Saigon watchman keeps pace with the times

After 40 years, one of the most senior horologists in Ho Chi Minh City knows what makes life tick. 

Giang Ty, 65, is a Sino-Vietnamese residing in Ho Chi Minh City. After 40 years, he is one of the most senior horologist in town. Unsure exactly when and how he entered the trade, Ty operates a mobile "shop" in Saigon’s District 6.

"I was short, and thought I could not learn trades requiring strength like in construction or carpentry. Since you can sit in one spot fixing watches, I opted for it," Ty recalled.

Watches used to be exclusive items of luxury, Ty said, adding their owners liked having their timepieces regularly maintained, earning him a pretty penny. However, the advent of digital timekeeping has robbed him of much if his custom.

"You just need to replace the battery in digital watches. They are so cheap you can just buy a new one," he commented.

"This job requires patience and focus. Screws and gears are difficult to find when dropped," he said, adding all accessories are sourced from other shops or old broken watches.

Ty, poor sighted and increasingly shaky with age, is confident he can "diagnose" any problem after listening to a watch’s "symptoms." 

Around 30 parts lie disassembled for cleaning. 

Ty always cleans watches merely requiring a battery change, recording the date on their backs as guarantee. After 2-3 months, he will replace any batteries, again for free.

Fixing watches priced at several millions of dong, Ty earns around VND100,000 ($4.3) to VND200,000 ($8.5) a day.

Customers normally leave quickly after telling Ty, who rarely talks, their problems.

After decades in the trade, Ty likes to unwind by listening to the radio, confident the next customer may only be an arm or two away.