Veterans: Watchmaker, watchmaker

Suzannah Kaufman breaks the mold of the antiquated watchmaker with her cheery disposition and passion.

Suzannah Kaufman 521 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Suzannah Kaufman 521
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
In her tiny shop, surrounded by antique clocks, Suzannah Kaufman radiates happiness and contentment. She has traveled a long road to reach this point in her life – from Denmark, which she left exactly 20 years ago, to her own watch and clock repair shop in Lev Hapark, Ra’anana where customers who don’t know her frequently come in and ask to see the watchmaker.
“Nowadays people know me and bring me their treasures for repair, but when I started working in Tel Aviv at the beginning, no one believed I was a capable of doing the intricate work needed to repair watches and clocks and invariably asked to see the repair man,” she says. “I suppose at 31, which I was when I started, I didn’t look the part.”
So if your idea of a watch and clock repair expert is of a grizzled old man, bent over a work desk with a magnifying loupe in one eye, Kaufman is here to break the stereotype. A young-looking 51-year-old with a mass of curly brown hair and a huge grin, she has firmly established herself and her shop, and people come from all over the country to bring her their mechanical timepieces, often family heirlooms, to be restored to perfect working order.
She was born in Copenhagen to parents who had lived through the war years though had not experienced the Holocaust themselves. Her father had been in pre-state Israel and her mother had been rescued with the rest of Danish Jewry on the boats to Sweden. They met and married after the war, having lost their own parents in the Holocaust.
“That was one of the reasons I would never marry a non-Jew,” says Kaufman now. “I had a boyfriend for several years but because of my parents I swore I would never marry out; it was hard, but eventually I gave him up.”
She had always liked doing mechanical things – she remembers taking apart her alarm clock as a child – and when it was time to go to university she chose to study chemistry – and watch-making. To get accepted for this, which in Denmark is treated as a university subject, she needed a distinction in mathematics and found herself studying the subject for two years in a class with 18 boys and one other girl.
BEFORE OFFICIALLY making aliya, Kaufman visited Israel as a tourist and got a job working for a big watch company in Medina Square in Tel Aviv to gain some watchmaking experience in Israel. Later she went to ulpan on a kibbutz for a while, where she laughs that she learned a lot of English. Eventually she settled in Tel Aviv where she worked for eight years, finally opening her own place on Ibn Gvirol Street.
“I rented a small room in a handbag shop and began to advertise my services,” she says. “I went around to all the big companies explaining that I was a fully qualified watch mender and gradually I built up the business in which I also began to sell new watches, especially Swatches, which were very fashionable then.”
She rented a storeroom above a flower shop in Ra’anana to keep all her equipment and supplies and eventually it became the shop she uses today.
“I moved to Ra’anana 12 years ago and many of my customers moved with me,” she says. It did not take her long to establish her reputation as a watchmaker who can fix just about anything, and the small shop, full of antique grandfather and other clocks awaiting repair, is always full of people coming and going.
Over the course of the last 20 years she also managed to marry and divorce two years later and bring a son into the world in between. Her son, now 16, will definitely not be following in his mother’s footsteps.
“I don’t know if there’s a future in this,” she says thoughtfully. “When I started here 20 years ago, everyone said that mechanical clocks were finished and everything will work on batteries. It’s true but there’s now a lot of nostalgia for the past. People bring me clocks that belonged to their grandparents and they really want to have them working in their homes and not just as a decoration.”
Once a year she travels back to Denmark and buys old clocks in the markets there, which more often than not no longer work. She brings them back, repairs them and finds there is quite a demand for these lovely old wooden clocks, often with attractive inlay that she takes to be professionally restored.
Twice a week she manages to go swimming and finds it very therapeutic for her back, which otherwise would cause problems as much of her workday is spent seated at a workbench and taking apart the minuscule components of the old watches and clocks that come to her for repair.
She is not worried that the work will run out just yet. In spite of modern advances in timekeeping there seems to be an endless demand for maintaining the old timepieces.
“People seem to like winding up these family heirlooms,” she says. “It’s a connection to the past. People bring me what others have given up, and very often I’m their last hope.”