Story and Photos by Anne Gabbianelli
“The pleasure you get from owning and using a mechanical clock and watch is abundant. The sound of it ticking and striking, as well as the timekeeping it offers creates a personal interaction each time you wind it and set it,” says Peter Rioux, who is clearly passionate about his work.
A self-made master in the industry of clock building and repair, Peter was born and raised on a potato farm in Fort Kent. He graduated from the University of Maine and gravitated to forestry and construction work but felt something was missing. “Then antique clocks were introduced to me by my wife Susie, and of course the clocks weren’t working so I had to fix them,” he says.
“I guess you can say I sparked this ‘clock mania,’” Susie says. “I love antique clocks and brought home a few which ignited an interest in Peter. But it was Peter’s mechanical ability and determination that is really responsible for the success of this clock mania, not me.”
So in the early 1990s, Peter spent all his free time studying horology — the study and measurement of time — and developing the skills on his own clocks before starting his unique business.
He chimes in, “What interested me the most about antique clocks was the history of the clockmaker, the style or period of the clock and the condition of the dial and movement.” In addition, he reminds us of the obvious, “The beauty of an antique clock adds so much character to your home or office, and it doesn’t use any energy other than you winding it.”
In addition to his appreciation for history, his devotion to this science continues to grow. “Another passion of mine is proving to myself that I am worthy of the term ‘clockmaker’ which is someone who has actually built a clock movement from scratch. Ten years ago I did just that. I built a weight-driven skeleton clock out of brass and steel. This project took me four winters of part-time work.”
While the rhythmic sounds of each clock are captivating, it’s the intricate, delicate moves of Peter’s hands with tiny tools that requires patience because of the complexities of each task. “Working on an intricate balance platform escapement is very much like surgery,” he says. Escapement releases the power at a measured rate. “Luckily clocks and watches live another day and you get to correct the mishap.”
Quite often Peter’s work takes him and Susie on the road climbing to new heights, literally. When not in the shop, they can be found navigating steep ladders and crawling through rafters of churches throughout Maine and New England, refurbishing numerous tower clocks and maintaining them with annual service contracts.
One contract in particular is Bangor’s Unitarian Universalist Church where the tower clock was installed in 1920. In 1998, Peter overhauled it and connected it to the bells that lay dormant for decades in the adjacent tower.
Peter has been intimate with a great deal of history over the years. “I’ve worked on numerous 18th century clocks over the years, but the earliest clocks I’ve worked on were a few mid-17th century Lantern clocks and table clocks.”
With all these fabulously timeless wonders, Peter says his favorite clocks and watches to work on are time-only weight-driven regulators, banjo clocks, early grandfather clocks, Chelsea Ship clocks and mechanical pocket and wrist watches.
He says many folks have limited knowledge of the clock’s workings, so he willingly teaches you how to care for your antique. When you walk into Peter Rioux Clock Service, located on Old County Road in Winterport, you are treated to melodious chimes singing on cue.
For more information, call 223-4732 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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