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The clock doctors
Point of View

The clock doctors

Tuesday, 04 October 2016
By Christine Lacourt
Christine Lacourt

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4 min read

Aurélie Branchini and Masaki Kanazawa are both restorers of antique clocks and watches at the Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH) in La Chaux-de-Fonds, under Daniel Curtit.

After a vocational diploma in watch and clock restoration and repair from the École Technique de la Vallée de Joux, Aurélie Branchini went on to obtain her advanced diploma as a microtechnician specialising in restoration and complicated movements. After graduating from Tochigi technical college in Japan, Masaki Kanazawa began his training as a watch restorer and repairer at École Technique du Locle. He then completed the same advanced course as Aurélie Branchini.

What was your first taste of your profession?

Masaki Kanazawa: With my diploma in restoration and complications newly under my belt, I was offered a six-month internship with the restoration department at the MIH, where I worked on antique clocks that are part of the Museum’s permanent display.
Aurélie Branchini: I joined the MIH restoration department in 2009, also as an intern.

English longcase clock showing geographic time and an astronomical calendar, signed Henry Jenkins, Cheapside, London - © Musée international d’horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds
After this internship, you each went on to complete quite a special project.

AB: Absolutely! The department tasked me with the restoration of a longcase clock with geographic time, hour-strike and astronomical indications, built by Henry Jenkins in London in around 1770-1780. It shows the time across the entire northern hemisphere, thanks to a planisphere. Restoration took six months from start to finish.
MK: After finishing my internship, I had the good fortune to join Vincent Bérard in his studio. I stayed there several years, following which I worked with Kari Voutilainen. I then returned to the MIH restoration department, in 2012, where I work mostly on pocket watches.
AB: After this first year, I was given other projects at the MIH, the most spectacular of which was the restoration of a pair of eighteenth-century elephant automata, attributed to James Cox. They took a thousand hours to restore. Work was shared between Daniel Curtit and myself.

Masaki Kanazawa © Musée international d’horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds
How do you set about such a project?

AB: We begin by a visual inspection of the object, then look for the date it was built or the signature of its maker. We then take a series of photos. The next step is to estimate how many hours the restoration will take. Certain projects require the help of an art restorer or a gilder. Restoring antique clocks often involves working on the case, the dial or other elements.

When working on some of the rarer objects, do you ever come across drawings or diagrams of the item in question?

Daniel Curtit: We rarely find drawings, although we do sometimes come across diagrams. In many cases, we can refer to the detailed descriptions made by the watchmakers themselves. A master such as Breguet, for example, always had construction diagrams prepared by the workshop, but otherwise it’s rare. When we take a timepiece apart, we make diagrams and possibly sketches to ensure we put it back together exactly as it should be.

Musical perfume-squirter in the form of a pistol, anonymous, circa 1810, Geneva © Musée international d’horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds
Tell us about some of your recent projects.

AB: I worked on a musical perfume-squirter in the form of a pistol, dated circa 1810 and which has been part of the MIH collections since 1965. An initial observation of the state of conservation revealed that no restoration work had been carried out since its acquisition. We carried out the complete restoration of the musical-box mechanism. For the decorative elements, we handed over to the art restorers who restored and consolidated the enamelwork, restored various gold elements, and made new petals in engraved gold. The agate was also replaced.
MK: I just finished restoration of an ultra-complicated pocket watch, known as “La Merveilleuse”. It is signed by Ami Le Coultre and dates from 1875. First of all I inspected the mechanisms to determine their condition. I then took apart the entire movement, checking for any defective or broken parts. Once I’d disassembled the movement, I repaired damaged or rusty components, and made replacements for missing parts. For this, I referred to the relevant archive documents and respected the original parts’ geometry. The entire movement was cleaned. Reassembled and adjusted, “La Merveilleuse” is now back on display at the museum.

"La Merveilleuse" ultra-complicated pocket watch, signed Ami Le Coultre, 1875, Le Brassus/Suisse – Dial © Musée international d’horlogerie, La Chaux-de-Fonds
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