Tinkering with time: 94-year-old still fixing watches

PUBLISHED: Aug. 28, 2017

BY: Shannon Hall, Courier & Press reporter

BOONVILLE — Ralph Hutchinson has been blessed with time.

Time to spend with with his family. Time free of war. And time to work on watches.

Ralph celebrated his 94th birthday Sunday, but just because he’s been given time doesn’t mean he takes it for granted.

If Boonville’s Hutchinson Jewelers is open, people can usually find Ralph working behind the counter on a stool, hovering over tiny mechanical pieces, working away with a magnifying piece attached to his glasses.

Ralph continues to work at the store he opened in 1955.

“My dad used to play with clocks a little bit,” he said. “When I was a kid, I used to get old clock motors and make tractors out of them to play with.”

The Lynnville native hasn’t always stayed in Warrick County.

He left to serve in World War II in 1945 when he was 22. He came back and went to school in Kansas City to learn to repair watches.

Ralph returned to the Tri-State after he finished his training to work at local jewelry store, only to be shipped to Korea in 1949.

“I got back, thank God,” Ralph said. “I was a little bit worried because two times — you never know — but I got by two times.”

He returned to his job for a few years before opening his shop on the Boonville square.

Ralph’s office space — about the size of a galley kitchen — is filled with boxes and bags full with watches.

Part of the overflow of watches is because of his reputation with the devices. Another reason is he’s one of a few who can work on watches, and other local jewelers recommend him to their customers.

“I enjoy doing it,” Ralph said. “It’s a good easy job. You’re not out in the cold. … I’ve worked on so many types of watches.”

During his time working, he’s seen watches made out of wood, some appraised at $20,000, and some simple wrist watches that just needed a new battery.

He specializes with watches while his son, Roger Hutchinson, works on jewelry.

Roger Hutchinson now owns the jewelry store and has no plans to retire right now.

“I can’t retire until he retires,” said Roger, 68, with a laugh. “I mean … I can’t retire before my father.”

Ralph often tells people that if he’s not working, then he can’t eat.

“Oh I keep busy,” he said.

 It varies how long it takes Ralph to fix a watch. Putting a set of new hands on a watch can be simple. Some repairs take an entire day.

One thing that sets Ralph’s store off from others is that it’s a mom-and-pop operation. Ralph and his wife Marion opened the store together. And of course Roger now works there, as well as his wife, Judy.

Earlier this month, Ralph fixed a man’s watch for free. It was a simple work, Ralph said.

“We do that for some of the simple things like polishing jewelry,” he said.

But sometimes a watch doesn’t always have a simple fix. Despite technology moving forward, mechanical watches are still popular.

Not all watch parts are still in production, so Ralph spends a lot of time making pieces out of other retired watches. But even after working for decades and serving in two wars, he doesn’t think it’s all that extraordinary he’s still working.

Ralph said he plans to retire only when he has to — when they carry him out the door feet first.

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