1. What did your father do? what did your mother do? Describe briefly your childhood?
My father was a newspaper editor and later worked in the tech industry. My mother worked at a local school and raised my brother and me. I had a fun childhood skateboarding, mountain biking, and playing soccer.
2. As a child did you have any driving ambition? What did you want to be?
I grew up in Silicon Valley during the middle of the digital revolution. This time and environment significantly shaped my ambitions, and led me towards wanting to work in the tech industry like my father did. It also contributed to my engineering mindset. Tough technical problems are a workout for my brain, and I enjoy them now as I did then.
3. What is your first significant memory as a child?
My father bringing home the first Apple Macintosh computer. I was thrilled, curious and overwhelmed all at the same time.
4. Have you ever had another profession? What did you do?
As you can probably guess, my first career was as a software engineer. I worked in Silicon Valley, moving from startup to startup, eventually landing in San Francisco. I built web sites and mobile apps, working as a full-stack engineer. I was comfortable working with user interfaces to databases, and everything in between. It was a rewarding career, but not something I wanted to do forever. Along the way, I started a record label and performed as a DJ around the USA and London. I was always a big fan of electronic music, and San Francisco in the 90’s and 00’s was an amazing place for it.
5. What made you choose to become a watchmaker? Who have you worked for in the past? What made you decide to go in the direction you have chosen.
After 15 years in the tech industry, I decided it was time for a change. I met Peter Speake-Marin at an event in San Francisco, and realized that watchmaking was the change I was looking for. With lots of encouragement from my wife, we moved from San Francisco to Miami so that I could study at the WOSTEP affiliated Nicolas G. Hayek Watchmaking School. After school, my wife and I moved to New York, and I discovered the wonderful watchmaking community here. I joined HODINKEE as their Technical Editor, worked independently on 3D printed watchmaking projects, became involved with the Horological Society of New York, and started Firehouse Horology, a company that manufactures silicon components for the watchmaking industry.
6. What’s the worst job you’ve had to do?
I had a job at a now defunct social network, Hi5, managing the a team of software engineers. It was my first experience working at a company that was slowly dying. Hi5 was competing against Facebook, and we all know how that story played out. Much of my time was spent convincing engineers to stick with the company, and finally laying people off. It wasn’t fun, but it taught me to be realistic in the face of an inevitable situation.
7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you over-come it?
I never graduated from watchmaking school. Halfway through the curriculum, I realized that I did not want to take the path towards working at a service center for a large brand. Instead, I wanted to work independently. Deciding to leave school early was a huge risk, but it worked out for the best in the end.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you? What are your greatest inspirations?
My watchmaking instructor, Paul Francis-Madden, was a huge influence on my work and thinking today. He taught me watchmaking, but more importantly taught me to be confident in what I know and don’t know. Although I never met him, George Daniels was a great inspiration for me. His books shaped my philosophy around watchmaking, and taught me to always work towards making a positive contribution to our industry.
9. What are you most proud of?
I am very proud of the revitalization of the Horological Society of New York (HSNY). For those unfamiliar with HSNY, it is one of the oldest continuously operating watchmaking associations in the world, founded in 1866. When I moved to New York in 2013, I was invited to a HSNY meeting by a friend from watchmaking school, Luke Cox-Bien. There were only a handful of people at the meeting, most of whom were double my age. I realized that I had a huge opportunity to learn from HSNY and its members, and I ended up getting very involved with the Society’s operations. I joined the Board of Directors, was elected Vice President, and now serve as President.
Today, HSNY’s monthly meetings have an average attendance of 150 people, and attract expert speakers from around the world. Through the Society’s horological education classes held evenings in NYC and weekends around the USA, HSNY teaches the basics of watchmaking to nearly 1,000 students per year. In addition, HSNY awards the $10,000 Henry B. Fried Scholarship every year to American watchmaking students studying at full-time schools. Finally, HSNY recently opened its first permanent office and classroom, located at the landmark General Society Building in Midtown Manhattan. The dramatic revitalization and expansion of HSNY is evidence of the incredible watchmaking community in New York, and the dedication of its amazing (mostly volunteer) team.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something someone thinking of taking a similar path as you?
At HSNY I often hear from people who are wanting to switch careers to the watchmaking industry. The issue I have seen is that dropping everything and enrolling in a full-time watchmaking school is a bit like jumping off the high-dive without learning how to swim first. You need the basics, and there are few places to learn those basics apart from books. I always recommend that someone seriously interested in watchmaking take all of HSNY’s horological education classes as a primer. (The classes are absolutely free if you are a student or veteran.) This is a way for a prospective watchmaker to dip their toes in the water, and learn how to swim first. Many watchmaking schools prefer that incoming students have no knowledge of watchmaking, but I disagree. In my experience, a solid foundation for learning is always the best approach. I am very happy that HSNY has seen many students start their careers with our classes before enrolling in a full-time school.
11. Name three things on your bucket list.
First is to really learn French. I took French classes in high school and promptly forgot most of what I learned. Recently I enrolled in French classes at a language school in New York, but only got so far. Every time I visit Switzerland, my deficiency in French is painfully obvious, and I know that fluency would be incredibly helpful in terms of watchmaking. Second is to run a marathon. I enjoy running quite a bit, and every November I watch the New York Marathon while thinking I should train for next year. Third would be to visit Mars, although I know I would have difficulty convincing my wife to join me on the trip! I am fascinated by Elon Musk’s work, and look forward to the day when travel to Mars is possible for non-astronauts.
12. Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years time.
I think that in 10 years we will see silicon being used much more in movements, beyond just the hairspring and escapement where we normally see it used today. Silicon can open new frontiers in watchmaking, making possible complications and escapements that would be nearly impossible to manufacture with traditional techniques.
To learn more about Nicholas Manousos