(ABC Radio Perth: Glynn Greensmith) ABC Radio Perth
By Gillian O’Shaughnessy
July 29, 2018 14:54:50
Guenter Best’s passion is for mechanical clocks, from grandfathers to pocket watches.
A master of his clock-making craft
The 79-year-old says he has no intention of retiring. He is one of the country’s few masters of clockmaking, a career he began in Germany when he was 15. (ABC Radio Perth: Glynn Greensmith)
“I was born in 1939 and my dad never came back from the war,” Mr Best told ABC Radio Perth’s Gillian O’Shaughnessy.”My dad was a teacher, and tradition determined I should be a teacher, and I decided no.”A friend of my dad had a jeweller’s and watch-making shop and he took me on and I learned to be a jeweller and then a watch maker.”I finished my apprenticeship and then I enrolled in a school for watch making masters and I got my master’s degree.” The German-born master craftsman moved to Australia in 1970 and has taken his skills to clocktowers across the city, as well as restoring grand heirloom grandfather clocks and intricate fob watches. In a small home workshop in Perth’s eastern suburbs, 79-year-old Guenter Best is keeping the craft of watch and clock making alive.
“I said, ‘No way, my dad never came back from the war’, and I went to Switzerland.”Climbing clocktowersIn Switzerland he worked for watch makers including Rolex and travelled all over Europe, climbing tall, steep clocktowers to repair the mechanisms behind the faces.”Mostly we had to make new bearings because the weights on those old clocks are very heavy and the wheels wear out,” Mr Best said. (ABC Radio Perth: Glynn Greensmith)
Mr Best and teaching colleague Nino Sardi take students through all aspects of clock and watch repair, including battery-operated quartz watches, but his passion is for mechanical clocks, from large grandfather clocks to intricate pocket watches. “There is fine engineering in our trade. “Those bearings were brass and you need big lathes to do it, and then to put the bearing in those plates, you needed a hammer. “It is a traditional turned clock,” Mr Best said.”Those clocks are all over the world in churches and important buildings; this clock is a very good replica of Big Ben.”
Mr Best has worked on the London Court clock. “Anything mechanical I like,” Mr Best said.”They are heirlooms, something special you get for your wife, inherit from your grandfather or father, and they need service. “You have to polish the pivots on the wheels and then make new bearings. “It was really a skill which you learned on big clocks and later on I was able to do it for little clocks.”
The lathe is one of the tools of the trade. You see the wheels turning, you see the balance regulating the time.”‘Just like Big Ben’His latest project is a $10,000 restoration of the clock in the tower of Guildford’s old post office building.His students are also involved and the work is expected to take until the end of the year. The first group of five graduated in 2015 — four are now working in the industry — and it now has 36 students. “I decided to start a school on my own.”He started by teaching at TAFE and in 2011 the MCAWA began offering its own three-year training program. (ABC Radio Perth: Glynn Greensmith)
When he emigrated Down Under, Mr Best was offered a number of jobs but decided he would only work from home and set up his workshop. He still cycles daily to keep fit enough to climb clocktowers and he loves teaching.”I like to make sure that our trades go to the next generations.” When Mr Best was called up to do military service that was compulsory for young men in West Germany, he made his next move. Photo:
He has been a watchmaker since he was 15. “When I arrived here I was a shy young bachelor and Perth was good to me.”As well as repairing clocks and watches, he became very involved with the Master Clock and Watch Makers of Western Australia (MCAWA) and was determined to pass on his skills to a younger generation.A school for new masters”When I arrived in 1970 I had worked for Rolex and I had done my master’s degree in Germany and there was nothing here in Perth. (ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne)
Despite his age, Mr Best said he had no plans to retire but might consider it in 20 years. “Pieces like that, they are beautiful to work on.