. They relocated their business to China, Maine, 10 years ago and began working with Theriault shortly thereafter.
The network of watch repairers in the state is small, and the Stewarts and Theriault hit if off from the beginning. Stewart said both helped the other over the years and grew to be close friends. Theriault knew he was having health problems, he said, but failed to heed the warnings. He was stricken by a heart attack at age 52. Theriault may have failed to heed the warning signs, but one of his longtime customers did not.
“In early July a customer came in looking for Peter and to leave a couple of watches and I had to tell him the sad story,’’ Stewart said. “That same day he experienced chest pains while riding his bike, went to the doctor and ended up having two stents put in his arteries. He came in later to tell me he remembered what I said about Peter not heeding the warnings and said I saved his life. Well, that’s a nice thought, I told him, but you heeded the warnings, and Peter would be thrilled to know that out of his loss, you gained from it.”
Stewart had tinkered with jewelry and watch repair since he was a boy but worked as an electrician through most of his adult life until a string of injuries prompted him to convert his hobby into a full-time job. He attended the American Watch Insititute, apprenticed with a friend who repaired the famous Bulova Accutron watch and began working with Lewis Zanonni, one of the inventors of the liquid crystal display.
“I was taught to fix stuff that nobody fixes now. I had worked on clocks as a hobby as a young boy, but once I started to do watches it made clocks appear easy. It really enhanced my clock repair ability because when you can repair a wristwatch, a clock seems much easier.”
Before moving to Maine, Stewart had clock repair and jewelry shops in California and Oregon. He met Michelle when she came into his California shop with an old pocket watch that needed repair. She was working as a dental hygienist at the time but also fixed clocks as a hobby. She began using the shop to work on her clocks and before long they realized they shared more than a love of old clocks. Clocks were the romantic device that brought them together.
Stewart said that despite it being a digital age, mechanical clocks and watches have not lost their following or attraction. He said all clocks and watches need a tuneup every now and then and that even high-end makers like Rolex recommend their watches be serviced every few years.
“There isn’t anything in life that doesn’t break down, including us, and we’re probably the best thing in life,” he said. “The finest clocks and watches are mechanical. A quartz watch may tell time, but a mechanical watch is a timepiece. One is a piece of jewelry, the other just tells time.”
The Watch Repair Center is off the Mechanic Street entrance to the Knox Mill in Camden and is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Stewart’s Watch Repair in China is open by appointment by calling 968-4500.