The Flint Journal: Meet your neighbor: Guenter Beholz, Fenton jeweler

Guenter Beholz is a jeweler who specializes in watch and clock repairs at Beholz Jewelers in Fenton.

How did you get into this business?

I actually was employed by the U.S. Army as a watch repairman for the PX Service in Germany. I’ve been in this profession since 1951. In Germany, we have to make our decision early which direction we want to go. I opted for fine mechanics and in that (category) belongs watch-making. I got all my degrees in Germany and I’ve been doing it for over 50 years.

What do you like best about what you do?

It is almost everything because I do everything. I have here clock repairs for two years. People put themselves on a waiting list to be called when to bring them in. I feel like I am the last of the Mohicans because there is nobody coming up in this profession.

I’m very specialized. I learned in Europe to make the parts I need. In working with antiques, there’s nothing you can buy. I make the parts if they can be made. Maybe someone has an old pocket watch from Grandpa’s or Great-Grandpa’s time. Maybe there’s not much monetary value, but sentimental. Items like that can never be replaced.

What challenges do you face in your jewelry business?

In today’s time, it is a dying profession. A large percentage of our jewelry stores provide no services on the premises, but they make all the money. When you do what I learned, my ability is in my hands which, thanks goodness, nobody can take away from me. They can take a sale from me, but not my ability. My experience, my degree, it seems they are an afterthought to the buyer. But they always find me, from Michigan, out-of-state, when they have a problem.

People can buy jewelry from anybody today, everybody has a jewelry counter in their store. But here, what comes here (for repair) stays here. They don’t do their own work. They send it who knows where. The fascinating thing, what is happening, people will assume to get something for nothing or for less, then they come here for sizing for brand new rings. As a professional, I am now good enough to size the rings but they never thought to maybe see if I have a better price or a better quality ring.

People want to buy over the Internet. I really don’t know how to handle that. They get all their information off the Internet and they don’t understand it. So, they come to me for free information to help them buy on the Internet. Things look very pretty in the picture, very big and beautiful. Some people are really surprised when it comes.

Why is the cost of repair so high?

The labor involved to do something seems expensive. It seems to be determined by the size of the product. A $200 repair on a car doesn’t seem that big. The same time the car mechanic spends on a car, I can spend on a product. But that, in the public mind, seems like so much cost for what I do. It is nothing you get rich on, this profession.

Think of a barber. He has 60 people in chairs waiting. How many cuts can he do? I can only do so much in one day. I’m at it seven days a week. There’s lots of free overtime when you are self-employed. The word I hear all the time is “just.” — “It just needs cleaning.” That “just” can be three hours.

What was it like to move here from Germany?

I came here through a program available through the PX System. I signed a one-year contract to come to the United States for watch-making right here in Michigan. I liked American people, I just do. I may sound like I’m from Germany yet, but when I am in Germany I know I’m not and people tell me so, too.

The big advantage I had was I could read and write (English) as fluently as I do today. I had an employer once, she was born here, she always would ask me how to spell this and that. I would say, “I didn’t go to school here!” I would have to spell for that employer lots of times. The disadvantage was I had a German English teacher. It’s an accent on top of an accent. It’s advisable, if someone is teaching a language, that they be a native of that language.

What is it like when you visit Germany now?

My wife was born here in this country. We’ve been married 49 years. When we visit she says, “You know, they talk about and worry about the same things we do here, only it’s in a different language.” It’s very different if you’re on tours and stay in hotels made for tourists than if you get into the household and stay with the family. People are people. For some strange reason, they just speak different languages.

When you walk toward a door at a hotel the ladies and gentlemen at the desk know who you are and where you come from. When I speak to them in German I see the surprise in their eyes. I hear, “You speak excellent German.” I have been here now so long I have lost many behaviors. I think I have enough of my upbringing left. I was in my 20s when I came here.

What could you not live without?

Work. I feel like if I would stop working, which I never will because I don’t hate what I do, I would shrivel up and die. I love what I do. I get up at 5 every morning. I don’t mind being here 7 days a week.  People say there’s no one like me. “Please don’t retire!” they say. What would I do around the house? Drive my wife around to the grocery store? Work keeps me young. I see retired executives who say, “Oh, I have more to do than before I retired.” I see changes in them, in their body especially.

I also, naturally, have to work. The one thing I never learned was how to get rich. The work ethics in general are pounded into me a long time ago, before I ever came here. In today’s wheelie-dealie world there are certain things that are asked for by the customer that I just can’t give them.

Who would you like to meet?

I think a very interesting person from the past would be Amadeus Mozart. He is such a character by being a genius at the same time. It would be really interesting. As you can hear (in my shop) I love classical music. It accompanies my life and gives me pleasure.

Reposted from MLive  (March 19, 2010)