While most people check the time on their smartphones, Brittany Nicole Cox is dedicated to preserving an older technology: clocks and watches. Cox is one of the only antiquarian horologists in the country, repairing and restoring antique objects that have a watch or clock mechanism. Her rare title is the result of seven certifications and degrees accumulated over nine years of schooling.
Her passion for automata—self-operating machines such as cuckoo clocks and the spinning ballerinas- of vintage jewelry boxes—started early in childhood with a collection of music boxes and watches. She trained as a jeweler, earned a degree in philosophy in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas and enrolled at the Watch Technology Institute at North Seattle College to become a certified watchmaker. Cox continued her education at West Dean College in the United Kingdom, studying clock restoration and conservation, a specialty not taught in American schools.
“You have to have a mechanical mind. You are a scientist exploring how a mechanism works and what its faults and tolerances are,” she says, explaining why she is drawn to this work.
Cox opened Memoria Technica in 2015 in Columbia City, a studio specializing in antique automata restoration. There, she works with clients from around the world, including private collectors, museums and even magicians, who turn to her to create mechanical objects for tricks and illusions. She also teaches classes, allowing students to get hands-on experience using the shop’s antique machinery—including tools from a 20th-century Bulova watchmaking factory—to make their own objects, such as music boxes or pens.
While her craft is exacting and often requires trial and error, the final result, with all of the pieces working together, is what makes Cox tick.
“It’s an incredible feeling knowing [these pieces can have a] future life to make people happy,” says Cox.
Upcoming classes and lectures at Memoria Technica include tiered engine turning classes (for beginning, intermediate and advanced levels) and a quarterly Horological Lecture Series at the Stimson Green Mansion (First Hill, 1204 Minor Ave., 206.624.0474; mechanicalcurios.com) to discuss topics like the art of goldsmithing and the history of the rose engine lathe.
Cox is working on a memoir, to be published later this year, that details some of the pieces she has worked on, such as rare singing-bird boxes and a silver swan automaton.
Also a jeweler, Cox offers classes at her studio for couples to make personalized promise rings for each other.