From father to son

Preserving time: The tale of a watchmaker’s legacy in Al-Khalis

Al-KHALIS, DIYALA, January 14 — In the heart of Al-Khalis’ old market, amidst the hustle and bustle of northern Diyala, sits a small workshop where time seems to stand still. Meet Hajj Fadil Jassim Nasif, the watchmaker whose hands have turned back the hands of time for over seven decades.

A legacy passed down by his father, Hajj Jassim Nasif Al-Saa’egh, who transitioned from a barber to a watchmaker due to a health condition, Fadil’s life is intertwined with the ticking and tocking of timepieces. His father opened this shop in 1951, making it the first and only watch repair shop in Al-Khalis at the time. Fadil says: “My father was an artisan of time, skilled in mending Swiss watches of Olma, Nevada, Seiko, Citizen, and Orient.” He reminisces about the era’s pocket watches, like the Longines, Zenith, and the revered “Umm Al-Bakhra and Umm Al-Qitar [the one with the boat and the one with the train]”, which were amongst the oldest of their time.

In those days, a pocket watch cost between 30 to 50 dinars, depending on the make, while other Swiss hand-watches like Nevada and Olma were priced around one or two dinars. “I inherited this craft from my father since childhood,” Fadil says, “and now, I am passing it on to my sons, Abbas and Muhammad. This is a heritage profession, and I refuse to let it die out.”

The cost of repairing a watch once ranged from 3 or 4 dirhams, about a quarter of a dinar, but now it’s about 3,000 to 5,000 dinars. Fadil’s shop, a gathering spot for friends and dignitaries of the city, remains a testament to simpler times. Even in his father’s absence, people would visit their home, inquiring about him.

“Watches were scarce back then but significant for ‘the elders and dignitaries’. A beautiful watch was a status symbol, a marker of elegance,” he notes. Fadil still repairs vintage watches like Orient and Citizen, utilizing spare parts he has preserved from his father’s time.

He speaks of precious and sophisticated watches like Rolex and Raymond Weil, rarely malfunctioning, and some adorned with gold and silver. “I have Orient watches distributed as gifts to Iraqi pilots in 1981, and also Rolex and Omega. Some date back to the 1960s and still function perfectly,” Fadil adds with a hint of pride.

In Fadil’s workshop, each tick and tock echos the legacy of a family dedicated to preserving the heritage of watchmaking. As he continues to mend timepieces, Fadil Al-Saa’egh is not just fixing watches; he’s keeping a rich history alive, ensuring that the timeless art of horology continues to tick through generations in Al-Khalis.