Mario Steisel

Mario Steisel’s shop is named Watch and Jewelry Hospital, an appropriate name because of the diagnostic skill necessary to watch repairs. ANTHONY INSWASTY


When purchasing a watch, many people start at the outside, scrutinizing its face and band for a desired look. Mario Steisel, a watchmaker by trade, recommends the opposite approach.

“You have to look from the inside out,” he says. “Rolex, Seiko, Citizen — these are the best watches. You could spend more money because of the outside, but the inside would not be as good.”

Steisel’s store and repair shop has an interesting name: Watch and Jewelry Hospital. This makes sense when you realize the diagnostic finesse needed for watch repairs.

When asked the most important quality for a watchmaker, Steisel is quick to respond.

“Patience. I put a watch back together one time, three times, still not right. Ten times. At some point, I leave it, and come back. One more time, and only then, the calibration machine shows a straight line, just like an EKG.”

The doctor for this hospital still makes house calls. “You can’t load a grandfather clock into your car and bring it to me,” he says, explaining that he removes the clock movements and takes them back to his shop. Depending on the clock, he might work on the case as well, but with one beautiful collectible featured in his shop, he left the outside alone. Built by a Buckingham Palace clockmaker in the 1730s, it is a testament to craftsmanship.

“How they made such things by hand in the 1700s …” marvels Steisel. “The technology was the same, but the materials were different. I like to investigate these things.” His store is part retailer, part museum. An atmospheric clock gleams on the counter, a wonder of continuous timekeeping that draws its energy from temperature and atmospheric pressure changes in the environment. Cuckoo clocks from Germany’s Black Forest and Switzerland keep time alongside custom modern clocks built by Steisel, including a small cookie tin.

“Someone asked me to make 10 just like it,” he says with a chuckle, “and I said they must supply the tins. Otherwise, I would have had to buy all those cookies.”

Two striking clocks with prominent Stars of David are scroll-like. Steisel crafted a huge clock of similar design for a fundraiser at his synagogue, Temple Beth-Israel in Port St. Lucie.

“With the store, I have no time to be on the temple board now, but I still contribute.” An 18-foot high menorah he built out of rebar, which took four months to create, stands outside the synagogue.

Large projects have their challenges, but watch repair is an exacting process.

“There is a drop of oil that must be in the center,” he explains. “I use a microscope and a loupe to check. There is a machine for the timing. One for cleaning, another for waterproofing. The machines are unbelievably costly.”

This may be one reason that the art of watchmaking is declining. Another is the training necessary. According to Steisel, it takes four years to really learn the craft. He has been at it for more than a half-century.

Steisel began his training at a vocational high school for boys in Argentina. When he had to select a focus, Steisel chose watchmaking.

His oldest son didn’t have the same freedom.

“I forced him to help me when he was 12 or 13,” he says. “And he went on to become a jeweler himself.”

A Rolex certified technician, Steisel says that a Rolex watch has more than 200 parts. For a watch to be repaired or cleaned, each part is separated, then put back together. It takes hours. It takes expertise.

“If I can’t do the work here, it is time to send the watch back to the manufacturer,” he says. That is not likely to be the case with a Rolex, whose parts are legendary for fitting precisely.

Over the years, Steisel has built more than clocks. “My hobby,” he says modestly, taking down a photo of a custom motorcycle. From the Volkswagen engine in the rear to the Harley-Davidson fork in front, the beautiful machine took 2½ years to complete. Steisel says he limits his riding, avoiding rainy, cold weather. If everything is just right, his wife, Eugenia, will ride along.

The couple has been married for 48 years, working together for the last 30, but their history began much earlier.

“She moved next door to me when we were 11,” Steisel says. “At 14, we dated; at 22 we married.” Eugenia, he says, does everything: the bookkeeping, the cooking. And after all those years, he says he has perfected selective hearing ... just as he has perfected his watchmaking skills.

Steisel and his family immigrated from Argentina in 1980; he owned three stores in New York before health and weather brought them south in 2014. Steisel’s store at 1680 SW St. Lucie West Blvd., between Vine & Barley and West End Grill, is neither conspicuous nor extravagant. But as with Steisel’s beloved clocks and watches, it is what is inside that counts.


Age: 72
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Owner, Watch & Jewelry Hospital LLC.
Family: Wife, Eugenia; two sons
Education: Watchmaking in high school; Rolex training; many years “on the job”
Hobby: Building and riding a custom motorcycle
Who inspires me: “No one, that much. I inspire myself to do.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I watch a lot of television about cars.”