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Woman With Time On Her Hands

Susanna Kaufmann ... one of the few master watchmakers in Israel

 Timing is everything, they say, and that literally holds true for Susanna Kaufmann, one of the few remaining master watchmakers in the country.

Danish-born Susanna studied to be a dental technician in her native Denmark. The course also included optics and watchmaking. Impressed by her technical sense and dexterity, one of her teachers encouraged her to follow a new career path, one where fine motor coordination, mathematics, and patience are the tools of the trade.

"You could be the best watchmaker in the world!" he told her. With these motivating words in mind, Susanna went on to complete her university studies and a two-year apprenticeship, before opening up her own shop in Copenhagen at the age of 22.

Clients bringing their clocks for repair would be taken by surprise to see such a young girl behind the counter, often remarking, "Maybe your father should take a look at it." They were amazed when she answered, "My father is a dentist - I am the watchmaker."

Brought up in a Zionistic family that escaped from Nazi Germany to Denmark, Susanna visited Israel several times, including a stint as a volunteer on Kibbutz Sdot Yam. She dreamed of living in Israel and eventually came on aliyah in 1991.

Within just six weeks, she opened her own shop on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv, and thanks to some complimentary newspaper articles and word of mouth recommendations, she was in business and never looked back.

Susanna acknowledges, however, that watchmaking is a dying trade and it is rare to find professionals nowadays. The work requires fine motor coordination and use of fine machinery. She spends hours bent over her worktop, painstakingly crafting and producing the tiny gears and parts required to mend the worn movements that make the clock tick.

"Years ago, a boy would get his first watch as a present for his barmitzvah," she says. "Today, although there are, of course, very expensive time pieces on the market, a watch has become so common, digital and cheap that it is no longer considered a special gift."

There was a watch-making school in Jerusalem at one time, but that closed over thirty years ago. Would her 23-year-old son, Adir, ever consider following in her footsteps? "He is studying mathematics in Canada and will eventually do something totally different."

It is clear, however, that most people hate to part with family heirlooms, especially clocks. "They are beautiful and expensive and usually the craftsmanship is of high quality, which you do not come across today, and they have irreplaceable sentimental value."

She recalls opening up a wooden clock and finding a note inside dated 1919 that said, "Please take care of me because my owner really loved me but sadly had to sell me."

"Once, a client in Tel Aviv asked me to come to see if I could repair an old grandfather clock," Susanna recalls. "He offered me two smaller mantle clocks in lieu of payment. I agreed. When I opened up one of the clocks, I found a small leather pouch full of jewelry. There was a beautiful diamond ring, gold chains and pendants."

She decided she would go back to the client and test his reaction.

"As soon as he saw the pouch his eyes filled with tears. His wife had died eleven years before. He knew she kept her jewelry in a pouch somewhere safe but he could not find it and always suspected his daughter-in-law of taking it, causing a serious family rift for all those years.

Susanna's shop and upstairs workroom are now located in Lev HaPark in Raanana. Her clients come to her from Metulla to Eilat, either to purchase antique grandfather clocks or for repairs. She is always inundated with work, but that does not stop her from volunteering to help ESRA.

Over the past five years, every watch sold in the ESRA vintage shop in Kfar Saba has been checked by Susanna, and she always donates new batteries and ensures the watch is in working order before it is sold.

 

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Friday, 02 December 2022

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