10th April 2012
David Sokosh: Brooklyn’s vintage watchmaker
By Nigel Brown

In the heart of New York in the secluded Brooklyn flea market David Sokosh crafts handmade timepieces. But these watches aren’t like other watches. Instead of new mechanical parts, Sokosh restores vintage pocket watch movements – the internal mechanism of a clock or watch, to power each individual piece, as well as expertly sourcing all individual cases, dials, and parts.

Brooklyn watches propel mechanics to the forefront of watchmaking, as opposed to just look and design, he embraces the craftsmanship of former watchmakers, producing a wrist watch that celebrates the functionality and beauty of a forgotten age.

A devotion to time

Each watch doesn’t need a battery, all you need to do to keep them running is simply wind them each day. Sokosh has deliberately focused on the beauty of mechanical parts, particularly in this modern world of ever-changing technology and digital focus. Sokosh says, “with digital things, everything happens invisibly. The owner of a mechanical clock or watch can see how it works. Clocks still tell time 100 or 200 years after they were built. That is incredible in a digital age where things can be out of date in a year and unusable in five.”

I’m standing there, as the guy who made the watch, talking to people. I think a lot of people really respond to that

While you would think these hand-crafted vintage timepieces are worth thousands of pounds you will be pleasantly surprised to learn the average price is between $500 and $800 – this for a watch that not only exudes a classic elegance but accurately merges restored vintage parts and new modern movements.

Sokosh has devoted his life to the world of horology, beginning as an apprentice and eventually becoming a master of his craft. He told Worn & Wound, “I apprenticed with a clock maker when I was about 20.  I worked with him for a couple of years in Connecticut, and then went back to school for photography.  Then I came to New York and worked in the photo industry for a long time, and always did clock repair and restoration for myself and for other people as favours.

“I ended up owning an art gallery in Dumbo, which was three years old in the Fall of 2007 when the economy just collapsed. At Christmas time, which was always the best time of year, people just didn’t buy anything. I realised then that the writing was on the wall. I’m glad I did because my real desire was to stay and hold on, but I never would have been able to.

“So I closed that gallery in February of 2008, and the Brooklyn Flea Market started in April in Fort Greene. I started selling and restoring clocks, and people started asking right away about watches, which I had no experience with at that time. So I sought out this guy [Steven D. Richardson] who has his own watch company [and non-profit watch school] here in Brooklyn, and learned from him the techniques of working with watches. The mechanics and the technology that makes them run is very similar to the way mantle clocks work, but the way you work with watches is different because everything is so small.”

Working with vintage pocket watches

Sokosh has always been drawn to working with the larger movements from pocket watches ever since his apprenticeship. His love of all things vintage and his quest to rescue something from an old clock have spurred Sokosh on to create a personalised timepiece like no other. “It’s a really great movement to work with when you’re learning. They’re kind of big.  I think that lots of people learn on them. The thing that makes my watch line go is that while Unitas no longer exists, ETA continues to make the movements, so there are people still out there making dials and cases and hands to fit them.

Clocks still tell time 100 or 200 years after they were built. That is incredible in a digital age where things can be out of date in a year and unusable in five

“I started buying vintage pocket watches because they were cheaper than the new movements. I kept buying them because I think they look better, which is important because all of my cases have display backs. They’re also available in a bunch of different finishes, colours and combinations.

“Every once in a while I use a new movement. There are skeleton movements, movements that are cut so that you can see through them, and I really love them. I bought one and put it in a watch.  They’re a lot more expensive, and I remember thinking ‘Oh, I’ve really gone out on this horrible limb. I’ve invested hundreds of dollars into this watch. It’s priced at $795. No one is going to buy it.’ I sold it in two hours, to some guy who I never saw before. He came along and was like, “wow, that’s great!”

Sokosh is a one-off in the modern world, let alone the watch world. Developing and producing one-off timepieces the watchmaker produces on average just three watches a week, something he keeps as central to his business and why he is keen not to try and expand too quickly. “I really feel like it’s a big selling point that I’m standing there, as the guy who made the watch, talking to people. I think a lot of people really respond to that. I know a lot of people do because they tell me so.”

If you are in New York in the near future, there is simply no excuse not to find the time to visit Brooklyn watches.

Watch this beautiful film on David Sokosh from Made in Brooklyn:

For more information go to www.brooklynwatches.com.

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