What is it like to be a master watchmaker?

EDGAR goes to watch school with horological master Peter Speake-Marin.

Robert Chilton March 1, 2016

British watchmaker Peter Speake-Marin says watchmaking is like learning to drive: you learn, you pass your test, you learn more in the real world, but you never stop learning.

Peter led a watchmaking class at Dubai Watch Week late last year, and EDGAR was in the front row. 

The table
Your seat is deliberately low and the table is deliberately high because your eye needs to be level with the watch you’re working on. This helps to keep your back and neck straight too. Watchmakers are glued to their table for hours so you need to be comfortable. 

Peter Speake-Marin watchmaker .jpg Peter Speake-Marin hard at work.

The workshop
A watch workshop is like a lab. It must be tidy, neat and organised. There is never an outside door leading into a workshop because dirt and dust could blow inside. Cleanliness is the priority in precision watchmaking.

Watch workshops are virtually silent. There is no talking because you might accidentally spit on the watch movement. 

The tools
Screwdrivers are fundamental to any watchmaker; they cannot be approximate, each head is very precise. The two eyeglasses are different strengths depending on the work you’re doing. They’re placed in the eye but not wedged in too tightly; they should be held naturally by your eye socket.

Three finger protectors are worn so you don’t transfer dirt from your fingers to the watch movement. The movement holders hold the watch so your hands never do. The piece of wood is used to apply pressure to the movement; it’s made from wood because it doesn’t scratch the metal of the movement.

Tweezers are often bent by watchmakers to adjust their tension to the desired level. Every watchmaker knows their tools and their eccentricities – they don’t need to look up to select a tool because they instinctively know where they are. 

The hours
Many watchmakers will work for two hours, take a ten-minute break, then work for two more hours, then stop for a 45-minute lunch break before completing two more spells of two hours each. When I sit at the watchmaking table, I know this is who I am and this is what I do – I feel at peace. To me it feels almost like meditation.


Images from Piaget's La Côte-aux-Fées workshop, Switzerland, by Neil Churchill.