Gabriel Alfonso Gamez Zuñiga is Mazatlán’s resident clock whisperer, an incredibly talented, personable guy who is the last of a dying breed—the keeper of knowledge and skill that is nearing extinction.
People from throughout the municipio and surrounding communities ask Gabriel to work his magic on their timepieces. He does so with everything from the most expensive, bejeweled wristwatches— Chopard, Piaget, Rolex—to the brass mechanisms of antique wooden clocks and high-tech GPS-enabled dive watches. He also sells clocks and watches on commission. Click on any photo to enlarge or view a slideshow.
The son of clockmaker Alfonso Gamez, who learned his craft via a correspondence course with Swiss-based Vaucher, went on to train five different apprentices over a 60-plus year career, and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as Mexico’s best clockmaker, Gabriel grew up sweeping floors amidst the hairspring levers, count wheel trains, chiming movements and recoil escapements on his father’s workbench. He tells me he loves challenges in his work, “the more difficult the better.” He approaches his craft as problem solving: “it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.” What he hates is boredom.
Gabriel is the last of his father’s apprentices still in business; he has been repairing clocks and watches for over fifty years—the longest in Mazatlán. Most of those decades he worked just up the street from his current location on the corner of Canizales and Rosales downtown. During that time he has seen clocks trend from the mechanical to electrical, quartz, chronographic, digital and back again. “Life is circular; everything old becomes new again. Now is the perfect time for my skills, because the old is in fashion again,” he tells me.
Gabriel is so humble that he refuses to call himself a relojero or clockmaker, but says he “only repairs” watches and clocks. Everyone else raves about how gifted he is. On any given day he also repairs lights, computerized car keys; you name it, Gabriel fixes pretty much whatever his beloved customers bring in. His shop is constantly bustling: several people at the counter, cars pulling up to drop off or pick up merchandise. When Gabriel needs time to focus on a project, he has to roll down the doors of his shop and refuse to answer the knocks or the phone. When he tries to take a day off people come to his home for assistance!
The demand for his skills is obvious. We live in an age that is hyper-vigilant of time—it blinks on our cell phones, dashboards, microwaves, computers and televisions. Over a billion watches are sold each year—we have more need than ever for clock makers and repairers. Despite that fact, Gabriel tells me young people just aren’t interested in learning his trade, and only a handful of clock repairers remain in Mazatlán; their “heyday” was in the 60s and 70s when there were dozens of shops in town. Gabriel is very social, so in addition to the steady flow of customers through his shop, there are usually at least one or two people just visiting.
Sprawled across Gabriel’s workbench are hundreds of movements, wheels, rods, and springs, yet our clock whisperer knows exactly what parts he has where. He buys his parts from the Central de Funitura, the clock market in Guadalajara. He has a magnet attached to the end of a pole to help him find and pick up any small, dropped parts, and another magnet in his pocket to capture pieces he might put there.
Relojes Gámez is open Monday through Friday Clock 9:30am to 1:30pm and 4:00-7:00pm, and on Saturdays 9:30am to 1:00pm, on the corner of Canizales and Rosales, telephone 985-5620.
Talented and dedicated tradespeople are one of the joys of living in Mazatlán. Here we are fortunate to be able to have shoes, pots and pans, electronics or clocks repaired expertly and at a reasonable price. Every year, however, it becomes more difficult to find these quality-driven artisans; the world has changed, and people no longer want to spend years apprenticing to learn a trade. It makes me all the more grateful to know Gabriel and endorse his work, as he has helped us with more than a few watches. If you know anyone seeking a much-needed and rewarding trade, I’d urge them to contact Gabriel!
Dianne, I had just been thinking about my two lovely watches that need cleaning and batteries, thank you so much!
You are very welcome. I’m sure you’ll enjoy meeting him and visiting his shop.
A dying breed-unfortunately like so many craftspeople. Good article- glad I finally read it. 🙂
Just like the family farmers and “everything whisperers” that you and Jim are!
I love this, it’s written and photographed with a similar level of meticulousness to that which Gabriel puts into working on the timepieces.
Oh what a marvelously kind comment, Richard! You’ve made my morning! Gaby is truly a gift to our city and a terrific human being.
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I really enjoyed reading your article, thanks for taking the time. I will bring a couple of timepieces to Mr. Gámez this week.
Please give him and his family my best regards!