A dying trade
Retired Breeden still applying an expert hand to timepieces
ANYONE needing a wristwatch or grandfather clock repaired or serviced in Port Alfred may already be familiar with Settlers Park’s Gavin Breeden.
But he is no ordinary specialist in his field as through sheer determination, he has overcome a lifelong disability of not being able to walk properly.
Breeden was born and educated in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and was already mechanically-minded from a young age.
And so it was in 1969 that he left school and joined a local firm of watch and clock-makers and repairs.
“I liked mechanical things and watches and clocks were the easiest for me to do,” he said. He explained that in those days there was no apprenticeship available to him and he worked under a qualified clock-maker from Scotland for three years. He also read and studied as many books on the subject as he could to improve his knowledge.
Once he had gained sufficient experience, Breeden joined the then Rhodesian army as an instrument technician outside Bulawayo where he moved up to the rank of sergeant. During the five years he spent in the army he met a man who also repaired clocks and watches and was able to increase his experience in his favoured field.
While in Bulawayo, Breeden’s one responsibility was to attend to the town hall clock and to ensure that it was always on time. The reason for this was that the local buses relied on the clock’s accuracy to set out on their daily trips. “But one day I made a mistake and the buses went off earlier than they should have, which resulted in some confusion,” he said with a smile.
The most famous clock he once repaired was a marble one that had been presented to King George VI of England. Once Robert Mugabe had become president of Zimbabwe, Breeden resigned from the Rhodesian army and moved to Johannesburg, where he worked for a company that specialised in repairing and fitting all types of instruments. After 25 years, he “retired” to Port Alfred.
“I liked the town and always said this was where I wanted to be,” he said.
It also meant that he was again able to concentrate on watch and clock repairs and, as far as he is aware, is the only man in the area who is still prepared and qualified to undertake this. As a result, he repairs clocks and watches from far afield.
Breeden has seen big changes in his industry over the years as there are few people left who are prepared to undertake the mechanical work required on older pieces. He no longer has a lathe and what would have taken him 30 minutes to do now ends up in a two-day job to make parts by hand.
He has obviously worked on many different types of clocks and found the most workable ones were the old mechanical clocks used for pigeon racing.
The biggest change he has seen over the years is battery operated clocks and watches being introduced to the market. “And I don’t like them,” he concluded.
Breeden has lived in Settlers Park for eight years.
The most famous clock he once repaired was a marble one presented to King George VI of England
MECHANICAL MIND: Gavin Breeden with an old clock he is repairing