Time keeps ticking for Seymour horologist


The ticking of time doesn’t seem to distract Robert Wallace “R.W.” Ellis Sr. from work or life.

In fact, it has given him a successful and rewarding career in Seymour that has spanned 55½ years.

Ellis, 91, still works part time three days a week repairing and cleaning watches and completing other tasks at Ellis Jewelers, the business he founded in 1948.

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Customers may never see him when they go in to look at rings or watches. That’s because he spends his time in a closet-sized room in the back of the store. He doesn’t mind the tight space, as it functions just as he needs it to, he said.

Ellis surrounds himself with the tools of his trade. There are drawers of tiny gears, hands, batteries, bands, cases and other pieces to restore any watch to working order. He sits on a stool and is within reach of his cleaning and drying machines and lathe.

Boxes, totes and drawers all contain old watches he has collected over time, including old-fashioned pocket watches. Many are ones that no longer work and people didn’t want, but in his line of work, he has learned a watch that doesn’t work is still useful.

“We don’t throw anything away,” he said.

The best part of being a watchmaker is knowing he can get a watch to work, he said.

“Being able to take a handful of pieces and put them together, looking good and running good,” he said. “And then I put it on this machine that tells me how the ticky-tocks run.”

Even though he is a renowned horologist, Ellis didn’t have any interest in watchmaking as a career, he said.

He joined the U.S. Navy when he was 17 and served his country with distinction during World War II. While in the Navy, he earned a rating of special artificer instrument watch repair.

“They had a watch repair shop on the ship,” he said. “And the watchmaker’s time was up, and he was looking for help. So they gave me a second-grade test but a third-grade rating.”

When Ellis returned home after serving four years in the Navy, he married Mary Grabill. His father, William Ellis, told him about a watchmaking school in nearby Corydon and encouraged him to enroll.

R.W. turned the idea down, so William taught him a lesson about hard labor and made R.W. paint and do repairs around the barber shop he ran out of a shotgun house at 605 E. Second St.

After a couple of days of that work, Ellis decided going to watchmaking school didn’t sound like such a bad idea after all, he said. So he attended Cunningham’s Horology School for two years.

“I sure didn’t want to paint houses,” he said.

He began by repairing and selling watches out of one showcase in his father’s barber shop. But watches soon expanded to rings, as men would come in for a haircut and ask R.W. if he could get them wedding bands.

So he added a few wedding bands to his display case, and that was the beginning of Ellis Jewelers in 1948. After 70 years, the business is still located at the same address.

Over the years, Ellis Jewelers has grown its customer base by adding more products and services. But to R.W., people who spent money at his store weren’t just customers. He considered them friends and even family, he said.

Customer service is extremely important to R.W., but he prefers doing the repair work to being on the sales floor.

In 1996, Ellis’s youngest son, Jeff, took over the business. He started working with his dad in 1977 and now has put in 40½ years himself.

Together, they started a service that allowed customers in 40 states to mail their Timex watches to them to be repaired.

Although a registered and skilled watchmaker like his dad, Jeff has distinguished himself in working with diamonds and other gemstones to design and create unique jewelry for customers.

“I can resize rings and set some diamonds, but he is a master jeweler,” R.W. said of his son. “He does a good job.”

Having lived through the death of his first wife and spending years as a widower, R.W. married Ruth Anne Black in 2000 when he was 73.

In 2001, after 53 years, R.W. actually retired. But he remembers it a little different.

“I raised my wages, and Jeff fired me,” he said.

With time on his hands, R.W. and Ruth spent some time traveling, taking trips to Canada and Mexico.

But in 2015, Jeff asked his dad if he would come back to the store and help him, so R.W. began working again six days a week.

Although he’s down to three days now, he’s still able to keep things caught up, he said.

“We just enjoy what we do,” R.W. said.

When it comes to their success, both R.W. and Jeff give all of the credit to God.

“I can do nothing on my own,” R.W. said. “The Lord showed me how to do all this stuff.”

He never thought he would still be working on watches at 91, so he doesn’t think of quitting now.

“This is all I know,” he said. “It’s all I’ve ever done. I’m not looking for praise. I just want to get the job done.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Robert Wallace “R.W.” Ellis Sr.” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Name: Robert Wallace “R.W.” Ellis Sr.

Age: 91

Occupation: Watchmaker. Started Ellis Jewelers in 1948 in Seymour. Served four years in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Family: First wife, Mary Rebecca Grabill (deceased); children, Junior, Max, Nancy, Pat and Jeff; wife, Ruth Anne Ellis

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31

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Business: Ellis Jewelers

Owner: Jeff Ellis, son of founder R.W. Ellis, who started the business in 1948

Address: 404 E. Second St., Seymour

Phone: 812-522-3228

Website: ellisjewelersseymour.com

Email: [email protected]


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