One half of the founding husband and wife team at the Struthers watchmaking studio.
In 2017, Rebecca Struthers became the first watchmaker in British history to earn a PhD in horology.
1. What did your father do? What did your mother do? Describe briefly your childhood?
I'm lucky to have had a very happy childhood. I grew up in working class inner-city Birmingham in the middle of a wonderfully diverse and multi-cultural community. My Mum and Dad worked for the government tax office and social services respectively so completely outside the world of watchmaking. My grandparents and family before them, however, had been heavily involved with industry and manufacturing for other larger companies, from glass blowers to silversmiths. I think in that sense I must be a genetic throwback! My Mum went back to work when I was quite young so I was raised by a full-time house husband which was pretty revolutionary in the 1980s. I think being raised by a man helped prepare me for working in an industry dominated by men.
School was my first experience of how unfair things can be. At primary school I was bullied for being a nerd. I managed to get into a grammar for secondary school where I was bullied for being working class. That's where I lost my Birmingham accent and it taught me how to be a fighter. It's also where I started developing a fascination with what luxury means to different people and how it's made. In a way, traditional luxury craft is very egalitarian because it divides the revenue from one valuable beautifully made object between a whole group of incredibly talented makers. The people who buy fine watches are financing the continuation not just of watchmaking, but also of hand engraving, goldsmithing and so many other allied trades. It funds apprentices, training and education. All our clients play an integral role in the preservation of traditional craftsmanship.
2. As a child did you have any driving ambition? What did you want to be?
I have always had a mutual love of the arts and the sciences. I wanted to be a vet, then a designer, then a pathologist and even a tattooist at one point. Discovering horology when I was 17 was the first-time I realised there was a career where I could be an artist one day and an engineer the next. In the UK, we are taught that the arts and sciences are very different subjects which of course, in the real world, is not true at all.
3. What is your first significant memory as a child?
Probably having my first pet who was a rabbit called Tulin. I was 5 and it was the moment I decided to become a vegetarian. At the time, it was because in my young mind I couldn't bear the thought of my rabbit or any other animal being hurt for me. Animals play a very important part in my life and I regularly adopt recue pets from our local shelter. I'm also a chronic empath, and care for everyone and everything from people to objects, which probably explains a lot about my relationship with vintage and antique watches! Whether I'm making my cats happy by giving them a better life, or making a person happy by giving a watch with a treasured memory or that was a family heirloom a second chance, it gives me a great deal of pleasure.
4. Have you ever had another profession? What did you do?
I have been studying and employed directly within the jewellry and watch industry since I was 17 years old. I've worked in a few different sectors within horology, from auction houses to restoration workshops, but I've always been in this profession.
5. Who have you worked for in the past? What made you decide to go in the direction you are currently in.
We decided to set up our own workshop when I was working in an incredibly stressful job and had a very bad day. Running my own workshop can be stressful at times, but, being the master of my own destiny means I am in control of my work. My husband Craig has a great saying - "do something, do nothing". If you're not happy in your job but you love your subject I think it's vital you do something about to make yourself happy. I am far more productive and innovative in my work now than I have ever been working for someone else. I get to set my own limits and I have the freedom to test them whenever I want.
I've combined these two - 6. What’s the worst job you’ve had to do? & 7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you overcome it?
The worst thing I have to do, and this is completely non-employer specific, is battle with sexism on a fairly regular basis. It has found its way into pretty much every job I've ever done. I love men. I was raised by a man and owe many of the opportunities I have today to some of the incredible men in my life. Not to mention my husband and fellow watchmaker Craig Struthers who is my absolute rock! Still, there are some very unpleasant people in this industry who spoil it for us all and I think that's a real shame. Co-founding my own business has been a great way to get away from some of it but I think it's important I don't remove myself completely or nothing will change.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you? What are your greatest inspirations?
Without a doubt, my husband Craig has the strongest influence on me. We live together and work together so we're usually by each other's side 24/7 and very much come as a pair. He's my best friend too which is very important to me. He's also my greatest inspiration. Running a business together you see someone at their very best and very worst. Even during the hard times, he is an incredible person and a brilliant watchmaker who I have unwavering respect for.
9. What are you most proud of?
Last year I became the first watchmaker in British history to earn a PhD in horology. Being Britain's first bonafide watch doctor is an achievement I'm immensely proud of. My research feeds heavily into my work as an independent watchmaker as it's eighteenth and nineteenth-century English watchmaking where we find most of our inspiration. I'm also very proud to have been able to demonstrate the significance of horology as a subject in academia as it is so often overlooked. To people who don't "get" watches often take them for granted. Access to portable time changed the course of history and the relationships we watch geeks have with our timepieces, and have had for centuries, can tell us a lot about our cultures and societies.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something someone thinking of taking a similar path as you?
Be patient and do everything to the best of your ability. Making a career in watchmaking takes a long time and a lot of dedication. I'm 32 now and I still consider myself at the beginning of my journey. One of our clients who founded a very successful business told us their motto was "do it right and the money will follow". I would say that if you want to earn a lot of money being an independent watchmaker is not for you, so instead, I would say "do it right and the respect will follow". Anyone with enough money can buy in a stock calibre and put it in an engineered case; that doesn’t make you a watchmaker. It's a lot harder and takes much longer to become a true independent maker, but, the respect you build from your industry and the loyalty from your clients and collectors make it all worthwhile.
11. Name three things on your bucket list. (a bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you die)
At the moment, our workshop is just my husband, me and our apprentice Heather. I would like to see it grown into a small manufactory that employs other people in our region, supports other craftspeople and can live on without me. That's something I would be incredibly proud of. I'm ticking off one this year by learning trials riding. I have my heart set on a pre-1965 BSA trials bike so I should probably learn to ride it! Lastly, since I was a child I've always wanted to see a blue whale, which probably sounds very strange but I really do! They're the biggest animal on the planet and one of the wonders of the natural world.
12.Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years time.
The world around us is changing very rapidly, from the economy to technological advance. In my home city of Birmingham, England, we have experienced a similar state of change since the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The major brands will always be there. As for the independents - only the will best survive. For smaller workshops, I think it will be those who are truly innovative, have integrity, and work to an excellent level of quality that make it in the future.
To learn more about Rebecca Struthers