Remembering Rudolf Hoellein, CMW21 (1941-2022)
By James Sprague
AWCI is mourning the passing of one of its longtime esteemed members. Rudolf Hoellein, CMW21, passed away December 27, 2022. The owner of Rudy’s Watch & Jewelry Repair in Brownsburg, Indiana, Rudy had been an involved member of AWCI since joining the organization in 1975.
He was born in Linden, Germany, in 1941 in the midst of World War II. In the rebuilding of Germany following World War II, Rudy began learning the trade of watchmaking from his uncle at the age of 13.
“The way he learned was by mastering one skill at time,” Rudy’s daughter, Nicole Hoellein, told the Towne Post of Brownsburg, Indiana, in a profile story about him and his business. “For instance, he would file for hours every day for weeks at a time until he learned to file straight. Then he would be taught the next skill like hammering, and it was the same thing. Each skill set he learned to perfection before moving on to the next thing.”
His final exam, as a watchmaker’s apprentice to his uncle, was being given a block of steel and instructed to create a watch out of it. Needless to say, he passed with flying colors, as he was soon working full-time in the industry by the age of 16. Just a few short years later, in 1961, he applied to immigrate to the United States.
A sponsor, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, along with his trade of watchmaking, assisted in his immigration to the US, and after a stint of service in the US Army—and meeting his wife, Jutta—he soon found himself working at Rost Jewelers in Indianapolis, where he worked until 1987.
“Early on in Rudy’s career as a watch repair specialist, he worked at my father’s jewelry store. I was a part-time helper and delivery person. Rudy was always very kind and friendly to me,” said Ron Engel. “This must have been in the early to mid-1960s and I must have been in my early to mid-teens. He was memorable and I am fortunate that I got to know him.”
“Rudy was truly like a father to me when we worked together at Rost Jewelers!” said a fellow colleague of his at Rost Jewelers, Kristen Ratcliff-Scott. “I will cherish those memories forever.”
After leaving Rost Jewelers in 1987, Rudy and his wife opened their own store, Rudy’s Watch & Jewelry Repair, in Lafayette Square in Indianapolis before relocating in 2015 to Brownsburg, Indiana, a northwestern suburb of Indianapolis.
Rudy passed the reins of the store along to his daughters, Nicole Hoellein and Monique Baez, an AWCI member herself, and they have run the shop since with a team of seven including sales associates, watchmakers, and jewelers.
Monique, in fact, brought Rudy to AWCI headquarters last fall, as they stopped in for a day during the AWCI Fall Symposium for Rudy to visit with his longtime colleagues and friends in the organization.
“He enjoyed coming down there to see his friends so much,” Monique said. “It really meant a lot to him.”
Rudy also meant a lot to many others throughout his storied career, which was evident in the outpouring of condolences on the Facebook page of Rudy’s Watch & Jewelry Repair, where over 100 people remembered Rudy, both the man and the watchmaker.
“A true master of his craft!” commented Becky Honisch, while another commenter, John Harney, stated “one of the best jewelers in Indiana. Great man.”
AWCI Treasurer Jack Kurdzionak, CW21, FAWCI, also recalled his longtime AWCI friend and colleague, and just how willing Rudy was to assist
other watchmakers in the industry and the organization throughout the years.
“I am so sorry to hear of Rudy’s passing. I knew him for many years through our professional organization, The American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute, as a very talented watchmaker who was always willing to assist another watchmaker in need of help,” Kurdzionak said. “Rudy will be missed by his many friends and colleagues in our profession.”
James Sprague is the office manager for AWCI and managing editor for Horological Times.