It's another cold day here in Chicago. This time we are visiting Kent Mikolite from Fine Swiss Watch Repair —the only Certified Master Watchmaker in Chicago— in the heart of the Jeweler's Row inside the historical Pittsfield Building that once happened to be the tallest building in Chicago. Built by heirs of Marshall Field and named after the town where Marshall had his first job in Massachusetts it was later gifted to the Field Museum of Natural History in honor of the museum's 50th anniversary. The museum sold the property in 1960.
Once we head inside the building, we can admire the fine brass art deco and gothic details in the lobby, the elevators and the fascinating five-story atrium. It almost feels like going back in time for an instant. We head up to the seventh floor where our friend has his workshop.
As we sit down, we notice the vintage piece on his wrist, nothing pricey but definitely a good looking watch from the 60s, a LeJour Chronograph. As we start our interview, Kent decided to switch watches. This time he puts on his beloved Rolex Datejust with gray tapestry dial ref. 16220, fitted with a jubilee bracelet.
How many watches have you worked on in your career?
A: I am now 51 years old and have been doing this for 30 years so I think probably somewhere around 70,000 or so.
What is your favorite watch or watch brand, besides your daily beater?
A: I personally love all watches but particularly vintage pieces. I am fascinated with restorations and I don't have a daily beater. Recently, I've found myself switching watches throughout the day or on a daily basis. In my opinion, all watches have their own virtues and all are beautiful. I have worked on so many different watches in my career that now I just can't have one favorite brand. My favorite brands are A. Lange & Söhne, Vacheron Constantin, Fortis, Girard Perregaux, Glashütte, Omega, Oris and Patek.
If you could have only one watch, what would that be?
A: It would be a Girard Perregaux WW.TC Perpetual Calendar ref. 90280.
What is the most rare timepiece that you have ever serviced?
A: It was a Rolex Triple Calendar with moonphase in 18k yellow gold. The ref. 8171. The gentleman that brought it in mentioned he was one of the few owners of such piece.
What was the first expensive watch that you purchased ?
A: I purchased a Rolex Datejust ref. 16220 back in February 12, 1996. After that I purchased a Zenith Chronograph that I regret selling.
What do you think of the current state of the watch service industry?
A: The internet has had a very positive impact on the watch servicing industry. Regardless of the fact that Rolex and other manufacturers had become more strict about who can have a parts account and who cannot, parts are more readily available now that we have the internet. You can easily find suppliers of parts online. There are times when selling a watch in parts is worth more than selling it complete. In reality the internet has helped watchmakers get more business. Unfortunately, our trade is declining in terms of the number of watchmakers that are really qualified.
We know you are a Rolex Certified Watchmaker. How did you received that certification?
I had to spend two weeks at Rolex USA in New York and go through several tests in order for them to test my ability as a watchmaker and to confirm that I have the competency to work across all their watches. After satisfactory completion of the two-week test program I then received the certificate. It was back in the late 80s or early 90s.
After we finished our interview, Kent shared with us some of his favorite inexpensive watches in his collection. A beautiful Vulcain Cricket alarm, two mint Bulova Accutrons Spaceview, an Accutron Asymmetrical, an Ernest Borel Cocktail watch with its moving 'moire' pattern, two Omega Seamasters from the 1950s and a Longines Ultra-Chron. Right before taking off, we asked him to do a quick check on an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak ref. 15300 on his Vibrograf, just to reconfirm that it only gains one second per day with a beat error of 0.2 milliseconds.
Quite accurate, don't you think?
For more info on Ken click here.