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OPINION: In recognition of horological education

It was once said that it required 34 different skills to make a watch.

The recent WatchPro Hot 100’s celebration of the Trailblazers, Power Players, Brand Champions, Premier Buyers and Retail Titans indicates that the number of skills now embraced by the industry is actually much higher. The range of talent evident at the “glamorous garden party” showcases all that is good in our industry. Luxury and craftsmanship go hand in hand, as the mechanical watch testifies.

I attended the event to accompany James Harris and Rosie Kirk, two recent BA Horology graduates from Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery, who were deservedly acclaimed as Trailblazers. This recognition of the course – for course director Jeremy Hobbins joined them in the Hot 100 – and the success of its graduates is highly appreciated, though some may be curious to know what a degree in horology actually stands for.

Recently, senior luxury client manager, Charlotte Parks-Taylor considered the daunting array of technical features and jargon associated with the purchase of a luxury watch. In her article “The missing link in luxury watch marketing”, she suggests that there is opportunity for brands who engage with the education of their customers.

Clearly, there is a need for educated horologists. The BA students at the School of Jewellery are engaged on two missions: the study of horology as an academic subject, and the application of horology as a craft.  It is through this marriage of theory and practice that future designers and skilled artisans will be provided to the industry.

A horology graduate is not only familiar with the design of a perpetual calendar mechanism, but also the origins of the Gregorian calendar on which it is based. Incidentally they may also inform you that no calendar system can be truly perpetual. Also, if required they could explain the science behind the tourbillon, and justify this expensive refinement to an already high quality mechanism. Those with a preference for antiquarian horology are able to discuss the ethics of conservation versus restoration, and the historical significance of eminent horologists.

But topics such as these are bread and butter to undergraduates. Horology as a subject stands up to deeper academic analysis. In the near future students will be given the opportunity to study luxury branding and analyse the aesthetic, as well as the technical appeal of the watch. Social analyst Richard Sennett has written extensively about the role of the maker and craft in modern society.

Whilst cultural theorists such as Deyan Sudjic and Jean Baudrillard are fascinated by the enduring appeal of the watch. In his book “The system of objects” Baudrillard suggest that it is partially derived from childhood enchantments with miniaturisation. He goes on to consider that “the smallest… and most valuable of personal machines” engenders a sense of ownership of time itself. A sentiment clearly echoed by the advertising campaigns of many quality watch brands.

One of the most important aspects of a university education is its inherent link with research. One of this year’s graduates chose to major in the horological viability of 3D printing and modern materials. Knowledge of horology enabled an insight into the application of this new technology, which enriched the work of others in this growing area.

Education is all about making connections. We already have some prestigious industry partnerships and look forward to further integration with interested parties. Birmingham City University wishes to do more than simply supply employable graduates, it also has a remit to support industry through relevant post graduate research.

Rosie and James are representatives of the very first crop of students to complete the newly created degree. They are indeed Trailblazers. The course goes from strength-to-strength, gaining confidence and recognition. Young people see the future as a sea of opportunity and have the vivacity that industry needs. We have more talented individuals graduating this year, and dare to dream that future students might go on to support the rejuvenation of the British watch industry, in whatever form that may take.

Watch pro magazine hot100,2016, kensington roof gardens
Jon Parker at the WatchPro Magazine HOT100 2016

Jon Parker M Ed,  Lecturer in Horology, Birmingham City University.

James Buttery

Editor of WatchPro, the WatchPro Hot 100 and The Luxury Report.

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