ELGIN (AP) – Jim Lachapelle is a member of an exclusive club, one that has only 17 members in the United States.
To become one of the country’s few certified master clockmakers, you don’t need a secret handshake or a complicated code book, but you do need a specialized skill set: the ability to look at a broken 400-year-old clock, or some other equally rare timepiece, and have the knowledge and ability to restore it to its former glory.
Lachapelle has been developing those skills since he left college in 1977.
He says he always enjoyed working with his hands, and it wasn’t a big surprise when he decided to pursue an apprenticeship as a clockmaker. Once he got started, he found himself fascinated by the challenges that come with making new timepieces and fixing old ones.
“I like the idea of the history you are touching,” Lachapelle says. “There is a tremendous joy in working with those pieces.”
What he didn’t find were a lot of job opportunities. So after 5 years as an apprentice, he and a friend, Rodland Iverson, opened Elgin Clock Repair in 1981.
As a master clockmaker, he frequently finds himself working on family heirlooms, clocks that have been in the same family for four or five generations and that are hundreds of years old.
It’s not unusual, he says, for the owners of such clocks to become sentimental about them and willing to pay more to have them repaired than the pieces are worth.
He says his favorites come from the late 1800s, when many clocks were “beautifully engineered pieces – almost overly engineered.” A short time later, the majority of clocks would become much simpler, he says, to make them easier to mass produce.
He notes that often the cost to restore an heirloom piece goes far beyond the value of the clock, but the value usually lies in family memories for his customers.
Lachapelle and his business partner now have shops in Naperville, which is mainly a retail outlet, and South Elgin, where they do their work to repair timepieces.