Watchmaking in Fiji


Article by: Andrew Markerink

Walking down the streets of Nadi in Fiji can be an education in itself. The colourful Indian fabrics in the sari shops to the interesting state of repair for all the taxis in the street whose drivers all seem to think you are in a desperate search for a way out of town. If you were dropped into town without any idea of the country you could quickly realise that you were in one of the islands and Fiji would most likely be your first guess. The all surrounding wall of heat and humidity accompanied by the sea breezes that offers a taste of the cool that you long for but know is never quite going to arrive. Fiji is a delightful country and has the as a signature the warmth that is also provided by the melodious sounds of “bula” the Fijian greeting coming from all sides as you walk anywhere in the country.

Unlike Australia where we live in a mobile bubble that tried to exclude all of the people that we encounter each day in the streets Fiji has a constant invitation to become part of the community and to tune your mind into what the locals call Fiji time. The intangible time where the passing of it is not so important but where the art of relaxing is paramount. It is in this framework that one of our NSW WCA members works. Proudly displaying his WCA membership and working as a qualified watchmaker I enjoyed a meeting that gave a new insight into the difficulties our fellow watchmakers in different countries encounter.

Fiji has been an independent country since 1970 breaking away from the colonial rule to move toward political self determination. These journeys toward independence are often ones that take unknown courses and encounter many blocks. The cultural mix of Fiji is an interesting one and the mix of Chinese and Indian Capitol along with Fijian born Indians (called FBI) along with local native Fijians and others has created and continues to create many political issues. The military coupes have mostly been as a result of the local native Fijian people seeking to maintain control over their countries destiny. The heady mix of military rule and over thrown governments is the one that would be difficult to plan a long term business. Accompanied with this is the removal of support and finding by Australia with the replacement of Capitol coming from china as it flexes it international strength into the developing regions economy.

Watchmaking in Australia has numerous pressures placed apron it mot he least being the spare parts problems but Australia is a large regional centre in the South Pacific and Asian area and as such sits at the top of e pecking chain for economic viability particularly since the world has struggled with its financial fluidity. Our fellow watchmakers in smaller centres such as Fiji have to deal with an evolving political future and the prominent fact that most locals with sufficient wealth to own a reasonable quality watch travel to centres such as New Zealand and Australia on a regular basis and generally take their watch for repair with them. The conditions in Fiji have resulted in an influx of cheap Chinese watches that as we all know are generally not repairable and offer no future income to a qualified watchmaker. The impact is greater than we would experience in Australia and New Zealand simply because of the size of our market. A ripple in Australia is a tidal wave in the small nations of the pacific. Coupled to the fluctuation of the business landscape has been the unfortunate flooding that has been experience in centres such as Nadi in recent years. Having now seen firsthand the water levels of the floods with most shops in Nadi having 6 feet of water go rough them it would seem hard to contemplate how you would recover in the short term from the level of damage. Most areas around Nadi didn’t get power back until a month after the floods. Imagine working as a watchmaker firstly losing your tools and then not getting power to start work again for a month. Our member in Nadi had prepared for the flooding in the second flood by putting his tools in a special above water secure cupboard but due to not being able to get to them for a few weeks they all ended up being substantially rusted.

I have been fortunate to deal with several local businesses from architects to civil engineers and now watchmakers and all hope for the return of investment into Fiji. As I walked down the main street there was one major variation to the normal shop fittings found in any of our major cities. The fronts of a large percentage of the shops are covered in bars and steel mesh but some of the shops such as small takeaway cafés had steel mesh In front of the counters so as to prevent robbery. The local community is now suffering under the new arrival of organised crime. Local papers don’t report the crime as the government doesn’t approve of bad news. Denarau Island where all of the major 5 star hotels are now found is a secured gated community with restricted access that even prevents local taxis touting for business. Sheltered in the community are multimillion dollar deep water font houses and a world apart from the tiny modest homes of most Fijians.

Resilience is the word that comes to mind most often when I think of the difficulties in being a watchmaker in Fiji and it makes you think that we don’t have too many problems to deal with in Australia. Several of our colleagues in QLD would be familiar with the issues of flooding in recent times and I am sure could sympathise with our friends across the ocean. Add in a shrinking market the loss of Capitol from the economy as it leaves looking for safer and more secure markets along with the pressures of foreign imports and the picture painted is a dark landscape.

Our WCA member in Nadi has managed to maintain a business with integrity and professionalism and I recommend a visit if you get to Nadi. The workshop is well equipped and the only one that I have seen that has a special “above flood water hideaway” to store tools in the event of a cyclone. Last year’s cyclone saw access to Nadi from the port blocked for a week and the power cut to most areas around Nadi for a month. So no timing machine lights at the flick of a switch or the essential which is air conditioning. I find having dinner a task while trying to keep the perspiration from running down my arm let alone trying to keep a watch dry and clean. I imagine that water proof testing is an everyday event with water sports the focus of most tourists’ days.

Fijians seem forever optimistic and have an irrepressible spirit and I wish them all and our fellow watchmakers in Fiji a stable future and a prosperous new year. If you want to support our member in Nadi pop in and say hello or if you have any excess tools that may be of use give me a call and we can arrange to have them shipped.

Author: Andrew Markerink

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Posted in: Tick-Talk

About the Author:

For over three decades Andrew and his staff at Master Clockmakers have been involved in the restoration and conservation of timepieces from historically important clocks such as Sydney Town Hall and the clocks for Sydney Central Railway to small intricate ladies watches made by watchmakers such as Patek Philippe.

3 Comments on "Watchmaking in Fiji"

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