Timing is everything for Florida watch business
The Miami Herald - November 26, 2007
By Jo Werne - Special to The Miami Herald
Patrick Puton, founder of Excel Time Service, gazes through a watch repair apparatus his mother once owned.
Patrick Puton was born in Switzerland, the land of watchmaking. His mother was a watchmaker. His father became president of Rolex® in the United States.
And now he is founder and president of Excel Time Service, a year-old company in Coral Gables that repairs mechanical, and quartz watches. All his highly skilled watchmakers are Cuban, including master watchmaker Federico Rodriguez, who at age 63 has 45 years of watch repair on his resume.
The young company specializes in repairing Rolexes, but it also repairs watches by Cartier, Omega, Longines, Rado, and Hamilton, along with many other brands, including Cuervo y Sobrinos, a Cuban watchmaker.
'We still get them to repair from time to time,' says Lazaro Medina, technical director of Excel, while showing a vintage Cuervo pocket watch.
Jim Lubic, executive director of the trade group American Watchmakers & Clockmakers Institute in Harrison, Ohio, says buying luxury watches has been popular for 20 years, with sales of luxury brands jumping 16 percent in the past year alone.
For owners of expensive watches, maintenance is important. 'Just because you own a Mercedes Benz doesn't mean it doesn't need service,' Lubic says. 'A watch or a clock needs a certain amount of service.'
That's where Puton's business comes in Puton, 46, opened in the Alhambra Tower in September 2006, after nearly a year of assembling the unique work space that watchmakers require. His nearly 2,000-square-foot space on the 12th floor faces north.
'Northern light is important for a watchmaker,' he explains. 'And it's not so hot.'
Puton's workbenches, made locally, are modeled after the traditional watchmaker's bench in Switzerland, with indented arm rests that help keep the watchmaker's hands steady.
The watchmakers' studio is silent -- no music, no chatter. Each craftsman is totally, intensely focused on his or her task. A watch may have 220 moving parts, and some are so tiny they cannot be picked up by hand. A variety of instruments allows the watchmaker to pluck a tiny part and place it in the watch. The goal is to repair the watch and put it back together without having any leftover pieces on the bench.
'It's like micro surgery,' Puton says.
But before the watch is taken apart and the repair begins, it is hooked up to a computer that evaluates the timepiece. Is it running too fast or too slow? The machine can detect this. Is the quartz battery dead? The machine will indicate that. After the watch is repaired, it once again is connected to the small computer. The goal is to match the factory parameters -- that is, make it as good as new.
'It requires good concentration, good eye/hand coordination, and a background in math,' Lubic says.
This is a job that cannot be rushed. It might take three or more hours to repair a watch. Despite the extensive labor required, Excel is able to repair about 80 watches a week. The average repair bill is $250, varying according to the complexity of the problem.
'Some people are surprised at the cost, but if you average it out over the years, it's not that much,' says Puton, adding that Rolexes, for example, should be overhauled every six years.
After the repair, Jose Escalante polishes the watch's case (the covering of the timepiece) and bracelet. There may be seven to 12 pieces per case. Some case parts may be shiny; others may have a matte finish. The same goes with the bracelet. And there are usually scratches to be removed. After Escalante has completed the polishing, using different machinery, the watch has a factory finish.
Excel's customers include jewelers who send watches for repair and individuals who walk in or mail in their watches.
Puton expects revenue will reach $450,000 by the end of this year, and he plans to expand his space. He wants to add more watchmakers to his staff and perhaps, sometime in the future, to franchise Excel.
For more than 20 years, Puton has specialized in watches. He served as a senior executive at Rolex® Watch USA, where he oversaw three after-sales service facilities employing a staff of 200. He was a project manager for Rolex® of Canada, where he led a $6 million design and construction of that organization's new corporate headquarters in Toronto.
Before opening Excel Time Service, Puton served as a management consultant and later senior executive to the luxury group LVMH (Louis-Vuitton-Moet Hennessey).
But Puton never studied watchmaking.
'I did take a watch apart one time,' he admits.
He didn't say whether he put it back together again.
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