There is now only a handful of watchmakers in the UK which means that it has been in the Critically Endangered category in the Heritage Crafts Red List of Endangered Crafts since the first research was published. Hurray, then, for Craig and Rebecca Struthers who run their company, Struthers Watches, in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham. The fact that this is such a rare craft means that Rebecca’s book ‘Hands of Time’ is even more important.
However, do not think that this is yet another book on craft, who does it and how to do it, of which there seem to be quite a few at the moment. This is a fascinating, delightful and well-written book about all aspects of time and the development of measuring time, as the title suggests, No wonder it was chosen to be ‘Book of the Week’ on BBC’s Radio 4 in what seemed like only seconds after it was published! Rebecca is the only person in the UK to have a PhD in horology and her research and depth of knowledge stands her in good stead for this book.
All the drawings in the book (here and as above) were done by Rebecca’s husband, Craig, and the care, precision, delight, and execution add immensely to the book. They also show the need for the supreme accuracy that is required for those who work with objects that are often less than a mm in size.
What is particularly interesting about the book is the way in which Rebecca weaves her own story and experiences into the means by which counting and recording time has developed. In the first chapter, for example, it is meeting with friend Jim, whose wife is a shepherdess, who explains the effects of nature and the seasons on the times when ewes get pregnant and then giving birth; this emphasises the way in which the yearly cycle has on all of us, even though it is often not always obvious to city dwellers. This also relates to the 44,000 years old Lebombo bone (see image) which has scratched markings on it that are thought to reflect and represent the days of the lunar month and the monthly cycle – perhaps a degree of sophistication at that time which many hadn’t fully appreciated.
Rebecca considers both the development of watches and a number of special watches such as this lion watch which some believe to have been owned by Mary, Queen of Scots, and was presented to her by her first husband, Francis II, King of France. This watch was then given to Mary Seton, one of the ‘four Marys’ who accompanied the Queen to France and then back to Scotland. It was said to have been given to Mary Seton on the Queen’s execution, but was this actually the case?
Should watchmakers and repairers leave any sign of their work on watches? This is similar to calligraphy which is rarely signed. Decades later it is often difficult to work out who was responsible for great works of art. Rebecca was told never to leave a trace, but this person inadvertently left a finger print here on the back of an enamelled watch. (Can you see it, just under the word ‘Wilson’?) Wouldn’t it be interesting to know who this person was and at what stage they were involved in making the watch?
One of my favourites, photographed by Andy Pilsbury, as indeed all the photographs are in the book, is this watch which is part of a chatelaine, worn by a housekeeper or someone in charge of a large house. What a lucky housekeeper to have such a wonderful instrument as part of her daily duties to refer to every day.
I have had such pleasure reading this book, and enjoyed every moment as stories both of Rebecca’s own experiences, and the history of watchmaking are revealed, and the art and craft of watchmaking are interleaved with the history and development of watches. I cannot recommend this book highly enough – buy one for yourself and one or two more for those who you may think would also be fascinated, and those really difficult people (uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers) who are difficult to buy for – you won’t regret it!