Going Forward by Stepping Back

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Arthur Martinez, owner of A Step Back in Time, sheds light on timepiece restoration and the new chapter in his life.

By Matt Valdez | Photos by Jody Tiongco



In the fast-paced world we live in today, it would seem that the time of Old World craftsmanship has long since passed—but just a few blocks from the Main Beach shore, a piece of that past remains. Located within the Forest Avenue Mall, the vintage jewelry and timepiece repair shop A Step Back in Time stands as a reminder of a bygone era. Like a treasured family heirloom, the shop has stood the test of time, providing an increasingly rare craft to Laguna Beach residents since 1975.

After almost 40 years, the shop’s original owner, Pat Espe, hung up his tool belt in April 2014 and handed the keys over to his good friend Arthur Martinez. Since then, Arthur has continued the legacy Pat worked so hard to keep alive in this ever-advancing world.

We recently spoke with Arthur about his craft and the shop that has been entrusted to him.
Laguna Beach Magazine: How did you get started in jewelry and timepiece repair?

Arthur Martinez: Well, I’ve been in the business my whole life, like my father and grandfather. … They really instilled my passion and desire to enter [the business]. I began sweeping the floors in my dad’s shop in Detroit. Then I was an apprentice for my father from the age of 15 until I was about 25.

Timepiece repair is a family trade. Arthur’s grandfather (fourth from left) worked in an early 1900s shop. | Photo courtesy of Arthur Martinez
Timepiece repair is a family trade. Arthur’s grandfather (fourth from left) worked in an early 1900s shop. | Photo courtesy of Arthur Martinez

LBM: What first brought you to A Step Back in Time?

AM: One day I happened to be walking in Laguna Beach, as I often do with my wife, and I happened to notice the shop with its sign there. I went into the store and bought a small watch from Pat and we became friends. After that day, our relationship grew.
LBM: How did you end up taking over ownership of the store?

AM: Not this past October, but the October before that, Pat began seriously talking about retirement and was looking to sell the property. He was quite leery, not because he didn’t trust me, but because this was his baby. In the last few months we began speaking about how everything would continue on. Then, in April of last year, [my wife and I] signed the papers and became the owners of the store.
LBM: How has the community reacted to you taking over the shop?

AM: It was quite a nice transition. Even though I wasn’t working here at the time, I took every opportunity I could before [the transition] to get accustomed. Shortly after Pat left, I was concerned that the client base wouldn’t stay with us, but our statistics show that at least 95 percent of Pat’s original clients have returned.
LBM: Can you tell me about your process for restoring timepieces?

AM: In most cases, the process will take about one to four weeks. In both wristwatches and clocks, there are anywhere from 40 to over 300 parts in each unit. You have to take them apart, properly clean them, reassemble them and make sure there are no gears or parts that need to be replaced. Then you must oil, lubricate and regulate. I always tell clients that I only have two hands and that I can only work on one piece at a time.

LBM: What is the most interesting piece you’ve ever encountered in the store?

AM: Well, we have worked on some very interesting timepieces. But currently we are working on a very unique, musical pocket watch, a solid gold Patek Philippe. It was bought in the ’80s at approximately $30,000 and is now worth a quarter of a million dollars.
LBM: With all the advancements in technology, why do you believe people are still drawn to classic timepieces?

AM: These pieces were made when craftsmanship was important; there wasn’t such a thing as computers or 3-D printers. This was a time when people actually made things by hand.

The pieces we have are mostly 40 to over 100 years old and made by people who took pride in making things this way.

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