Timepiece technician Eid "Ed" Abuliel sets time in motion.
Like an old-world craftsman thrust into the 21st century, the 62-year-old watchmaker is privy to the circular orbits that spin inside the quartz timepieces that regulate our lives.
But Abuliel's own orbit has changed dramatically in 2019. Last Sunday, the Bakersfield Sears store at Valley Plaza — where Abuliel managed his watch repair concession for 15 years — closed for good.
The department store's closure has left many without a job, thousands of customers wondering where they will take their watches for service, and Abuliel focused on his future.
"He was always there," said longtime customer Sandra Dralle.
You might not see him for years, but when you walked back into Sears, back toward his shop, "he was always right there," she said, "just like the last time you saw him."
"You could always count on him. It was very comforting."
Thousands of customers have come to that little corner of the store in search of Abuliel’s expertise — and the comfort Dralle speaks of. Untold numbers of watch batteries have been replaced there. And yes, great numbers of Breitlings and Brauns, Seikos and Citizens, have been repaired on Abuliel’s worktable.
In a sense, Abuliel is one of the lucky ones. His occupation and vocation have merged. The great pleasure of his life and his life’s work have become one.
"This isn't just my profession, it's my hobby," Abuliel said. "This is what I love to do."
But the watch repairman — some say magician — will have to find another place to work after a decade and a half in his space at the sprawling retail center.
The world around him is changing. Many of the watches manufactured in today’s throwaway society are not made to be repaired. They have plastic wheels and plastic cases, or the backs are sealed shut. Their inner workings were never meant to be touched by a watchmaker’s tools.
Like cigarette lighters, ballpoint pens, disposable cameras, they are used for a time and then discarded. Sure, they’re convenient and cheap, but great value is not attributed to them in the way an old watch — or an old watch repairman — is cherished and held dear.
"He is a true craftsman," said customer Mardi Sharples. "Such a gentleman. I hope he has a new place to work."
In a testament to the trust he has garnered over the years, more than 900 of his loyal customers provided Abuliel with their names and phone numbers so he can let them to let them know where he's going next.
He's striking out on his own. His new business — opening on the first of April — will simply be called Ed's Watch Repair, at 4737 Planz Road.
Battery installation, crystal replacement, dial marker service, metal band adjustment, movement exchange and other services will be available.
"When somebody works on my car," Abuliel said in his old-world accent, "I hope they're as particular I am. I want them to treat it as if they own it.
"That's how I work on a customer's watch — as if it's my watch."
Abuliel immigrated to America from Jordan in 1987. He married his sweetheart, Elleta, in December 1992.
And this new reality is a bit scary. For both of them. Even with the great level of confidence shown by Abuliel's customers, the couple know there are no guarantees of success when opening a business.
"It's a challenge and a gamble," Elleta said.
"I hope we'll be happy," her husband echoed.
Alisa Garasa has worked at Sears for 25 years. Watch repair is kind of in the company's DNA, she said.
One year after Richard W. Sears founded the R.W. Sears Watch Co. in Minneapolis to sell watches by mail order, he relocated to Chicago, hired Alvah C. Roebuck to repair watches, and established a mail-order business for watches and jewelry.
Since those early days, Garasa said, most Sears stores have included a watch repair station.
She's going to miss the local store's impeccably organized watch counter and the man who worked behind it.
"He's a class act," she said of Abuliel. "He reminds me of the way customer service used to be."
Another endearing quality Abuliel possessed: "He always had candy," Garasa said, laughing.
Abuliel is not social-media savvy, she said. "He's pretty much a flip-phone kind of guy.
"So I told him I would set up a Facebook page for him.
"I told him I would run it for him," she said, "and he could pay me in peppermint."
Garasa wants Abuliel's customers to be able to find him.
"He's a craftsman," she said.
He should be found.