Delicate and rare clocks from all over the nation needing surgery come to Lubbock’s Clock Doc

The Clock Doc in Lubbock, Texas - John Paul Batrice

John Paul Batrice, the Clock Doc.

John Paul Batrice came to Lubbock from Nazareth, Israel to become a doctor.

Batrice was young and so was the medical school at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

“Didn’t get to do that because at that time they were not taking foreigners into medical school – not because of not discrimination or anything. But they were always worried. You finish school and you go back where you come from. So, what they invested in you is gone,” Batrice said.

But time has a way of changing things. He ended up as a horologist – a clock doctor. That’s his nickname; The Clock Doc.

Some of the most delicate and rare clocks from all over the nation come to Lubbock for repair. The number of horologists in America has dissipated over time, so the ones who do this work are in demand with schedules backed up for months.

These timepieces now serve a different function. They’re getting rarer and that means they’re an investment – getting more valuable as time goes on.

Nicholas Manousos, executive director of the Horological Society of New York, said, “Watches can show off a little bit of your sense of style. They’re a luxury item.”

The Clock Doc in Lubbock, Texas - John Paul Batrice
John Paul Batrice opens a clock in his shop.

The escape wheel

“This is mine,” Batrice said of one of the clocks in his shop at 3534 34th Street. “I found it in one of the excursions I have.”

Someone had given up on it.

He opened the front cover – adorned with a glass window atop and an image of the historic Merchant Exchange in Philadelphia at the bottom.

A faded, flaking, time-worn paper on the inside backing of the wooden clock kept marking the passage of time even if the clock itself had not.

“Directions for regulating … ,” the paper said in part. Bits and phrases remained legible while the rest was lost over decades gone by.

“If the paper was complete – you know the back … it would be worth as much as the clock itself,” Batrice said.

Metal weights slowly drop to power the American-made clock. There was only one metal gear, Batrice said. It was the escape wheel – the gear that rhythmically locks and releases over and over to mark the march of time. It moves all the other parts.

Inside the Clock Doc shop in Lubbock, Texas
The paper instructions inside a clock.

Clocks have stories – so do people

One of the Clock Doc’s customers had quite a tale. She was just a girl when she, her father and grandfather moved across the plains in a wagon.

“She better sit in the wagon and the clock in her lap. I mean, if she gets banged up, that’s all right. But the clock!” he said.

Another customer wanted her clock fixed but to leave the cracked glass on the front of it, he said.

“She didn’t want it fixed because it was her roughing it with her brothers and somebody threw something at her and cracked the glass. Their dad was very mad and all this stuff. And that was a special occasion.”

“This is very old,” Batrice said of one clock in the front of his store. “Late 1700s.”

“The movement was made in Germany, but the clock itself was made here,” Batrice said.

Movement – The term movement refers to the entire set of gears, plates, levers, and so forth. You could also call the movement the mechanical “guts” of the clock.  Source: National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors

His personal journey

“I’m a Christian Arab. My family have been Christians, but we are Arabs. And, yeah, grew up, went to school in Nazareth,” he said.

Before coming to Lubbock, he taught math to high school students in Nazareth – the hometown he shared with Jesus.

When he couldn’t get into medical school here, he and his brother went to Europe. His brother got in. He didn’t.

So instead, he studied horology in Germany and Australia.

“Over there, a degree in horology is as important as in medicine. They really value horology because they sure have lots of very upscale rare clocks and they value them,” he said.

Coming back to Lubbock in the early 1970s, fixing watches was just a hobby – not his job.

“I owned the Johnson House motel on 48th and Avenue Q,” he said.

His dad fixed watches as a hobby as did his brother. And at first, Batrice would meddle with watches as a hobby.

“Some people tried my work and were impressed. And they spread the word,” Batrice said.

“I get clocks from all over the United States now,” Batrice said.

Inside the Clock Doc shop in Lubbock, Texas
Parts fill the room from floor to ceiling.

Up to the rafters in parts

There’s a back room in the shop. When Batrice opens the door, you look up to see parts, gears and motors from the floor to the ceiling. Some of the spare parts are hung from the ceiling. The room is packed.

“Everything you see here is parts … You might not need one in six months and then you need one that’s so essential,” he said.

When Batrice opened a shop (originally on Slide Road) he began collecting hard-to-find parts.

“At that time the youngest clock or watchmaker was about 70 years old. They were retiring or passing away,” Batrice said.

“I got to acquire some parts and things that they had. … Because there are not many clock makers, that means there are no suppliers,” Batrice said. His collection is his supply.

That means he and the few people like him can charge whatever price they want.

“There is not a clock I cannot fix. If a customer is willing to pay, I can fix anything,” he said. And sometimes they do. In one case battery acid tore up the inside of a watch.

“I can fix it, but it’s gonna cost me 10 times what the watch was worth,” Batrice said. But if it came from someone’s dad or grandpa, the money is not as important as the emotion.

Dying profession? Nope

Manousos said a century ago, clockmakers or watchmakers were as numerous and handy as auto mechanics are today.

“Some people have very fancy, very nice cars, but most people just have average cars that get you from point A to point B. And 100 years ago, a mechanical watch was kind of a similar thing,” Manousos said.

“These days, there’s about 2,000 watchmakers working in the U.S. as per the U.S. Department of Labor. The trend is that there are less watchmakers graduating school,” Manousos said.

The New York Horological Society would like to reverse the trend. So would the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute and its office manager James Sprague.

Sprague said, “I field phone calls and emails daily.”

“Folks … are in search of a watchmaker or a clock maker who can repair their family heirloom timepiece,” Sprague said. A typical watchmaker is booked three or four months in advance.

Batrice is booked six months out.

“They are swamped with work,” Sprague said. “It is a fine skill, and these folks are talented.”

“This is despite smartwatches, Apple watches, being able to look at your cell phone and find the time just like that,” Sprague said.

  • The Clock Doc in Lubbock, Texas - John Paul Batrice

Slideshow:  various views of the Clock Doc shop in Lubbock 

Not stopping any time soon

Batrice is 76 years old – but he’ll gladly tell you he’s only 39.

“Since I sleep at night, I don’t count that,” he said, joking.

“I don’t know what I’ll do with myself. I’m serious. I mean it. I’m not the kind that can’t get up – and do nothing all day – and all this stuff,” Batrice said. “And besides, I had many friends that retired because of a retirement date and their health went all to heck.”

“Lubbock is very good. It’s been good to me. The people are great.”

He was previously invited to go to Santa Barbara. But he’s happy here.

“It’s not, ‘Oh, yeah. Let’s put up with it.’ No, we like it very much.”

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Author: James Clark- James Clark is the associate editor of Lubbock Lights. He worked in radio, television and digital media for a combined total of more than 30 years. He was Director of Digital News Content at KAMC, KLBK and for nearly 10 years.