5 years ago I made the decision to become a watchmaker.
It was a completely unexpected result of seaching for a new career, and it has been a very interesting journey. I’ve written about the story of becoming a watchmaker here.
Anyway, some news. Firstly I’m writing articles again now after an extended break. The main reason for the hiatus was that I was still studying for the final part of my BHI exams in 2015. That has now finished – as I will explain later – and so I have more free time.
Writing articles for this website can take a very long time; sometimes in excess of 40 hours per piece. From a purely selfish point of view there has been no real benefit to the site for me; it’s not helped me find work or otherwise made any money, and in fact there have been some very negative effects from putting things into the public domain. But it has offered me the opportunity to help encourage people into the industry, and it is also acts as a journal of my career – and it can be very nice to look back on how different life was, even just a few years ago.
Some weeks I have half a dozen people write to ask advice. If I’m busy I can take a week or so to reply, but I do always reply. I’d say more than half of the people don’t write to say thank-you afterwards, even although many of the replies can take me quite a while to put together; particularly if there’s research involved. It’s a bit frustrating, but as with writing articles, I don’t do it for personal reward but rather will gain satisfaction from the occasional time someone decides to make the same bold step I took those 5 years ago.
I also was featured in the December 2015 Horological Journal, which was really nice. It was part of a feature about students that won awards.
Below is the text from the article:
How did you become interested in horology?
“I returned to the UK in 2010, after having spent the past 8 years in China and decided that I needed to choose a career and specialise in something. I went to the local library and looked at books on absolutely everything; from landscape gardening, to being a doctor, even a masseuse. One of the books I was left with was about watch repair. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this could be a job, perhaps because I’d never owned a watch worth repairing. But the more I looked into it; learning about the history, the characters, the innovation and the craft of watchmaking, the more I was drawn in, and the more it felt as if this was something that suited my character and skills. Sometimes I still think about my other life as a masseur though!”
What has been the best part of your continued education at the BHI?
“Learning what you can achieve, and that you can always surprise yourself. In my whole life I’d never made anything with my hands before and so turning what looks like pieces of scrap metal into useful tools feels like you have magical powers! Every day at work I use at least half a dozen items that I’ve crafted by hand, and although I can still gaze in wonder at what others can create, I now have the confidence to say that given enough time – I could make that too. Such a change from just a few years ago where everything would have looked impossible, and only achievable by someone far more gifted than I could ever hope to be.”
What advice do you have for prospective horology students or people wanting to learn more about horology?
“Realise that it starts as a level playing field, and that no-one has “natural” talent. What may seem as someone being gifted is the result of a whole lot of passion, dedication, commitment and hard work. If you want to make watches like George Daniels did, then the only thing stopping you, is you. It is no coincidence that the most successful people in horology are also the hardest working. Also, be aware that watchmaking is a tiny industry and watchmakers love to gossip, which means reputations can grow and shatter very quickly. So be nice!”
What are your hopes and dreams for your future in the world of horology?
“I know that I will never stop learning, and it is very exciting to think about the future. Beyond finishing the additional modules to get my FBHI title, I aim to create my own watch. I have started and made some progress already, and hopefully I can use that as a starting block to work towards making a small contribution to the British watchmaking industry. It was one of the original appeals of watchmaking, that one person can make a real difference, and I think it is still true. Work hard, aim high and who knows?”
It’s really nice to receive recognition for hard work. I’ve had a lot of support over the years, and I’m very grateful for it all.
Another piece of news is the fact that I’m not studying anymore; despite what the last paragraph of my interview says.
As mentioned I had planned to take the two extra units and complete the exams to gain a Fellowship with the BHI (FBHI). These steps are highlighted in the below image.
Having already spent about £1000 and hundreds of hours on my restoration portfolio, the BHI decided to arbitrarily take away the award for students. Sadly this has meant all the expended time and money was in effect wasted.
You could still gain the higher level 5 qualification, but unfortunately no-one in the industry really knows the newer exam structure. Watchmaking is very much a meritocracy; based on what you are capable of. So without a fellowship attached to the qualification, which I saw as being the closest thing to calling yourself a Doctor, it became (for me at least) pointless.
The saddest part about this was how I found out about this, which was by accident. After being told of the decision casually in passing by another student I contacted the BHI for clarifcation. I was told that the BHI education board had decided to make the change, and not tell any students. They had decided that giving the FBHI title to students was too generous; even although we’d been told that as fact for the past 3/4 years.
Historically the fellowship had been awarded to students for just passing the main exams – which I have already done.
Throughout my studies I’ve been bombarded with negative comments concerning the BHI, and I’ve always defended them. Myself and other students felt that allowing students to reach the highest tier was was a change in the attitiude in the BHI and a realisation that the rapidly aging membership needed to attract and keep younger talent.
I’m not going to lie, this may have had an irreconcilable effect on my longterm opinion of the BHI. I did consider not renewing my membership, but decided to not react with emotion and to see if by next year time would had tempered my perspective.
Finally, in July I’ll have my first apprentice to train which I am very enthused about. Being able to pass on what I’ve learnt is one of the most rewarding parts of any job. Let’s hope that it goes really well and there are many more talented young people to follow.