BIRMINGHAM, England – Rebecca Struthers, the British watchmaker and restorer who received her doctorate in watchmaking in 2017, is trying something a little different: she’s writing a book.
âHands of Time: A Watchmaker’s Historyâ is a look at the history, art and science of watchmaking, including her experiences with some of the watches she writes about. The book, delayed for a year by the pandemic, is now expected to be published in May 2023 by Hodder & Stoughton in Great Britain and by HarperCollins in the United States.
Dr Struthers and her watchmaker husband Craig operate Watchmakers Struthers from their little studio in Birmingham’s jewelry district. (His watch drawings will illustrate the book.)
During an interview and in follow-up emails, Dr Struthers described some of the quirky characters in the watch world, what it’s like to be a woman in the industry and her fondness for Casio. . His comments have been edited and condensed.
Your website says your book will focus on “one of the most culturally significant objects in modern history.” What is so important about a watch?
Watches are our way of capturing events in the universe, events over which we have no control, in something that we can wear on our body. They are objects that can project information about who we are and how we want to be perceived as much as they regulate our lives.
You also promise a story of “adventure and innovation, full of eccentric characters”.
One of my favorites is Abraham-Louis Breguet, who worked during the French Revolution as a watchmaker to the French aristocracy, and for Napoleon Bonaparte, King George III and the Duke of Wellington, while keeping the head cold. There is Ruth Belville, who from the late 19th century until World War II roamed the streets of London to “sell time”. She would bring her very precise chronometer to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich in the morning to set it precisely to the time of the meridian. Her subscribers paid her to visit them so that they could correct their timepieces. There is also the curious case of John Wilter, a name associated with fakes of 18th century pocket watches that were signed as being made in London, but were in fact cheap watches from mainland Europe. There is no evidence that a John Wilter ever existed.
There aren’t many female watchmakers. Has your gender helped or hindered your career?
Being not only a female, but young, tattooed, working class and having my own mind was definitely a hindrance at the start of my career. Even though I am now at the stage where it is reversed and being in the minority in my field makes it easier to get noticed, it is also a position that I have deserved. Breaking down the barriers that I have encountered for future generations of watchmakers is very important to me. The industry is still incredibly male, white, and middle to upper class, and with that we are losing so many potential talent.
Is it difficult to part with a watch you have made?
When watches take years to build, they mark parts of your life. It’s strange to give them away. I work with my husband, so we consider it a bit like our child is going to college. You can’t help but look at what you were doing when construction started, how much it has changed, what you and the world have been through.
What’s on your wrist?
My everyday watches have to be workshop compatible, or in other words, OK to go around. I’m a huge Casio fan and have quite a few Swatches, which are great for the job. My dress watches are all vintage. They don’t need to have a name: I look for elements in their design that I like rather than following the big brands. I am definitely a fan of the weird and the wonderful!