Clock and watch making
The making, repair and restoration of clocks and watches (also known as horology).
|Historic area of significance||London and Coventry|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||14th century|
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required||1000+ for a viable trade (see ‘Issues affecting the sustainability of the craft’)|
|Current no. of trainees||Unknown (see ‘Issues affecting the sustainability of the craft’)|
|Current no. of skilled craftspeople||501-1000|
|Current total no. of craftspeople||501-1000|
The craft of horology arrived in England from the continent in the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries. England became a world leader in horology – both for innovation and workmanship – during the late-sixteenth/early-seventeenth centuries. This situation lasted until the 1800s when America and Germany introduced mass production, and the resultant lower prices undermined the English trade. Since then, almost all activity is centred around servicing existing artefacts rather than making new ones.
In 1800 Britain made around half of the world’s watches, around 200,000 pieces a year. By 1900 the quantity produced in Britain had halved, despite the worldwide market for watches having risen into the millions. The problem lay in the hand-made nature of English watches and the heavy reliance on skilled workers who were reluctant to adapt to the changes in technology. The Swiss and the Americans were much quicker and more successful in adopting mass-production techniques. Mass-manufactured watches were soon able to compete directly with hand-made ones, and eventually surpass them in performance despite only costing a fraction of the price. The industry in Britain collapsed.
There was a brief resurgence in post war Britain, but the remaining businesses were not robust enough to survive the biggest crisis in watchmaking – the emergence of the quartz watch. Recently there has been much talk of a revitalisation of the British watch making industry, and while it is true that the situation is more hopeful than it was ten years ago, there still remains a lack of a brand mass producing any 100% British-made watches for the market. Roger W. Smith’s workshop, which produces watches completely manufactured in the British Isles only makes 10-12 watches a year. For the most part, the British brands that currently exist are small-scale and often overpriced when compared to more established Swiss brands. Recently Robert Loomes has started to create watches made with older English Smiths movements (which were 100% made in Britain during the 1950s-1970s), and has demonstrated that there are facilities and talent still remaining in Britain to make all the parts of a watch here.The pioneers of the revival are Nick and Giles English, two brothers from Norfolk.
There are many local forms and are far too numerous to list.
watch dial restorers
clock dial restorers
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Ageing workforce: The number of horologists is falling dramatically due to retirement/death but the number of trained horologists needs to be sustainable so that horologists are able to earn a living. If there was a sudden influx in numbers this would cause a problem – there needs to be a steady and sustainable increase.
Lack of data: The British Watch & Clock Makers’ Guild wanted to conduct a survey into horology in the UK in 2015 but did not have the funds to pay for one – feel it is vital to carry out a proper survey as soon as possible to give correct figures for and information about the trade, such as numbers of trainees and skilled craftspeople.
Lack of awareness: Lack of awareness of the opportunities within the trade amongst the young.
Training issues: Lack of good on-the-job apprenticeships training for anyone entering the trade. (The British Watch & Clock Makers’ Guild is hoping that the government’s ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeship scheme will help with this.)
Training issues: Poor teaching of practical skills in the education system.
Training issues: There is a correspondence course in horology but this does not give ‘hands on’ skills. While a grounding in theory is required, the most important attribute for a good horologist is ‘a safe pair of hands’ and experience. Theory can be taught, but you are either practical or you aren’t. This experience and practicality can only be passed from a ‘master’ to an apprentice.
Training issues: Lack of provision of the right sort of training.
Training issues: Traditionally, apprentices did their training with a master and after their apprenticeship were considered fully trained. Any skills that the apprentice required which were not available with his master were able to be ‘topped up’ at hackney college in London – unfortunately that no longer exists. There is no reason why an apprenticeship scheme for horologists should not work today with top up skills provided by other members of the trade. What the trade requires is a steady stream of young horologists who are able to do every aspect of repair. What we currently have (and we are seeing more and more often) is that young horologists are being told that certain parts of horology need to be done by ‘a specialist’ – when in fact they just require proper training to do the complete repair.
Dilution of skills: The craft is at the point where many amateurs are taking up the profession without proper training and are attempting to reinvent the wheel.
Craftspeople currently known
A list of current British watchmakers can be found on the website of the Great British Watch Company.
A list of holorigists can be found on the website of the British Watch and Clock Makers’ Guild, which has a membership of approximately 700, most of whom are practicing horologists (the membership also includes those engaged in horological ancilliary trades such as material houses, dial restorers etc). The Guild is the only body whose membership is made up of those wholly professionally engaged in horology.