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The hands of time

By Thomas Curwen

Dean Armentrout’s problem clocks keep him awake at night. Some run fast. Some run slow, and some don’t run at all. Repairs often mean cleaning and oiling the mechanism; balky escapements, missing parts and hidden friction points are trickier.

Each day, walking into his shop in Laguna Beach, Armentrout sees his workbench cluttered with tools and the pieces of jobs he hasn’t finished or figured out. In his hands, a clock is not so much an instrument for measuring time as a puzzle to be solved.

Surrounding him are nearly 50 of his favorite puzzles. Half belong to his customers, and the rest are his, each a reminder of what’s at stake with every repair.

“A clock that doesn’t run is a clock that will be thrown out,” he says.

He picks up a 19th century French clock that’s been giving him trouble. Its lavish setting on a nearby table features the gilded figures of Cupid and Psyche playfully jostling over a garland as if time were incidental to the pleasures of life.

Its owners, Rich and Karin Schag, bought it in 1968 while on vacation in Copenhagen. They’d just begun collecting clocks and saw it in the window of a jewelry store. When they got it home, they set it up on the sideboard in their dining room.

Today the Schags have nearly 100 clocks, but when this one stopped running in January, the silence of its chime was conspicuous, Karin said.

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