Similar to the antique and estate watches they work on, watchmaking is a vocation handed down from generation to generation for the Knight family. Michael Knight, owner of Knight Watch & Jewelry Co., works alongside his daughter Ecko and his father and family business founder Walter.
In business since 1951, now three generations of Colorado Springs-based watchmakers have lived through many milestone and historic moments in watchmaking history. From placing watches in pockets to wearing them on wrists, to the advent of quartz movements and the mechanical watch renaissance of the mid-1980s, the Knight family has seen it all.
But what many consider the near-death of watches with the dawn of cell phone technology has been the most curious and ultimately most momentous for the watchmaking family. Like the ticking stopwatch hand on a chronograph sub-dial, the Knight family ponders how watches have come full circle after what many thought was the grinding demise of time-honored timepieces.
Michael chuckles that cell phones in pockets were partly responsible for the antique, estate and even the traditionally styled new watch revival that got its start around 2009, and has been getting stronger each year. Back then, Michael was afraid for the family business his father started after graduating top of his class in watchmaking at the American Academy of Horology (now called the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute) after World War II.
In 1958, Michael started working in the family business. He repaired his first watch at 11 and never looked back. Michael learned first-hand from his father’s old school of watchmaking, but he also attended many seminars hosted by watchmakers of Switzerland, educational opportunities Michael attended starting at 11 up until he starting serving his country.
Like father, like son, Michael opted for military service and joined the Navy in 1968. As a watchmaker, he worked on just about every precision instrument onboard, from ship clocks to the Rolex watches worn by officers. (In 1987, Michael attended the New York City-based Rolex service school. He successfully completed the watchmaker’s coursework.) From the first formative lessons taught to him by his father to present day, Michael is at his best when working on gears, no matter the size or torque.
“Whether it’s watches or cars, if it has gears - large or small - I work on it,” says Michael.
Michael’s father built the family business repairing and restoring pocket watches and clocks. When the father and son became a dynamic duo of watchmaking and clock repair, they expanded the business accruing a large number of wholesale accounts. As Michael’s skills advanced and he became more involved in managing day-to-day operations, his father’s traditional business model started to change with the times.
Repairing clocks was no longer profitable given the store’s range of services. And, to make the wholesale accounts profitable Michael and his father had to bring on more of them. The constant pickups and drop-offs and never knowing the actual customer being serviced, no longer appealed to Michael who craved the face-to-face interactions with the actual watch owners.
In 1976, Walter retired at 52 and sold the family business to Michael. Michael phased out all wholesale accounts, and stopped clock repairs to focus exclusively on high-end watch repairs.
When Walter returned from a three-year hiatus he gave Michael the nod of approval, knowing this was the way the family business he began decades earlier had to go. “He was happy with the changes,” says Michael. He took up his old seat at his bench and at 94 still works on pet projects part time.
In 1970, the first quartz watch was exhibited at the then Basel Fair. This sent seismic waves through the Swiss watchmaking industry. As if that change wasn’t massive enough, burgeoning malls turned downtowns into ghost towns.
“From 1976 to the 1980s, it was a tough time for us being in the downtown area,” says Michael. “But we stuck it out. We’ve moved three times since the store founding and stayed within a six-block radius of the first location.”
Michael’s daughter Ecko joined the family business in 1988. “I remember catching the bus downtown to help dad and grandpa,” says Ecko. “Even in high school this seemed the most logical and sensible next step. That was 30 years ago.”
Ecko started out with watchmaking baby steps, replacing batteries and then water-resistant gaskets on watches. Similar to wise diplomats, Ecko and Michael made friends with quartz watches and quartz movements. These movements ultimately became Ecko’s specialty, ultimately bringing about a clear division of duties in the family business.
“As my skills with watchmaking and watch repair basics improved over the years, and I became more proficient with working with quartz movements, we decided that my father would concentrate on high-end antique and estate watches while I performed essential watch repairs,” says Ecko.
With that decision EckoCo was born, a separate company within Knight Watch & Jewelry Co. As quartz movements became more sophisticated, watchmakers began producing mid-to-high end quartz-movement watches. That’s Ecko’s specialty.
“The industry has moved away from inexpensive throw-away quartz watches to more stylistic, valued time pieces,” says Ecko. “This is the TAG Heuer watches and the like, which are quite popular with today’s young professionals.”
Ecko’s other specialty is quartz conversions, removing the guts of old mechanical watches and replacing them with higher end quartz movements. Michael continues to work on his high-end watches from Rolex to Patek Philippe, restoring just about any antique or estate watches that come their way, and having some fun converting pocket watches to wristwatches, and other creative watchmaking endeavors.
“Millennials appreciate Old World craftsmanship,” says Ecko. “But they also like the cache of an expensive name brand watch. That’s why both portions of the family business are prospering.”
You may contact the Knights at www.knightwatchonline.com.