Manufacturing Clocks from Case to Movement
Andrew DeKeyser, CW21
Ed Beacham is a 68 year-old clockmaker who has been making clocks for 50 years. The majority of his 885 clocks were made by hand in Sisters, Oregon, where he works in his 1,280-square-foot wood shop and his 2,180-square-foot machine shop that will boast a 1,590-square-foot addition this spring. His legacy in American clockmaking circles is apparent when his name is mentioned at any NAWCC gathering west of the Mississippi. He has won numerous craft completion accolades and the prestigious Dana J. Blackwell Clock Award in 2003, joining the likes of Foster Campos and Lee Davis. Beacham was honored to be the keynote speaker for the 2012 NAWCC National Convention in Pasadena, California.
Beacham had several hobbies as a youth, one of which was boat racing. He introduced himself to the world of woodworking by making his own boat. Beacham used his expertise in boat making to make his first clock while he was a senior in high school in 1965. His mother still owns this clock—and it still runs.
As Beacham made more cases, he found that the antique movements he fit into his cases did not always meet his needs. So he modified and remade them to better fit his style and purposes. To pay the bills while he pursued his dream of manufacturing clocks, Beacham repaired antique clocks. During this time, Beacham learned how to make components and, eventually, entire movements. Beacham’s passion for precision woodworking flowed seamlessly into his endeavor to make a precision movement. He freely admits that his first clocks were rough. He received no formal clockmaking training, and the clockmaking community in Central Oregon consisted of himself and his wife Kathi. So he learned everything by trial.
Slowly, the Beachams were able to step away from repair and devote their full attention to clock manufacturing. They decided to pour as much revenue as they could back into the business. Beacham expanded his production with new lathes ranging from 8mm to 5c. He invested in a pinion-cutting engine and four small CNC mills. He forged relationships with other local craftspeople in order to work with specialized printing on dials, glass for his more complicated cases, wire EDM for his very small and precise work on hardened materials, and larger CNC for his larger clocks. Beacham always opted to manufacture in production runs or batches to optimize profits. He would read the market and produce what collectors wanted to add to their collection. For a time, he specialized in miniatures of classic designs, and then he experimented with dial complications and special escapements. The Beachams’s lucrative business in Central Oregon has afforded them a comfortable living.
Beacham’s most ambitious project to date is a miniature reproduction, even though it is over 11 feet tall. After spending two years on research, development, and manufacture of the movement, with an additional 16 weeks to make the case, Beacham completed a reproduction of the town-square clock in Prague, Czech Republic. He was able to faithfully reproduce all the functions of the upper dial and design a case and movement that paid homage to the original. The movement is a miniature “bird cage” design found in most tower clocks from the same period. Beacham’s movement boasts a four-armed gravity escapement of his own design that incorporates a crown wheel as another nob to the original.
When I asked Beacham about the current market for high-quality, independent clockmakers, he told me the future looks bright. The new products made today are not of the same high quality as the antiques, so the market is ripe for high-quality clocks. He also emphasized that collectors don’t just want to buy a nice clock; they also want a story. They want to know what went into the creation of their clock and the man behind it all. This is where Beacham’s “open shop” principle has really influenced his sales. He runs his shop with no barricades to the retail floor so customers and visitors can interact with the creation process.
When I asked him how a clockmaker could get to his position of fulltime manufacture, he answered simply, “Hard work. Just keep pushing it.” He went on to explain how he slowly, over several years, obtained the machinery and skills to manufacture high-end clocks. Beacham had to “keep pushing it” through a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis six years ago. His muscle rigidity has made working more difficult, but he hasn’t let it slow him down. He is managing his disease extremely well; his doctor recently second-guessed his diagnosis.
On a personal note, Ed and Kathi Beacham have been instrumental in my independent career. I left my job at a high-end jewelry store in the San Francisco Bay area to move to Sisters, Oregon. I currently rent space from the Beachams and have my own watch-repair and restoration business to pay the bills while I apprentice under Ed Beacham to learn clockmaking as he knows it. Since moving to Oregon, I have gained invaluable experience restoring antique watches and clocks that I never would have received working for a jewelry store. I have learned much about woodworking, whereas before I knew nothing at all. Best of all I have met and married my wife. None of these things would have been possible without the generosity of the Beachams. In my eyes, they epitomize what it means to be American professionals in the world of horology.
Beacham clocks range from small table clocks to 11+-foot, floor-standing clocks with a price range of $150-125,000. The shop is located at 300 West Hood Street in Sisters, Oregon. Store hours are 9:30 to 5:00. He can be contacted via Facebook; search “Ed Beacham master clockmaker.”