The antique tools used to keep timeless timepieces ticking

To repair intricate clockworks and watches from eras past, an antiquarian horologist may fabricate parts by hand.

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To conserve and restore historic clocks and the clockwork showpieces called automatons—an example is top left in this photo—antiquarian horologist Brittany Nicole Cox relies on some specialized tools that themselves are antiques.
This story appears in the February 2021 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Popping into a hardware store won’t do when Brittany Nicole Cox needs parts or tools. She’s an antiquarian horologist, trained to conserve and restore historic clocks and the clockwork showpieces called automatons (1 and 8, below). “I work on objects created before mass production, before the standardization of things like screw threading,” Cox explains. So when she needs to replace a part in a delicate mechanism that may have sat frozen for a century, she builds it in her Seattle workshop, often using tools that also are antiques. “There’s such craft and art in them,” she says.