Tucked away in a closet-sized workshop in the Financial District is the ultimate expert on the New York minute.
Al Maddox has been fixing and building watches in downtown Manhattan since 1949. Before the days of cellphones, horology was a common business as people needed their wristwatches to tell time. Today, however, Maddox is part of a dying breed.
“There used to be a lot of watch repairers, but there aren’t many of us left,” Maddox, who recently turned 90, explained in his shop. He added that his fellow repairmen either gave up the trade, retired or passed away. “I’m like the last of the Mohicans in this business.”
Maddox said his interest in watches hatched when he was a child and dissected his father’s timepieces for fun.
“It’s intricate, it’s interesting and you bring things to life,” he said.
World War II had just ended when Maddox graduated from a horology program at George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School in Downtown Brooklyn. His first job in the field was working with a jeweler who helped him refine his skills.
Maddox opened his first shop in 1949 on Fulton Street before moving to Nassau Street, where he stayed until that building was converted into condos in the early ’90s. He’s been on Park Row in the Financial District since.
Maddox’s workshop is covered in newspaper clippings, greeting cards and photos of city relics, such as the Twin Towers, and is filled with countless watch movements. Over the years, he’s worked on $7,000 Rolexes, Elgins and Walthams from the 1930s, limited-edition Bulovas and rare Patek Phillippes. The best watches to invest in today, according to his expertise, are by Bulova and the quartz line by Seiko.
Maddox has also accumulated so many parts that watch companies have reached out to him when in need.
“Bulova called me up, they needed a couple of parts, they couldn’t get them anywhere,” Maddox said, laughing. “I said, ‘How many parts do you need?’”
While he used to work on watches for individual clients, today Maddox does repairs for stores. He’s worked with big chains like Macy’s, but mostly services jewelry stores in the Financial District. In his spare time, he turns discarded watch parts into rings, cuff links and necklace pendants, which he sells to local jewelry retailers.
By 3:30 p.m. each work day, Maddox heads home to Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn, where he and his wife raised their three children.
So why not clock out for good? The answer is simple.
“I enjoy my work,” Maddox said. “I don’t want to retire.”