Preserving the art and science of British watchmaking
The husband and wife team of Craig and Rebecca Struthers - watchmaker and antiquarian horologist respectively - will deliver this year’s George Daniels Lecture on November 28th in the Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre.
George Daniels CBE, DSc, FBHI, FSA (19th August 1926 to 21st October 2011) created the co-axial escapement, one of the most significant developments in watchmaking for the last 250 years and which has since been licensed to Omega.
He studied horology at City’s predecessor, the Northampton Institute.
After his death, the George Daniels Educational Trust administered the substantial funds he bequeathed to provide scholarships for City’s students and to benefit research in measurement and instrumentation at the University.
Currently, George Daniels' substantial financial endowment supports the following within the School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering: the George Daniels Chair in Scientific Instrumentation; the George Daniels Lecturer in Scientific Instrumentation; fifteen Undergraduate Scholars studying for degrees in Biomedical, Mechanical, Civil, Aeronautical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences; and three PhD studentships.
In their lecture, Back to the future: 19th century watchmaking by 21st century watchmakers, Craig and Rebecca, who met in 2004 as watchmaking students at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, will speak of the risks they took in setting up an English watchmaking studio in the middle of a recession, and the priority given to careful historical research when applied to contemporary watchmaking.
Craig picked up a reputation for his patience while repairing complicated antique watches. His extensive experience has given him the skills necessary for making or repairing virtually every component found inside a watch. Craig has sat at the feet of some of the greatest vintage and antique watch restorers in Britain and has apprenticed as a veteran chronometer maker for Mercer.
In 2017, Rebecca became the first watchmaker in British history to earn a PhD in horology, examining fakes, forgeries and the emergence of mass production in the European watch industry during the eighteenth century.
Between them, they are qualified in watchmaking, jewellery, silversmithing, illustrators, gemmology and design history.
Craig and Rebecca spoke to City News about their work and how best the tradition of British watchmaking can be passed on to future generations.
CN: As the first woman in the history of the craft and profession with a PhD in horology, do you carry a weight of responsibility in preparing future generations of women for watchmaking careers?
RS: A study carried out by McKinsey & Company earlier this year found that the least diverse businesses, both in terms of gender and ethnicity, are 29 percent more likely to be less profitable. Frankly, I think the horology industry has a weight of responsibility to prepare future generations of women and ethnic minorities if it is going to survive and succeed in the future. There is a rapidly worsening hand skills crisis in watchmaking, not only in the UK but Switzerland too, and I think every employer has a part to play irrespective of gender.
CN: In what areas has your work been influenced by George Daniels?
RS: George Daniels’ book, Watchmaking, was one of the first investments I made when I started my training; it remains the absolute go-to for anyone thinking of making their own watch in a traditional way.
CS: George’s Watchmaking is still one of the books I refer to the most and we use a number of his techniques in our watchmaking process from clipping tools to jigs. When I look at his watchmaking craft, I feel it’s something I can relate to; he relied on hand skills and ingenuity rather that modern technology which is something I have a huge amount of respect for.
CN: How challenging or easy has it been to rekindle an interest in English watchmaking with stiff competition from Switzerland and Asia?
CS: The greatest challenge we’ve faced has been trying to reform the allied crafts that surrounded and supported English watchmaking rather than competition from abroad. So little is left of the British industry, and trying to find engravers, enamellers, goldsmiths and so many other trades still here and willing to try their hand at watchmaking is a real challenge.
RS: It’s resulted in us taking quite a few of the skills in-house, such as case and dial making, which we complete alongside our watchmaking.
CN: With the digitisation of almost everything around us, how can we encourage more young people to go into watchmaking?
RS: This is something I’m very passionate about. Without a next generation there will be no more watchmakers. I recently took part in an event with Primary Futures, which introduces primary school children to the world of work, to share a bit about my career in watchmaking with a group of local ten- to eleven-year-olds. I’ve also been exploring ways we can use virtual reality to introduce young people to craft in an environment they’re familiar with. In the digital age, making ourselves accessible is key and we need to digital technologies to our advantage.
CN: Are there enough study programs for people interested in watchmaking?
CS: The problem isn’t accessing the craft at an entry level, it’s accessing the opportunities to develop your skills in the workplace. Once someone is keen to pursue a career in watchmaking there are opportunities available, but they tend to leave you at a technician level and in a sequential servicing job. The majority of brands have no vested interest in developing a technician into a master watchmaker, and so, people end up staying a technician for their whole career. There are a few incredibly talented watch restorers who either received further training or are self-taught, and a tiny number of workshops actually making watches from scratch, so finding an opportunity in the right workshop to progress and hone your skills is incredibly challenging.
CN: How important is Birmingham to the watchmaking craft?
RS: We relocated from London to Birmingham to found our first workshop with the intention of moving back as soon as our business could survive London’s rents and rates. I’m from Birmingham originally and grew up not far from the Jewellery Quarter where we are now. The area is still home to the largest concentration of jewellers anywhere in Europe and the workshops that surround us, from small engineering companies to tool makers, are integral to the way we run our business. There is nowhere else in the UK that could provide the same level of support which is why we decided to remain and now sign our work with our address on Regent Place, B1.
To attend the George Daniels Lecture, please register using this weblink.
For more information about Craig and Rebecca Struthers, please visit their website.