It wasn’t the smoothest road, what with the lost index finger and car wreck that could’ve killed him. But the longer it goes, the more Sherman Sessoms’ story seems to destine him for the work he does.
And Sessoms has the time.
“I’ve been in Rock Hill and here together 55 years,” the watchmaker said from his Fort Mill jewelry store, owned by Dusty Goddard at 204 Springcrest Drive in Peachtree Plaza in Fort Mill. “I do the watches. He does the jewelry.”
Even the title “watchmaker” is a study in time. Sessoms repairs them, but in bygone days craftsmen made and repaired so the occupational label stuck. It’s one of the few constants in his business.
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“The majority of the problems and complaints is a lack of watchmakers,” Goddard said.
Goddard occasionally works his way around to other jewelry stores picking up broken watches, which Sessoms repairs at Sessoms & Sons Jewelry. Goddard, who spent time in the newspaper business and in mall jewelry stands swapping out watch batteries, didn’t initially know what an asset his wife’s grandfather would turn out to be.
“It’s still enough to keep us busy,” Sessoms said of the watch work. “I want to work as long as I can see and be calm.”
With all he’s been through, it would take something out of the ordinary to stop him. Now 77, Sessoms was just 5 when he lost his left index finger. Details are a bit hazy, but Sessoms said a girl in the family somehow cut it off.
“She said I dared her to do it, but I don’t remember that,” he said.
In 1958 a bad car wreck meant doctors fusing his knee. They told him to find a job where he wouldn’t have to stand up much, if he wanted to do it long. The Roseborough, N.C., native found a watchmaker school a couple hours east in Spencer. From there, a job in Rock Hill where he recalls 17 watchmakers at one point. Now he knows of two, himself included, in the area.
“I was in school when the first battery watch came out,” Sessoms said. “They came to the school. A lot of watchmakers came to take the class. They’re a collector’s item now.”
Sessoms figures the physical challenges he faced made him the watchmaker he became. He wouldn’t have gone to school for it without the wreck. And the forefinger, about half the length of its right hand counterpart, makes for a perfect “stand” to hold watches flush while he works.
“It’s perfect,” Sessoms said. “Like a stump.”
Back when he used to teach other watchmakers, he often had fun with it.
“I told them if you want to get it right, you’ve got to cut your finger off,” Sessoms said. “One guy shook his head. He said ‘you’re not right.’”
With watches now resembling small computers – some actually are – and with cell phones so readily telling time, there isn’t the same demand for watches as there once was. But in some ways, watches are better.
“Back then if you dropped them they were easy to break,” Sessoms said. “They’ve got a lot more shock resistance now.”
There are a few constants through decades in the business.
“They very seldom get them cleaned unless they have to,” Sessoms said. “Cleaning is one of the most important things. Usually dirt might not hurt it, but you can still break a stem or crystal or glass.”
There always are interesting customers, he said. Like the man who couldn’t get a great fit by adding or losing a link to the watchband.
“He asked me if I could take half of one out,” Sessoms said. “That’s impossible.”
Most watchmakers who do remain have plenty of work to do, often from their home benches. Goddard said he understands there are more options now, but can’t imagine the traditional watch going away entirely.
“There’s just people who are watch people and people who aren’t,” he said.
He should know. He sits straight across from one two days a week at the store. And hopes he will for a long time still.
Need a watch repaired?
Sessoms & Sons Jewelry is located at 204 Springcrest Drive in Fort Mill’s Peachtree Plaza.