These days, if you want to find neighbor Charlie Dalton, don’t head to Ralph Austin Jewelers, where he’s been repairing watches and jewelry for more than 32 years. Instead, Dalton is spending more time at his favorite neighborhood haunts — shooting the breeze with friends and neighbors at Gold Rush Café or knocking a golf ball around at some of the area golf courses. The 66-year-old decided to retire from the jewelry-repair business and handed the keys to Ralph Austin Jewelers over to a jeweler from Duncanville, Robert Milke, and his son, Tanner Milke. Dalton’s father-in-law founded Ralph Austin Jewelers in the Skillman-Live Oak shopping center in 1966 and ran it until Dalton took over in 1982. Before he moved to East Dallas, Dalton received his degree in electrical engineering from the University of Texas in Austin in 1969, and then he worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico for 13 years. He began occasionally helping his father-in-law at Ralph Austin Jewelers and enjoyed the work. “Watch repair is pretty complicated,” Dalton says. “There’s a lot to learn about that, but jewelry repair can be, too, especially the finer stuff.” When he took over, he only had basic knowledge of jewelry and watch repair, so he had to learn the rest of it on the fly, but after three decades of perfecting the trade, he’s now one of the few jewelers who knows how to repair old, mechanical watches — you know, the ones that don’t run on batteries. But he’s still learning, he insists. “If you think you’ve learned it all, then you’re in trouble,” he says with a laugh. Although it has been fulfilling work, Dalton, who hasn’t taken more than three or four consecutive days off in 32 years, has some new things on his agenda. “I’d like to travel,” he says. He’s planning to hang around to pitch in part-time until June or so, but after that, it’s off to Europe.
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