Hamilton: Atelier Vsaint A Timeless Hidden Gem

We were just walking along minding our own business, when for some unknown reason we noticed the sign in the window said “OPEN.”  We could have easily walked by this tired two storey brick building in downtown Hamilton with its modest window display in an otherwise dark-looking interior.

But there was something intriguing about the surrealistic-looking poster in the Atelier Vsaint shop window saying watch repair that drew us in, despite not having a watch needing repair.  

Perhaps it was the curiosity of being an everyday tourist calling?

  Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

Was it the poster or the red door that made us want to go in?

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Time Machine

As we opened the bright red door into the dimly lite space a bell rang and a friendly voice said “Come in.”  Quickly looking around the minimalist space, it looked as if it hadn’t changed for over a 100 years.  The well-dressed man behind the antique counter introduced himself as Vincent Cino, asking, “How can I help you?” 

We must have looked a bit puzzled as he quickly began to explain us that in addition to fixing watches he also makes custom watches and began showing us some of his impressive work.   

Really! Who knew there are people who actually still make watches by hand? It was like we were in a time machine that had taken us back 100+ years. 

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Backstory:  The first wristwatch was made for a woman, Countess Koscowicz of Hungary, by Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe in 1868. Although it was the first timekeeping device to be designed specifically for use on the wrist, it was intended primarily as a piece of decorative jewelry.
It has been claimed that pocket watches were adapted to be worn on wrist bracelets prior to 1868, perhaps as early as the 1570s, though there is no concrete evidence to support this. Wristwatches were a natural progression from pocket watches, but men did not initially take to the idea, preferring to rely on the larger, more traditional and “masculine” timepiece.
The practicalities of the wristwatch, which could be operated with one hand rather than two, eventually won over popular opinion, appealing especially to those in the military, who needed to be able to monitor the time while also operating machinery and weaponry. Consequently, the first wristwatches to be produced in large quantities were those manufactured specifically for the German military in the 1880s by Swiss watchmaker Girard-Perregaux. (Source: Guinness World Records)
  Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Vincent explaining to me how he will put my watch back together. He  takes photos of every step as he takes it apart.  

Putting It Back Together

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Back to our adventure

Vincent then told us the story of the building. It dates back to the 1820s and has been home to a watchmaker since the 1870s when Edwin K. Pass first leased the store and later bought the building. The Pass family operated their watchmaking business out of the building for 100+ years. At one time they were so busy they employed five full-time watchmakers.

He still uses the original 18th century safe to lock up the watchers and materials every night.

That was in April of 2017. Fast forward to February 2018.  

As I was planning my trip to visit my Mom, I began thinking  about my Hamilton Automatic Estoril watch that wasn’t keeping good time and wondering if Vincent could fix it. 

I did a Google search - his shop didn’t come up. I checked Google Maps - it wasn’t there.  Wondering if he was still in business, I asked my Mom to check and she said she went by on the bus and it looked like he was.

So I took my watch with me and on the first morning I headed to his shop. Sure enough, he was there.  I showed him my watch and he assured me he could fix it.  Said he have a look and see what the problem was and give me a call.  He called the next day saying it just needed a good cleaning, so I gave the “go ahead” and was to pick it up three days later before I left for home.

By chance, on next the next morning I happen to be walking by and the “Open” sign was on so I tried the door and sure enough he was there. Vincent asked, “Do you want to see your watch?” Sure….so he pulls out a small, Tupperware-like container with various compartments with all of the tiny pieces of my watch sorted. I didn’t say anything but I was thinking “I sure hope he knows how to put this back together.” 

Tuesday morning the watch is waiting for me and he says it is keeping good time.  As I am leaving he says, “it might lose a few seconds a day!” I smiled and said, “that would be OK.”

It has been keeping perfect time ever since.

  Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

Custom Vsaint watch, with the cool logo integrated into the face.

About Vincent Cino

Born in Hamilton, Vincent became interested in watchmaking in 1974 when visiting family in Turin, Italy. There a he saw his cousin working away at his watchmaker’s bench fixing watches and became fascinated with the world of micro-mechanics and horology – the science of watchmaking.  Upon returning home, he signed up for the British Horological Institute’s online learning program and as they say, the rest is history.

Today, Vincent is an expert at building Swiss chronograph watches.  He sources all of his materials for creating custom Vsaint Timepieces from Switzerland, so one could say “there are Swiss watches made in Canada.” As well, all of the parts he needs for watch repairs are also Swiss. 

I had to ask…Vincent himself owns only two watches - one is his own creation and the other is a Rolex Submariner. 

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Last Word

I also learned my Hamilton Estoril watch was from the late 1960s. It wasn’t until 1964 that Seiko invented the automatic (self winding) chronograph and unveiled it at the Tokyo Olympics.  Later Heuer, Breitling and Hamilton and movement specialist Dubois Depraz developed the technology for the first automatic chromatics like mine. 

Now the dilemma is, do I want him to make me a custom watch?  He showed me one I really like that he was working on that was $1,250.  Really isn’t that expensive considering the cost of a watch battery these days. 

Full Disclosure: I paid full price for the cleaning of my watch, it was only afterwards that I decided to do this blog. 

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