Rebecca Struthers is a watchmaker, horological historian – the first watchmaker to earn a PhD in horology – and co-founding Director of Struthers Watchmakers.
Her book, Hands Of Time – A Watchmaker’s History Of Time takes you on a wonderful journey through time, and interweaves the macro events with the micro happenings, citing extremely personal and intimate aspects of her own journey to become one of the leading watchmakers in the country.
The book is a window into the extraordinary inventions, the people that created them and how they’ve impacted on her career, both positively and at times negatively. You really get to know her and how she overcame the barriers to ultimately achieve her ambition to become a watchmaker.
Each of the eleven chapters, begins with a quote relating to time, starting with the Sun, as we hear about the author’s fascination with nature and the natural world. It is this honest appraisal of an upbringing in Birmingham and her great interest in learning how things worked from her Dad, that makes you realise how important those formative years are on what you end up doing.
We hear about The Golden Age (of English watchmaking in the 1670-1720’s) when English watchmaking was at it’s height following the Plague (1665) and Great Fire (1666) and how the great inventors, such as Robert Hooke and great watchmaker’s like Thomas Tompion, George Graham, Thomas Mudge and John Harrison came to the fore and created the basis for the watches we wear today.
We then are taken through the Forging Time chapter, which tells how the author began her fascination for fake watches that were being made across Europe. They were referred to as ‘Dutch forgeries’ as they were purported to be English, but were made in the Dutch style. This formed the basis of her doctorate on horological history.
Next we are told about how the watch played its part in the Revolution Time, which explains the opulence of the French Court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and how they employed the likes of leading master watchmaker, Breguet, to create exceptional timepieces when the wider population were starving.
The chapter titled, Working To The Clock, gives us an inside view of the author’s workshop in the Jewellery Quarter of her home city, Birmingham. It really brings to life the world of the watchmaker and what is required to become a skilled crafts person in today’s industry. It also looks at the wider working world and how before industrialisation, we relied largely of the rhythms of the natural world to dictate the working day. Following this, the clock and watch, became the universal instrument in ensuring people were in work ‘on time’ – in many factories you had to ‘clock on and off’ using a card to register your working day.
The next chapters, The Watch Of Action, Accelerated Time, Man And Machine, take us through the age of exploration and discovery to destinations such as Antarctica and Mount Everest. They detail the part that the humble pocket watch played in these dangerous endeavours. We then move into the First and Second World Wars and how this encouraged the adoption of wearing the watch on the wrist. It then moves towards the invention of the quartz watch and its disastrous impact on the Swiss watch industry. Then we are told how the atomic clock (invented as early as the 1930s) has changed the way time is used in making GPS, the internet and space probes possible.
The final chapters, the Eleventh Hour and How To Repair A Watch take us through the incredible hard work culminating the realisation of Rebecca’s dream in creating her own watch – Project 248. She tells us that “the time had come to set ourselves the challenge of making every component of a watch of our own.” The watch was developed very much in style of George Daniels, one of the greatest watchmakers of the 20th century, who the author met and was inspired by, when she was studying to become a watchmaker.
Finally, it was brilliant to understand how the author went about repairing a watch, which was hugely insightful, giving the reader privileged access to this process, which is often kept secret by individual watchmakers. We also hear that the author has recently been diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis, which was quite a shock, but adds another level to the book in terms of her honest appraisal about how stress and anxiety had affected her career.
Given the intricate work and micro engineering the watchmaker requires, it makes Rebecca’s achievements all the more amazing.
There are beautiful illustrations throughout which were drawn by Rebecca’s husband and business partner, Craig, which adds immense enjoyment to the book.
Hands Of Time – A Watchmaker’s History Of Time; Author: Rebecca Struthers; Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; Number of pages: 288; Published April 27th 2023; Hardcover; ISBN-13: 9781529339031; £22.00
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