Rebecca Struthers on Watches, Watchmaking, and the Hands of Time
Mon Jun 12 2023
Econ Talk with Russ Roberts and Rebecca Struthers
- Rebecca Struthers is a watchmaker and the guest on the podcast.
- The podcast discusses her book, "Hands of Time: A Watchmaker's History."
- Rebecca makes, repairs, and restores watches with her husband.
- She separates her work into clean and dirty tasks to avoid contamination.
- Rebecca started in jewelry making but switched to watchmaking for a creative outlet.
- She studied Julian Silversmithing to learn basic hand skills.
Watchmaking Techniques and Restorations
- Drills are extensively used in watchmaking for creating holes and tapping screws.
- High precision pillar drills are used, which are miniature versions of larger engineering laboratory drills.
- Restoring watches is a rare skill, and there is a shortage of top-level restorers globally.
- Complications in horology add to the difficulty in restoring watches.
- There is a tendency among restorers to recommend work to each other due to the shortage of good high-end restorers.
- Watchmakers support each other and are not competitors.
- Traditional watch case making using bar and sheet metal is becoming rare.
- The oldest watch Rebecca has worked on dates back to 1530.
Learning Watchmaking and Tools
- Rebecca spent years studying Julian Silversmithing and learning basic hand skills.
- The first year of the watchmaking course was spent making tools before working on precision watch movements.
- An orary is a reproduction of the solar system that can be put on display as jewelry.
- Setting up a business in watchmaking can be difficult without significant backing.
British Museum and Dutch Forgeries
- The British Museum has two gallery spaces for clocks and watches.
- There are around four and a half thousand watches in the horological study room in the basement that can be viewed with curators for free.
- Rebecca conducted research on Dutch forgeries of watches for her PhD.
- The emergence of non-standardized mass manufacture of watches through the production of forgeries was uncovered.
- London was home to famous watchmakers, and everyone wanted a London watch.
- Manufacturers on the Swiss-French border used a different manufacturing technique called Tabla Sarge.
- Division of labor and specialization in watchmaking led to increased productivity and lower costs.
Decline of UK Watch Industry and Success of Swiss Watch Industry
- The UK watch industry declined by the end of the 19th century due to complete transformation in production.
- The Swiss watch industry combined mass manufacturing with luxury marketing to create a successful product.
- They backed the future of wristwatches over pocket watches.
- Emerging markets are now producing high-quality watches that even experts struggle to differentiate from originals.
Art, Accuracy, and Extraordinary Watches
- Art is worth paying for, even if it doesn't make us more efficient.
- The beauty of an object appeals to people.
- Accuracy is not a priority for everyone in watchmaking.
- Some clients demand high accuracy standards in watches.
- Quartz and atomic timekeeping are the most accurate timekeepers available.
- The Marie Antoinette watch made by Abraham Louis Breggae is an extraordinary work of engineering with 23 complications and self-winding capabilities.
- The Brigitte watch had power reserve indication, a chronograph, a thermometer, and a perpetual calendar.
- The completed Marie Antoinette watch was stolen but later found in a private collection.
Meaningful Watches and Favorite Restoration
- Watches hold significant meaning beyond their practical use.
- A favorite restoration for Rebecca was a Mavardo watch with an incredible story behind it.
- The owner's father survived a plane crash during WWII, and the watch was found folded up in his flight jacket when he arrived at the hospital.
- The restoration process focused on preserving its history.
Rebecca Struthers' Work and Outlook on Time
- Rebecca Struthers sells hand-made watches on her website.
- Making things in a traditional way is therapeutic and beautiful for her.
- Creating watches allows her to measure parts of her life with the projects she's been working on.
- Working this way is a real pleasure in today's fast-paced modern world.