Why Watchmaking?

If you had asked me 4 years ago if I thought that I was going to getting into watchmaking, I would not have believed you. I was at a critical point in my life-I had just gotten married, my wife and I had decided that we wanted to get out of debt, and I was in the process of starting a second job at a bank to supplement our income to make the debt go away faster.

Very quickly, I ended up working 65-70 hour weeks. I was doing about 35 hours of massage a week plus 30-35 hours a week at a bank. After a couple months of doing that, I started to get tired. Luckily, my wife and I had a clear goal that I could focus on. Every time I felt rundown, I thought about our debt and was able to fan my internal fire to keep going.

During that time period, my wife and I didn’t get to see a lot of each other. I worked days at the bank, nights at my massage job, and weekends with both. In my free time that wasn’t cooking, I either played video games, watched stuff on Netflix, or read. A lot. Thanks to the vast catalog of instant videos on Netflix, I started watching a bunch of movies suggested for me. One of them was the film Shooter. I had seen it before, but this time, I noticed it was based off a book called Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter. Intrigued, I went to the library and checked it out. I read it over the better part of a day. It was a quick read, well written, and a nice break from my routine. Doing some research, I found out it was the first in a lengthy series. I worked my way through the books, and around Christmas, found out that there was a new book coming out called Dead Zero. Once I was able to check it out around March, I settled in for a good read.

As I was making my way through the book, I came across a section where one of the characters was fawning over his watch collection.

Then came the watches, removed from their travel cases. Rolexes, Patek Philippes, Blancpains, Raymond Weils, Vacheron Constantins, Bell & Rosses, Breguets, Chopards, Girard-Perregauxs, Piagets, Cartiers, Omegas, Fortises, and so on and so forth, more than eight dozen of them, all mechanical analogs, all clicking away in perfect time, all second hands indexed exactly to the second designations on the faces and not between, as happens on cheap quartz movements, all elegant, all expensive, all shiny.

Gul pressed the main switch on the socket box and each of the velvet wrists began a slow, methodical revolution, describing a circle about four inches in circumference.

It was like a slow-motion pyrotechnic show and behind each watch face, Zarzi knew, was a galaxy of gears and shafts and pins and jewels, set together with inexorable logic driven by extraordinary imagination and discipline, traceable back to the original verge escapement device created by who knows what forgotten genius in the European Middle Ages.

But this was its core, its essence, and he loved it so and he hated it just as fervently, all the gear wheels, the tiny springs, the rotating winder weights, the hands sweeping inexorably around, measuring not time, as so many thought, but only the tension within their mainspring. That is what the watch calibrated; time was a metaphor against which it was applied. There was no time, not really, not that could be touched, weighed, licked, tasted, felt. The watches ticked against their own winding and the imagination that had designed the winding mechanism; it was magic, it was profound, it was touching, he loved it so much in all its glory and damnation.

At that moment, I stopped and put the book down. Out of a roughly 400+ page book, this two-three page section (I trimmed some of the fat from the quote) grabbed my interest. One thing to know about Stephen Hunter is his incredible attention to detail and his dedication to using real world locations and items. My only exposure to watches at that point had been Casio, Timex, and Fossil for me, my sister owns a Seiko, and I had heard of Rolex, yet I had never seen one. For me to read this section that started with a listing of all these brands that I hadn’t heard of (and could pronounce only half the names) followed by terms like “verge escapement” and “mainspring” gave me the opportunity to put down the book and do some research.

First, I started looking up the brands listed. I was blown away with what I was seeing. Patek, Piaget, Breguet. These lead me to start scratching the surface into the world of Haute Horlogerie.

Piaget Emperador Coussin XL Tourbillon

Piaget Emperador Coussin XL Tourbillon

I lost count of how long I was looking at different watches before I decided I would start looking up what a verge escapment or a mainspring was.

Verge Escapment

Verge Escapement

Wikipedia proved to not be much help. When I started looking up information on how watches worked, I started with escapements. Then, I read this

An escapement is a device in mechanical watches and clocks that transfers energy to the timekeeping element (the “impulse action”) and allows the number of its oscillations to be counted (the “locking action”). The impulse action transfers energy to the clock’s timekeeping element (usually a pendulum or balance wheel) to replace the energy lost to friction during its cycle, to keep the timekeeper oscillating. The escapement is driven by force from a coiled spring or a suspended weight, transmitted through the timepiece’s gear train.

And was thoroughly confused. I promptly got on youtube to try to find a video about how watches worked. I fumbled through some different search strings and accidentally clicked on this video (I’d recommend this one instead if you want to learn how watches work) and got butterflies in my stomach. The only other time I have had this feeling was when I saw my wife walking down the aisle for our wedding.

During the time that I was doing this research, my wife and I were powering through episodes of Pawn Stars on Netflix. There was an episode that we watched where a guy was trying to sell his grandfathers watchmaking tools.

It all clicked.

Once I realized that watchmaking was a career option, I started researching what it takes to be a watchmaker, which lead to me finding out about the different watchmaking schools here in the states. I started contacting them with the intent to start school in in a year to a year and a half.

The rest is history.


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