Steady hands and old watches

About 20 years ago, Pedro Romero Ferrer suffered a terrible accident that changed his life forever.

He had been working in industrial plumbing… fixing, installing, and constructing heavy pipelines. One day, he fell from a height of over eight meters. He landed on his feet, but the damage done to them ended his career. He can no longer do heavy lifting. He qualified for compensation from his employer, but he says that do this day, he never got a fifth of what the court declared he was owed.

Finding another job can be impossible in Mexico, and there are few resources for the disabled. The need to be self-sufficient means that Mexicans often find ways to make money in ways that might never occur to us foreigners.

Often this revolves around finding something that can be sold. In Romero’s case, it was a matter of recycling what was around him in the city of Tlanepantla, just outside Mexico City proper. Why “upcycling”? Because he did not nor does he have the resources to invest in large amounts of materials or equipment.

He began simply, taking old aluminum cans to make lamps and knickknack items. But there are other usable items to be found in a major urban environment – in the pop-up flea markets and even just laying on the street.

Romero became drawn to two items in particular, wood and old watch parts. The first was easy to find. Tlalnepantla is far enough from the center of the megalopolis to have some woods, which produce fallen branches and trees, especially during certain seasons. It is urban enough that the city must keep trees trimmed to protect infrastructure, especially power lines. Both of these are Romero’s sources. They are erratic sources that yield highly irregular pieces, but he uses this to his advantage.

Watch parts appeal to his mechanical side. Romero is fascinated by the old-fashioned wind up watches, how something so small and so intricate could have been developed. Although his end products are very different, he works similarly to a watch maker, using a strong magnifying glass to delicatly move the pieces into place. He is also interested in history of the various watches he has used, how they were made, when they were fashionable and who wore them.

Romero makes jewelry and decorative pieces combining wood, the tiny metal parts and resin. The idea came from watching a YouTube video on making a ring from resin, and he figured he could do that. The problem was that the version in the video required a specific type of resin which is very expensive. So, he began to experiment with various combinations to find a more affordable alternative. This he did, but the tradeoff is that his resin has a low flash point. If it is heated too high or too quickly, the piece can literally explode.

The watch parts have been central to making his pieces unique and valued, but it is getting harder to get them. Local markets have fewer and fewer of the purely mechanical watches. Most old watches now are battery powered or even digital. The collectors’ value of wind up watches had gone up, even for those that are beyond repair.

Romero works in a small workshop above his parents’ home where he currently lives. The work is all he has to support his family, which includes four children. He does not live with his children because his parents are elderly and need assistance.

Still he says “The satisfaction of being an artisan is not really from making money. It is the making some something with your hands that brings pleasure to the client.” Before he sends an order, he sends photos of the piece to the client to make sure that they are satisfied with the work. There have been cases where clients have physically expressed their joy at the final result.

Romero does not have a Facebook page for his work, but he does have a personal FB account.  This account has more pictures of his work, even some of the first aluminum cans he decorated way back when, and he can be contacted through that account.

All photos used with permission from the artisan

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