THE VIOLINIST WHO TURNED CLOCKMAKER

This article by Johan du Preez is part of a series on older, family-orientated businesses in Stellenbosch which appeared in the Stellenbosch newspaper, Eikestadnuus.

“There’s a bit of stubbornness in me,” says Jacques Arzul from Gun O'clock.

Stubbornness certainly was a requirement when Jacques arrived from France in the 1960’s. He switched careers from violinist in Europe to a clock and watchmaker in South Africa. He couldn’t speak English and wanted to settle in a dorp. Stellenbosch was his choice.

He initially worked from home and later rented a small workshop in town. When his landlord constantly kept him on a waiting list for bigger premises, his stubbornness, combined with a good measure of assertiveness, managed to get him the premises in Dorp Street where his business has since been located.

Jacques chose to have well-respected mentors. After speaking to the late Prof HB Thom at the time, he successfully approached the SA Cultural History Museum to repair the clocks in their collection. “This opened up the market for me,” says Jacques. “If he’s good enough for the museum, then he will be good enough for us,” customers would argue.

How did firearms become part of the business? For Jacques the answer is simple: “If clocks and their mechanisms are mysterious, then guns are even more intriguing.”

Jacques became interested in guns around 1970. He started to repair firearms, only to realise that it was illegal to do so without a license. Only his third attempt to apply for a license was successful. “Picture a foreigner not speaking a local language trying to obtain a firearm dealer’s license in South Africa at the time. Impossible!” grins Jacques. Not taking no for an answer, made Jacques succeed. He obtained his first license in 1974.

And the future? Jacques must find a successor. “My business is a part of Stellenbosch. It should not be replaced by yet another coffee shop.” According to Jacques there are parties interested in the business. However, he needs to train someone as a clockmaker, which will take time. He’s hopeful that the right person will soon turn up.

I found more than stubbornness in Jacques. I got to know a professional, well-spoken and knowledgeable gentleman with wisdom and a sense of humour – an entrepreneur with a passion for what he’s doing and a vision for his business and its future. Having seen how this violinist turned clockmaker’s life worked out in our dorp, I’m sure that the future will also work out for him and his soon to arrive successor. 

Ends