Havana watchmaker keeps on ticking despite economic woes

Japanese agency interested in cooperating with a privat company from Havana

HAVANA, Nov 10th.   Havana watchmaker Ernesto Barrios saw an opportunity to make up for lost time two years ago after authorities lifted a ban on private companies that had been in place since shortly after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

Taking advantage of the new regulations, he founded “Tiempo de Luz,” the only business in Cuba, he said, dedicated to the production and sale of wristwatches, table and wall clocks assembled from discarded timepieces and recycled, locally available materials.

Havana watchmaker keeps on ticking despite economic woes

Cuban watchmaker Ivan Gelabert, 32, works at a shop in Havana, Cuba, October 31, 2023. REUTERS/Nelson Acosta

“We’re occupying an empty niche,” the 41-year-old Barrios told Reuters on a recent tour of his Havana shop, where his employees assembled, with painstaking care, watches from pieces scavenged from old clocks and raw materials, woods, leather and natural fibers found on the Caribbean island.

Havana watchmaker keeps on ticking despite economic woes

Cuban watchmaker Ernesto Barrios, 41, works in his shop in Havana, Cuba, October 31, 2023. REUTERS/Nelson Acosta

“We don’t have to import any of our materials,” he said.

Cuba for decades benefited from close ties with the Soviet Union, allowing them to import goods from abroad, but after the bloc’s collapse in 1991 many products once common on the island, including watches, all but disappeared from state stores.

CUERVO Y SOBRINOS THE STORY OF AN UNDERVALUED HAVANA WATCH MANUFACTURE

“Years ago there was a great diversity of Russian watches in Cuba and today that watch market is empty,” he said.

More recently, food, fuel, and medicine shortages have forced both the state and a growing number of small private businesses to focus on the basics, like construction, food production, and tourism, though Barrios says his four-person company is making headway, despite some trouble with funding and financing.

His “Made in Cuba” watches, he said, are on display in various hotels in Havana, as well as in some stores in the Cuban capital.