Jean Yeo cannot pinpoint her preferred moment during the meticulous process of constructing a Ship’s Bell Clock because the whole challenge entailed in completing the timepiece is one that she relishes from beginning to end.
“I cannot say there is a favorite part, although one of my favorite moments is when I complete a clock,” the seventy-six-year-old, fifty year veteran of the company said that each method in the process assembling the renowned clock is fascinating.
But eventually, she recognizes which part is the most crucial and signals that she performed her task superbly — “when the clock strikes spot on at 12 o’clock.”
“The back train is the mechanism that strikes the clock. If you do not get it correct…you won’t be able to dial or strike the clock.” With a career at Chelsea Clock spanning half a century, she has met legendary figures of Boston and the nation. The clocks that she has hand-assembled grace the rooms where power, prestige and fame dwell.
“All of the Kennedy’s came in here,” she recalled the many illustrious figures that visited the Chelsea Clock factory to view the origins of the clocks they had acquired.
Of the Kennedy clan, she remembered one that was genuinely interested in her life’s work. “What a nice guy he was, Joe Kennedy- he spoke to me about the building and clock and how they were made.”
What has kept Yeo in the clock making field is not so much the famous clientele of Chelsea Clock that includes Elvis Presley for whom Yeo will proudly tell you “I made six inch brass clocks for.” It is entirely the work. She tells her story of how “the work chose her” to become a master clock assembler.
After graduating from Chelsea High School in 1951, Mr. Henry, her former grammar school principle, inquired if she would be interested in working at Chelsea Clock. “He knew the owner of Chelsea Clock, at that time Walter Mutz, was looking for employees to assemble clocks, so I said ‘sure.’” The very first clock she assembled was a 5K, a clock that mainly had three wheels. “I loved it. I worked on so many old style clocks and I just loved it.” During that time Yeo worked on various clock models in different shapes and sizes, such as the 5K, a cylinder clock, and the 19E that measured water.
“I just sat right there and learned how to assemble the parts, and all the girls were nice to work with , but only a few learned the Ship’s Bell Clock because it was so difficult,” she said. It took Yeo about a year to acquire the specialized skills required to assemble the over 300 parts of the Ship’s Bell Clock.
She credits her teacher, Phyllis Powers who is now deceased, for imparting her deft craftsmanship onto her, taking her under her wing as an artisanal apprentice. Now Yeo is taking on other apprentices to teach them the unique skill. And when will she retire? “I will probably stay maybe until they kick me out,” she laughed.