Ryan Fox is good with his hands.
In September, he opened Tick Tock Time Repair in Spokane Valley. But the path he took to launching his own watch and clock repair business wasn’t exactly a straight line.
Though homeschooled in junior high and high school, he joined the Destination Imagination Science Club at Central Valley High School where he discovered his mechanical aptitude. His team built a miniature roller coaster using mechanics and pneumatics. They won first place in the state competition in 1999.
Fox attended Spokane Falls Community College and studied American Sign Language, graduating from the Interpreter Training Program. “I liked using my hands and everything else other than spoken language to communicate,” he said. He accepted a job as an interpreter for the Central Valley School District.
But he wasn’t sure he’d made the right career choice. He decided to go back to school at Brigham Young University to study mechanical engineering. However, the coursework wasn’t a good fit for him. Fox pondered his next step. “I did a bit of looking inward,” he said. “I wanted to work for myself and I’m good at putting things back together, but I didn’t want to work on cars or airplanes.”
He became interested in watch and clock repair, a micro version of mechanical engineering. He knew from personal experience that there was a need for this kind of work. “My parents had a grandfather clock,” he said. “When it needed work it took nine months to get it back from a local repair shop.”
Fox applied to the Watch Technology Institute in Seattle. But first he had to pass a full day of interviews and exams to be accepted into the two-year program. Only 12 students are accepted each year.
“It was hands-on work most of the time,” Fox said. And he was in his element. “I’d struggled with my grades at BYU, but here I was at the top of my class. All those science, math and engineering classes helped.”
Learning how to make intricate watch parts fascinated him. He said, “The school wants to retain the traditional skills in the field even though you can usually order parts from the factory.”
By the end of his training, Fox successfully attained three watch certifications: Certified Watchmaker of the 21st Century, Swiss American Watchmakers Training Alliance and Watchmakers of Switzerland Training Educational Program. He said fewer than 3 percent of watchmakers in the United States have achieved all three certifications.
Before launching his own business, he worked for a local family-owned jewelry store, where he received more clock-repair training.
On a recent morning at Tick Tock Time Repair, mantle clocks softly chimed and cuckoo clocks chirped as Fox, clad in a white lab coat, showed off the workbench he’d designed complete with adjustable armrests to fit his long arms.
He said the parts-making skills he learned in school have come in handy. “It’s helped me get out of sticky situations while working on watches.”
He also sells a variety of unusual clocks and a selection of watches at the store.
Fox services watch brands from Armitron to Zenith and can repair mantel, wall and grandfather clocks whether they are mechanically powered, battery-operated or electric.
Mindful of the time it took his parent’s clock to be serviced, Fox offers house calls for grandfather clocks.
At 31, he knows he’s a young guy in a profession typically filled with aging men. “Returning World War II soldiers were the last big group to go into watchmaking,” he said. “But Rolex still makes a million mechanical watches a year. They need people to service them, so they are putting money into schools. I got Rolex scholarship.”
He said his customers are appreciative. “People say thank you. They’re happy to know someone is still around doing this.”
After experimenting with other hands-on careers, Fox feels he’s finally found the perfect fit. “The thing they drill into you at watchmaking school is patience, patience, patience,” he said. And as a cuckoo began chirping again, he smiled. “I’m a very patient person.”