"Uncle Albert's watches" are now a mainstay of Tim and Christine Smith's watch repair business in the Auckland suburb of Milford.

"Uncle Albert" is their name for someone's great-uncle or great-grandfather and his gold watch or antique clock has been passed down and each generation wants to keep it.

Watchmakers were once a fixture of every shopping centre. Horological Institute president Rowan Pilbrow, 32, says that when his father started as a watchmaker in Gisborne he was one of six in the city, but now there are none.

Mr Smith, 51, says numbers on the North Shore have halved in his time, as machine-made watches have become so cheap that they are not worth repairing.


"There's no question it's a dying trade, I guess, because of the throwaway society," he said. "But that said, a lot of our work will come in from people who have inherited watches, or bought watches overseas, and they love those things and they want them fixed."

The work he gets now is so varied that he can't believe a robot will ever do it.

"Sure, they produce watches in large factories, but repairing them is a different thing altogether - taking them apart, cleaning them, reassembling them, calibrating them. It's not going to happen, not in 20 years anyway."

In fact, he's so busy he's looking for someone to help in the shop so he can have time for repairs. He works 12-hour days and has just built a workshop at home where he hopes to get a clear day each week for repairs while another watchmaker works in the shop.