By Andrew Staub
Michael Fisher held up a small nut and bolt, the product of a morning’s work at the York Time Institute.
Fisher made the small piece of hardware himself, starting with a brass rod and fashioning it to his desired design using a lathe, a mill and then a tap and die set to hand-cut the grooves.
Learning how to make simple hardware is the first step to becoming a watch and clock maker through a horology program at the York Time Institute.
Students like Fisher learn under the tutelage of Director Dan Nied, a master horologist who once helped restore a pocket-watch found on the sunken wreckage of the H.L. Hunley, a Confederate submarine.
“I wanted to do, I wanted to use my hands to make things,” Fisher said, explaining why he left engineering school in Oklahoma and moved all the way to York to learn horology this year. “My ultimate goal is to make a watch or clock from scratch.”
Downtown York has earned a reputation as a place where things are created, and Nied is one of the many makers who has come to define the city. People have taken notice, as Fisher was one of about half a dozen students packed into the tiny workspace at the York Time Institute on a recent March morning.
Nied estimates he has trained about 25 students in his school nestled on West Market Street in the WeCo neighborhood.
As part of a roughly 54-week program, Nied’s students learn how to repair, restore and conserve timepieces. They also learn how to make parts that are no longer available – which explains why students need to know how to make tiny pieces like nuts or bolts.
Armed with diplomas in horology, Nied’s students have gone to work for jewelry stores or major companies like Tiffany’s & Co. Some have started their own businesses.
“The trend is going back to people that can do something, that can make something,” Nied said. “A lot of people are starting to realize that an office job isn’t exciting.”
The focus is on timepieces, but the experience can also prepare students for jobs in the auto industry and for toy manufacturers that make mechanical gadgets.
In addition to teaching, Nied also offers tours of the school by appointment year-round. The York Time Institute is a popular stop on the annual Made in America Tours Event, organized by the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau each June.
Visitors can watch students honing their craft at decades-old workstations. They can also see timepieces dating to the 1600s.
Timothy Shermeyer learned about the York Time Institute during the Made in America Tours Event. Previously an EMT, he once planned to become a paramedic, but said that would probably mean working more than one job to make ends meet. He thought horology could be more lucrative.
“I was surprised. There’s a lot of money to be made in this field,” he said. “There’s no shortage of work.”
Despite living in the age of the iPhone, Nied has experienced a surge in demand for his training.
Ultimately, Nied wants to help train another generation of skilled laborers and ensure the United States remains a nation of makers.
“We can’t have everybody being an artist, but everybody can create,” Nied said. “This is creative. This is both science and an art.”
Visit the York Time Institute
The York Time Institute conducts tours with an appointment. Call 717-848-3152, or find the York Time Institute online at www.yorktimeinstitute.com.
Visitors may also tour the school during the annual Made in America Tours Event, running June 13-16, 2018. Visit www.yorkpa.org for more information regarding tour dates and times.