Resurrecting weathered watches and broken clocks is what makes Phillip Ehorn tick.
For the past 20 years, customers have entrusted their most beloved timepieces to Ehorn at Once Upon a Tyme, the clock and watch sales and service shop in Cambria founded by Susan Foreman and her late husband, Jay Foreman.
Ehorn, 52, has worked at the shop since the mid-1990s, when Jay Foreman — a master watch and clockmaker — agreed to make him his apprentice.
Ehorn, who has a degree in landscape architecture from Cal Poly and a biology degree from Fresno State, had been tinkering with clocks in college, selling them to help pay the bills. One day, after he had graduated from Cal Poly, he brought Foreman a clock he had been trying to fix. Foreman explained how he could do the repair at home.
“He said he would teach me, and that I would be the last one he taught,” Ehorn said. “He saw something in me that I didn’t see.”
During the apprenticeship, Foreman suggested that Ehorn start small — learning the finer points of watch repair — before moving on to larger timepieces.
“He said, ‘You need to master the watch and then the clock.’ ”
It didn’t take long for Ehorn, who at age 18 built his first grandfather clock from plans he bought from the Emperor Clock Co., to become deeply immersed in the craft. Although he considered himself to be more scientifically inclined, shying away from the mechanical, he couldn’t deny that he “liked the movement of things” and had an affinity for the delicate and intricate work of watch repair.
Bringing a watch back to life can be extremely intense.
Sometimes he becomes so involved in the work that he can’t hear a customer coming into the shop. About 20 items a day are brought into the shop, each with its own challenge.
“I just take each thing individually and go into it with an open mind,” said Ehorn, noting that the solution to a problem will often reveal itself in the middle of the night. “A lady was in here a few months ago, and her watch was very special. It had been in the family since the 1880s, and it was nearly beyond repair. It was a big challenge, but I was satisfied once I got it running.”
Ehorn, whose personal collection includes a favorite — a Citizen Eco-Drive powered by light — is a stickler when it comes to handling watches with care.
“I tell everyone, ‘Don’t drop it and don’t get it wet,’ ” he said. “A watch doesn’t lie. I can tell if it’s been dropped.”