Robert Loomes FBHI FRSA, is the Chairman of the BHI and has a small watch brand “Loomes & Co” providing English made watches.
1. Describe briefly your childhood.
I had an Idyllic Yorkshire Dales upbringing. My parents bought an ancient and long-abandoned coaching inn in Nidderdale, surrounded by small sheep and cattle farms. They owned the only car in the village (the Post Office had a van). As an only child and with nobody my age in the village, this allowed for a very “free range” upbringing. I could wander off all day and perhaps play in abandoned mineshafts, climb cliff faces or swim fast rivers. My parents just assumed I would come home each evening.
2. As a child did you have any driving ambition?
I wanted to be a writer of some sort. Whilst it was clear I had an aptitude for maths and sciences, whenever I could choose I went for English, History, Languages.
3. What is your first significant memory as a child?
Having my hands in my pockets. This was never allowed. Except in horological workshops or antiques fairs. Or perhaps my parents’ estate car roof rack, laden with clock cases in the snow. Because they worked from home and I was an only child, I was somehow just expected to fit in with work a lot.
4. Have you ever had another profession?
I did join the army for five minutes. After I left school I had a “special short service” commission in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. At the age of nineteen and with only a few weeks officer training at Sandhurst I was sent out to join my regiment. There I was “in charge” of front-line infantry troops, some of whom had been doing it since before I was born. It was character building but, long term, not perhaps for me. The nice thing about the “special short service” bit was that you could just walk away after twelve months with no financial penalty.
5. What made you decide to go in the direction you are currently in?
Fear of being shot.
6. What’s the worst job you’ve had to do?
Five years working with my father. Nothing I did was ever good enough. If I bought a clock I paid too much. If I repaired it I wasted time or didn’t do it well enough. If I sold something I didn’t make enough money for it. We worked six, sometimes seven days a week. I scarcely took a holiday for five years.
But I spent huge amounts of time with a string of restorers. They were some of the best qualified and kindest folk. David Swindells FBHI, who ran a teeny one-room shop doing every kind of horological repair and could swap from wristwatch pallet stones in the morning to a church clock in the afternoon. Peter Lancaster, a Manchester-trained guy, also FBHI, who specialised in antique British stuff (as did my father). Brian Morrison, who alongside turning clock components would manufacture parts for vintage Riley motor cars. They were great mentors.
7. What’s been the hardest moment in your life so far, and how did you overcome it?
I haven’t had any hardest moments yet. I guess I have been very lucky.
8. Who has had the strongest influence on you?
That’s easy. My wife Robina. We checked into the same hotel in 1993 and haven’t been apart since. She took over running the business ten years ago and was truly inspirational. We were already making wristwatches but she felt they weren’t interesting enough. She said that if the 20th century had been about globalisation then the 21st was about localisation. Robina made us make British watches.
9. What are you most proud of?
Chatting up Robina. My travelling companion said, “She’s gorgeous. Go and ask her over”. So I did.
10. What advice would you give to a 20 something someone thinking of taking a similar path as you?
Read books. Lots of them. Find books your tutors have never heard of. Find American, Chinese, Israeli or Russian books on horology. There is little new in the art and it has been studied in depth by diligent people. As the years go by you will start to read them with an ever more critical eye, picking out the good and the bad, as you yourself see fit.
There are usually a few ways to approach any task in horology. People will bicker and snipe about which is correct. Try them all and see which one suits you, or best suits the particular task you need to accomplish.
Experiment gleefully. I have fire gilded with mercury and gold sludge. I created my own alloys. I built many of our own tools and machinery at work. Sometimes that sort of stuff eats into nights and weekends because it doesn’t really pay the bills.
You don’t have to understand it all to make a start.
11. Name three things on your bucket list.
As I say. I’ve been lucky so far. I don’t have a bucket list. Both Robina and I play with horses; we have three of the beasts at the moment. As long as we can afford to keep them fed and watered that should suffice.
12.Where do you think the industry is going to be in 10 years time.
I’m reminded of the American clock industry in the 1850s. Its growth and scale so rapid and vast that they were capable of producing perhaps 400,000 clocks a year. Without considering if anyone needed that many clocks. The 1860s were remarkable for a string of insolvencies, buy-outs and factory fires in America.
There will always however, be a need for skilled clock and watchmakers. There will always be interesting things with sentimental value to make or repair.
To learn more about Robert Loomes