Rebecca Struthers on Watches, Watchmaking, and the Hands of Time
Jun 12 2023

Hands-of-Time-202x300.jpg Called "a poem in clockwork," the self-winding Breguet watch made for Marie Antoinette was meant to be the most beautiful example of mechanical art in the world. Yet when she was imprisoned in the Tour du Temple, she wanted only a simple watch that would mark the passing of the hours until her meeting with the guillotine. Listen as Rebecca Struthers, the watchmaker, antiquarian horologist, and author of the Hands of Time talks with EconTalk's Russ Roberts about how our need to keep time has shaped watchmaking history, and how, in turn, the development of watches has shaped human culture and society. Other topics include the precise and painstaking craft of bespoke watchmaking and the challenge of restoring watches from another time.

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Historian Jessica Riskin of Stanford University talks about her book The Restless Clock with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. What is the difference between human beings and machines? How has science thought about this distinction? When do we have agency and...
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Explore audio transcript, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.


Jun 12 2023 at 4:53pm

Great and fascinating episode. I will note that the story of the first chronometer and the prize from the British Royal Society was the subject of another EconTalk episode. Michael Munger discussed it when talkin about Rent Seeking. I actually read the book “Longitude” based on hearing that conversation and it sticks with me. The book does a great job of spelling out the complexity of building such a device and the winding story. But it is an example of prizes working to bring about public goods.

Jeff Stivers
Jun 16 2023 at 11:04pm

“Longitude” by Dava Sobel is a great book.  I would love to hear Russ interview her on any of her great books about Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, or astronomy.

Jun 13 2023 at 8:43am

Loved the discussion.

My son & I had a discussion just a couple of weeks ago about John Harrison & navigation clocks.  As a USN veteran, I can share perhaps an interesting anecdote.  Ship captains to this day receive navigation reports underway at noon from the ship’s navigator, amongst other items, reporting the status of the “ship’s chronometers.”

I appreciate knowing more about this craft & I am sure our world is a little bit better due artists like Rebecca.  With admiration for Rebecca and watchmakers the world over,  Pat

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TimePodcast Episode Highlights

Intro. [Recording date: April 25, 2023.]

Russ Roberts: Today is April 25th, 2023, and my guest is watchmaker and author, Rebecca Struthers. She is the author of Hands of Time: A Watchmaker's History, and that is our subject for today. Rebecca, welcome to EconTalk.

Rebecca Struthers: Thank you so much for having me.


Russ Roberts: This is a wonderful book. It's a history of timekeeping, time, Rebecca Struthers. It's got a lot of fascinating observations about all the above.

I'm going to start with your day--if you have one--that's somewhat typical. You make your own watches with your husband, you repair watches, you restore watches. What proportion of the time divides between those tasks? And, is there a typical day?

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. Ideally, my typical day would start at eight, half 8:00 in the morning, getting to work, try not to be distracted by emails and tuck straight into a job. And, I tend to separate whether I'm doing restoration or making for that day. I also try and separate whether or not I'm doing clean or dirty work. So, clean work would be things like the servicing and restoration or building a watch, if there's a watch that I've made. And, dirty work would be things like case making that involves a lot of dirt and polishing compounds or making parts. So, anything that's on the lathe and there's a lot of oil and small bits of metal around. Obviously you don't want any of that going in a lovely clean watch that you've just restored, so it's good to keep those sort of jobs separate.

Russ Roberts: And, you started in the jewelry business or a jewelry maker and you just decided to get smaller, I guess. Tell us about that decision, how that came about.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. Well, I ended up in jewelry by accident in itself. So, I went to a very academic school. We were very much about pursuing careers in serious subjects like science and mathematics--ones that you need for a good job--which I did to a point. But, I'm also very creative and I really struggled not having a creative side to what I do. And, certainly the way we're taught in the United Kingdom is that art and science are very separate subjects and the two don't really overlap, which of course in the real world is not the case at all.

Yeah. I struggled and I dropped out halfway through my higher degrees, my A-levels, and left to go to the art school and study jewelry and silversmithing, which--it just happened to be down the road, there was a college that taught it. And, I was an air cadet and my cadet leader recommended it because he was a jeweler. So, a really roundabout coincidence. Yeah. Started studying jewelry and silversmithing for a couple of years, which was a great way into the trade because it was very hands-on. It was a BTEC [Business and Technology Education Council] national diploma at the time and a lot of basic hand skills. So, learning how to file, learning how to use a saw, learning how to use a drill. Really, really kind of entry-level stuff, but fantastic foundation.

Russ Roberts: There are a lot of points in your book where you talk about yourself or a famous watchmaker using a drill. I think of a drill as the opposite of what I'd be wanting to use around a watch. To me, when you take a drill, there's a lot of zzzz, zzzz [high-pitched buzzing sound effect]--and then there's little pieces flying around. What's it like to drill in a watch? The holes must not be very big.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. Actually I have a tattoo of a bow drill on my forearm. We use a lot of drills. In watchmaking, all of the arbors that rotate, so all the wheels that are turning in within a watch, need to be in a pivoted hole, which is something we drill into the plates. So, we use drills quite a lot. We also use them in making cases. So, anything where a screw goes into we need to drill and tap the hole first. Obviously it's quite controlled. It's not like your home DIY [do it yourself] drill-into-the-wall kind of drills. We have the pillar drills which are high precision. So, they're miniature versions of what you see in the larger engineering laboratories.


Russ Roberts: If I were in London and my watch was broken or I'd inherited a watch as a Londoner from my great-grandparents, say, and it didn't work and I wanted to see if it was possible to fix it and how much it might cost--you're in Birmingham, right?

Rebecca Struthers: We were in Birmingham. We're now in Leek in Staffordshire, which is a bit further north.

Russ Roberts: Okay. So, starting in London and then we'll expand out into, say, the entire United Kingdom, how many people would you guess, or maybe you actually know, do what you do?

Rebecca Struthers: Well, doing what we do the way we do it is a really rare skill, and there aren't many restorers left able to work on particularly very high-end stuff and the very early stuff. So, how easy it is to get your watch fixed completely depends on what sort of watch it is. If it's quite modern, you get accredited service centers and there's plenty of those so you're generally okay. Not always a cheap thing to have done, but you've got people who will be able to help you.

For restoration, on the other hand--so if you've got something that's older than 60, 70, 80 years old, particularly if it's over 100 or so years old, if it's very complicated--complications in horology are anything that goes beyond telling the time. So, there can be something like a chronograph, which is like a stopwatch. But, you can get perpetual calendars that can keep the correct date of the year for hundreds and hundreds of years. You can get repeaters that chime out the time on tuned gongs. All sorts of things. All of those add to the level of complication, and there are fewer and fewer watchmakers who can do them. We have a bit of a skill shortage at the moment. It's not just in the United Kingdom, as well. It's a global issue.

Russ Roberts: Do you think--is it 10 people or a thousand or 50?

Rebecca Struthers: Top-level restorers, I'd say less than 50. Yeah. Pocket watch restorers, which is another almost an art within the art, I could probably count on one hand really top-end pocket watch restorers in the United Kingdom.

Russ Roberts: Do you know them all?

Rebecca Struthers: Most of them, yeah. We do know each other. We kind of have a circle that we send work between because we're all so busy. There are not enough restorers--good high end restorers--in the United Kingdom to meet the demand. So, we have a tendency of recommending work onto each other. There's always the fear that people will go around in a circle until you recommend it back to the person you started with because none of us have time. The irony of horology is there is so little time to do what we do.

Russ Roberts: And, that word is horology: H-O-R-O-L-O-G-Y. A word that you don't encounter much but is in your book. I assume you also consult those other competitors but also kind of cooperators for ideas when you have things that seem difficult to solve, problems that are difficult to solve, or tools that you need that you can't find.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah, absolutely. I think there are so few of us, we're not really competitors in a way. We need each other because--yeah. I hate saying no to someone if we don't have the time to restore something and just sending them off into the ether. I always like to have someone I can pass them on to if I can. So, they're useful people to have around.

And, some of them we work with actively. Case making, for example. Watch case making traditionally using bits of bar and sheet metal where you turn it up in a lathe and form it. Well, the last specialist watch casemaker passed away a couple of years ago. and the only case makers I know now in the United Kingdom are watchmakers who do that as part of their job. I only know one casemaker who will make watch cases for existing movements.

So, if you had a really beautiful pocket watch movement, its case had been scrapped at some point in its history for the gold or silver, there's only one that I know of that would help you with that. And, he does engine turning as well. It's a chap called Seth Kennedy. And, we work with him on making dials now for our new watches that we make. Yeah. We're a good little network and we all get on and support each other when we can. I credit a lot of them at the end of my book, as well.


Russ Roberts: Yeah. What's the oldest watch you've ever worked on, roughly?

Rebecca Struthers: Generally for the watches that I work on in my workshop, about 1700 is as early as I go. In terms of handled and taken apart, about 1530. That's the oldest one I've taken apart. Yeah.

Russ Roberts: How many 18th-century watches do you see a year?

Rebecca Struthers: Honestly, quite a lot; but several of them are mine. That's my era of interest in history so I really love the 18th-century watchmaking. I have more movements than complete watches. Sadly, a lot of them have been scrapped over the years. The movements can be quite temperamental and they're not particularly accurate--definitely not by modern standards. And, the way they're designed, they kind of wear themselves out as they run. So, for obvious reasons, people don't want to go to the expense of getting them restored, and they get scrapped. But, that's when I come in and start hoarding them all. I have drawers of loads of them that I need to make cases for one day. It's on my long list of things to do.

Russ Roberts: I assume that sometimes when you go to repair a watch from that era or even the 19th century, the parts are no longer available. You have to machine them yourself, and you're essentially--you're doing a transplant. You're rebuilding. It's like giving somebody an artificial heart or a plastic heart valve. I assume you're sometimes bringing at least new pieces--maybe not in terms of materials any different--but certainly new pieces to make those watches tell time. Is that right?

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. I love that way of looking at it like a transplant. Yeah, absolutely. That's how we ended up making new watches because you have to learn to make pretty much every part for other people's watches as a restorer. There's no spare parts supply for something that's several hundred years old. And, that's a really important part of learning restoration. We've got tins in collections, we call them dinosaur tins, of old redundant watch parts that we often customize and use to make replacement parts so we can match things like steel and brass in terms of the age. So, think something's 150 years old and it needs a new part, we can use 150-year-old steel to suit it.

Russ Roberts: That's very cool. Do you ever have to make your own tools?

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. That's how I started my training. After jewelry and silversmithing, I did that for a couple of years. And, it was at that point coming to the end of the course, I was missing a bit of the rigidity and structure that you get in STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] subjects. And, I designed a very basic orrery that didn't quite work. But, the idea of it was spotted by some horologists, some watchmaking students who asked if I'd ever thought about being a watchmaker, which I didn't realize was a career at the time. So, I thought, that sounds interesting and I went to have a look around their workshop and check out the course. It was like just a 'Wow, this is what I want to do with my life' moment.

So, after finishing the two years of jewelry and silversmithing I moved on to watchmaking. And, pretty much the first year of that course at the time was spent making tools. It wasn't till the very end of the first year that we were actually allowed anywhere near a watch, which is great for building up the skills--the hand skills. Obviously, you need a lot of dexterity before you're allowed near a precision watch movement. But, we could also use the tools we'd made to help us work on watches.

Russ Roberts: It's like being an artist and you're not allowed to paint for the first year. Just make brushes or stretch canvas. I don't know what else you would do. It's funny you said, I didn't know it was a career. It turns out it isn't. Well, maybe for a few people, but it's not a easy career that's widely available, as you suggested earlier.

You mentioned an orrery. Explain what that is.

Rebecca Struthers: An orrery is a reproduction of the solar system and something you could put on the tabletop. Traditionally they're fully--work like automata, like a little robot almost, hand powered. And, the planets, the moons would all move around the sun in the center. Yeah. I designed them all as pieces of jewelry.

Russ Roberts: Do you still have that?

Rebecca Struthers: No, I don't. No. Unfortunately, a lot of even what I've made over the years ended up in scraps to keep afloat. So, yeah. It's quite a struggle setting up a business if you don't have a lot of backing behind you. Yeah. Things are a lot better now.

Russ Roberts: I'm glad to hear that.


Russ Roberts: Let's talk about one more personal thing and then we'll get into more of the ideas in the book, although there's a lot of personal things in the book. But, we'll turn them into the history of time and timekeeping. But, I was fascinated by your time in the British Museum. I unfortunately have only been in the British Museum one time and I think I had--I don't know--maybe three hours. When you come in, they give you a list of the top 10 things in the museum. Things not to miss if you don't have a long time. And, I can't remember whether this was on the list or not, but one of my favorite rooms was a room of watches and clocks. I don't know if I stumbled on it or it's considered one of the best parts of the museum by the people who put out the pamphlet. Talk about that room for a minute, which I assume you've been in at least once, and then what you're doing behind closed doors there, which is really amazing.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. So: Museums are like icebergs, is the way I describe them. So, it's only the very tip of the iceberg that you see in the galleries. There are two gallery spaces for clocks and watches at the British Museum that you can see in the general public viewing areas and one kind of quite extensive cabinet of watches within that. And then, it's not until you get behind the scenes that there are, I think around four and a half thousand watches in the horological study room in the basement of the museum. And, that's where I conducted my research.

So, I take you through into the bowels of the museum to see all the magical things hidden away behind the scenes, which you can book in with the curators to view. It is free of charge to do that. So, if anyone fancies going and visiting them and seeing some of these amazing objects, you can.

And, I spent years pestering the very patient curators, studying surviving examples of a kind of watch called a Dutch Forgery, which became the subject of my Ph.D. So, I initially found one when I was working at an auction house, and as I[?] was researching it I uncovered this amazing story of the emergence of mass production of watches through forgery in an area that is now famous for being the watchmaking center of the world. And, this kind of the--the roots of this huge industry that grew out of it. And, that was all in the British Museum.

Russ Roberts: We're going to talk about that in a minute, but the--I have probably told this story before, but when I asked a friend of mine who was British what I should do in London, he said, 'Well, the British Museum, of course.' Comma: 'The Churchill War rooms.' He had a few suggestions.

The British Museum, of course, does not capture the spectacular nature of the British Museum, which I could talk about for 15 minutes, but will not other to make one observation: which is that they have a room of mummies and sarcophagi, and you walk into that room and--I've been in museums that they have one, or they have four or five. In that room, in my memory, there were like 60. I don't remember how many there were actually. But, I did assume that was only the tip of the iceberg. I assume that in the basement they have a few thousand more or something that they don't display. I might be wrong about that. If you know anything about that, I would love to know.

Rebecca Struthers: So, I don't know about the Egyptology, but I do know it's been moved now. When I used to go down to the study room for horology, there was a Viking warship in a cage on the way down, just behind the scenes. I remember seeing a little bit of it poking out and seeing the wood. Obviously it was all in protection. And, being like, 'Oh, what's that?' 'Oh, it's a Viking long ship.' What? Just casually there. Yeah. It is incredible.

I mean,, when you go there quite often, working there or volunteering--I was volunteering there. And, it's just like, 'Oh, there's the Rosetta Stone again.' As you're walking past, you're seeing all these amazing things as you go through the corridors behind the scenes. Illustrations. They had loads of Blake prints out as you do, just William Blake lying around, casual.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. When you stand at the Rosetta Stone, in my memory--and this could be a compression of space that's not really there--but to your left, they are the winged black onyx or marble or whatever they are, bull/human-bearded Assyrian thingies.

And then to the right, off to the side in the distance, is a temple. And, I remember asking the docent, 'Those winged things,'--again, they don't have one. I don't know. Dozen or two--I don't know. There's a lot of them. And, I said, 'Are those real or are those replicas?' 'Oh no, they're real.'

I said, 'Well, people are touching them.' She said, 'Oh, they shouldn't.' And, then I asked her if the temple was real. She said, 'Of course it is.' Some British person had stolen it on an expedition. It is a looting storehouse. Many ethical issues, of course. surrounding that. And, we've talked on the program about the Elgin Marbles. What's there right now is really quite spectacular, whether it should be there or not.


Russ Roberts: But, let's move on. So, I want to start with a moment in history because one of the nice things about your book is that you show how keeping time led to so many other things, which we don't think about anymore because we know how to keep time really, really well. Who is John Harrison and why is he important?

Rebecca Struthers: John Harrison was a carpenter and clockmaker who ended up solving one of the greatest problems of the day, the longitude problem, which was a navigational challenge that we faced during the 18th century of--latitude is quite easy to calculate. Latitude is your position north or south of the equator. And, you can calculate that from the angle of the sun.

Whereas longitude, which is your east/west position from your starting point, is far more complex. And, a miscalculation in your location by even a few degrees could result in disaster, whether that was hitting a reef or ending up at the wrong part of the coast, ending up in completely the wrong place.

So, yeah. It was a huge, huge issue. And, the race to solve the problem actually started at the turn of the 18th century with a naval disaster that took the lives of thousands of British sailors, and that was it. And, the firing pistol was sounded for the first person who could solve the longitude problem and accurately calculate their longitudinal position out at sea.

Russ Roberts: And, how did John Harrison make that possible? Which doesn't seem logical at all, actually. I would've just used a very long tape measure, but that was not the solution that he hit upon.

Rebecca Struthers: No. It was almost kind of a slight tape measure solution at one point, which is dead reckoning--which is where you'd put a weighted line, set that out behind the ship; and you'd literally use your direction of travel from a compass, calculate the speed you were traveling at, and then try and calculate your position best possible just using your speed and direction. Needless to say, that not particularly accurate, particularly over long distances.

And, this was the issue. Especially when you're out at sea, you've got no visual cues of where you are. It's just blue sky, ocean, or stormy sky and ocean in every direction.

And, for a long time it was thought that, although watches and clocks were around at that point, they weren't all that accurate; and it wasn't believed that it could ever be possible that a clock or watch should be capable of keeping time accurately at sea. Certainly not accurately enough to calculate longitude reliably.

This was on the solutions that was floated with. So, if you know your time at your home port--so, where you've come from--and you can measure your local time quite easily from the position of the sun, you could calculate the difference between the time at your home location and the time where you are now to figure out how far around the globe you traveled. But, you need a really accurate timekeeper to do that.

And, Harrison was not dissuaded in his belief that watches or clocks of the future. Initially he developed a series of three clocks before finally settling on a design of watch. It's basically a giant's pocket watch. And, this was the first marine chronometer.

Russ Roberts: And, did he win the prize?

Rebecca Struthers: He did. After much arguing and debating, he finally got paid out. He got paid a few installments. There are lots of technicalities to it as well. It has to be replicable. So, this had to be a watch that could be given to another watchmaker and recreated again, for obvious reasons. It's not a solution to a problem if you can't repeat it over and over again.

And, yeah. I mean, it wasn't ideal for a long time. They were hugely expensive things as well. So, even by the end of the 18th century when these things had been around for the better part of 50 years, they were still quite rare to be found on Royal Navy vessels, which were the prime target for them. That's why the silly naval disaster was what triggered the whole thing.

Whereas it was quite common for them to be used by merchant trading companies. So, companies who had a lot of money could afford them, but the Royal Navy couldn't necessarily.


Russ Roberts: You mentioned that the solution had to be replicated to claim the prize. It reminds me of the replication crisis in psychology and more generally in other social sciences that we've talked about in the program before. If someone does a survey--excuse me--does an experiment with, say, undergraduates, and it's 30 undergraduates and then they get some dramatic result. But, when you do it with 30 adults, older people, when you do it with a different 30, or--worse--when you do it with 300, it doesn't hold up.

And, that's because you did it with 30 people 10 different times, and you found the one time it worked and that's the result you printed. Whether you convinced yourself of that or you weren't so honest and you didn't mention all the failed ones. But, when the replication crisis started to be an issue, people whose surveys and experiments had failed replication would often claim that the people doing the replication didn't know how to ask the questions correctly or give the instructions correctly.

And of course, that's not helpful if you're trying to do science. If I can't take your watch or your clock, Mr. Harrison, and put it on a different boat without your constant oversight, it's not very useful. So, it has to be replicable. It's a wonderful example of that phenomenon.

You tell a lot of stories--not a lot. But, you talk for a little bit about how once they got a little more common on boats, they had to be locked up and that led to other problems. Just mention that for a minute because it's quite charming.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. Sure. This ties in with the replicable thing again. There were those sort of accusations: if the watch suddenly didn't keep time, then it was obviously something someone had done on the ship. Obviously, there's issues with magnetism, as well, on ships. You've got a lot of iron work on ships back then. So, there were all sorts of potential pitfalls that could be blamed and human error was one of them.

So, as the chronometer design evolved, they were quite often placed in locked wooden boxes and that way only ranking officers would have the key, and you'd have someone who was designated as being responsible for maintaining the winding of the ship's chronometer. But, even that in itself creates another room for human error. And, I list a few examples of not just the wood of the box warping, so the thing gets stuck in there, but also losing the keys--that most human error of all.

So, either, yeah, keys getting lost or broken off in the latch, and someone leaving the ship with the keys. There are also a few incidents involving ships' cats, who I can vouch for as having a couple of cats myself, they are very curious animals and they have broken a couple of watches in maritime history. Trim, Captain Flinders' cat, was particularly interested in--what was described as--had an interest in maritime horology.

So, it wasn't a perfect science for quite a long time. And, a combination of this and them been very expensive, we continued to use celestial navigation. So, using a sextant, as well, for quite a long time. Right away, up until in the 20th century.

Russ Roberts: Amazing.


Russ Roberts: So, through most of human history, as progress was made on watchmaking, it's a craft. It's an artisanal craft that a trained, and then someone like yourself who has been doing this for years, learns different techniques and is able to solve different problems. But, it's a craft. It's not a manufacturing process. And, at one point in--well, let's start with your forgers. We start with John Wilter. And, there's a watch that says it's made by John Wilter, but maybe not. So, explain what that was about.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. Sure. So, this is where I was at the auction house at the time, and I'd had quite a fairly typical looking second half of the 18th century pocket watch come in. And, during cataloging you obviously go through everything: you look at the name and the maker, check the movement, and so on. And, this was by a guy called John Wilter and the dial was signed, John Wilter London. So, I pulled out the dictionary of watch and clockmakers that we use and looked him up and it just said, 'John Wilter, perhaps a fictitious name,' and that was it. I was, like, 'Right. Okay. Never seen that before.'

And, I started studying this watch in more detail and realized that it was stylistically quite different to what I would expect to see from a London-made watch. And, as I did more digging, I found the name associated with something called Dutch forgeries. And, that these Dutch forgeries, despite being aesthetically Dutch in their design style, were believed to have been made in Geneva but signed with a vaguely English-sounding name and London.

And, this made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Yeah. I was just, like, 'Okay, what's going on here? I have to get to the bottom of this.'

And, that's how I ended up in contact with the British Museum. They had 30 examples in their basement that they allowed me to study. And, I started stripping about these watches, looking for hidden marks, messages, meanings, anything that I could find to try and understand the why, the where, the how, and the when.

And, what unraveled from that was the story of the emergence of non-standardized mass manufacture of watches through the production of forgeries in what is now the home of some of the largest watchmaking manufacturers in the world, around the Swiss French border, that all cropped up and started to develop out this trade for imitation London watches.

This was at a time when London was a home to the most famous watchmakers in the world. And, before brands were a thing, cities meant more than the maker's name. So, we're well and truly pre-Instagram now. So, you might not know the name of a famous watchmaker, but you'll know that good watches come from London. Everyone wanted a London watch. So, London was the obvious one to replicate.

However, it was Dutch merchants who were commissioning these watches in their national style whilst recognizing that London was the caché, the name that they wanted to add value to it, from these manufacturers that were cropping up on the Swiss-French border using a different technique for manufacture called a tablissage. And, this is where in London you'd have small collective of artisans in a close neighborhood area network working together under a tablissage: They brought it all under one roof to create the equivalent of a production line.

So, merchants would be in control of purchasing the materials, hiring staff. Staff would be doing very monotonous single jobs such as making screws and things which are much faster to get good at doing a single job than doing everything. It meant that it could compete better with prices and undercut English watches, and they could hugely increase--just through the streamlining of production--they massively increased production. So, you went from London manufacturers making a few thousand watches a year to these manufacturers could make over 40,000 watches a year.


Russ Roberts: So, the reason I love--this is in the 18th century, right?

Rebecca Struthers: Yes.

Russ Roberts: So, Adam Smith writes his first book, which I'm going to quote from in a minute, called The Theory of Moral Sentiments, in--first edition in 1759. Then he publishes his grand opus, his most famous book, The Wealth of Nations, in 1776. In that book, among economists, Rebecca, maybe not so much among watchmakers, but he gives this example that I don't think he'd ever seen it himself. I think he imagined it from the comfort of his armchair. But, it's a pin factory. And, what the pin factory idea is, is that: it's about specialization and division of labor, which allows exactly as you said--and I didn't talk to you about this beforehand; great minds think alike, you and Adam Smith--the repetition of a particular task improves usually the performance of it. Can lead to boredom, which can lead to carelessness. But, if not, you get much more productive at each task and the workers working under one roof then, as you say, can produce enormously larger numbers of watches.

So, not only are the watches cheaper to manufacture, but there's a lot more of them. And so, the market price of the watches begins to fall.

And, of course, the wonderful thing about that--it wasn't so good for the London crafts people--but the beautiful thing about it is it allowed people who normally could not afford to effectively sustain an artisan standard of living with a purchase of a single watch or a handful of watches could now afford a watch that they normally wouldn't be able to.

So, just for example, do you have any feel for how long one of those artisans laboring in London, how long would it take them to make a watch? You say, how many could they make a year?

Rebecca Struthers: A busy workshop was a few thousand a year.

Russ Roberts: So, that's a few a day. Maybe 10 a day. Ten watches a day. But, that other shop is making 40,000. So, instead of making that number, they're making more like a thousand watches a day. Did I get that right? No. A hundred watches a day.

So, there're many, many more more watches coming into the market. And the price of the watch is going to be lower, because you don't have to compensate the craftsperson for the enormous amount of time it would take them. And, that's what they're doing.

In your case--let's move to the present. If I commissioned you to make me a watch--the EconTalk watch--and we added to our swag line, which I think it would be extremely popular to have an EconTalk pocket watch. And, you're working on that and nothing else. How long would that take you to make it?

Rebecca Struthers: Well, we use really traditional, old school techniques. So, our longest build has taken six years. So, we're really--

Russ Roberts: But, that gives an example. If I couldn't give you at least something between $300,- and $600,000, and maybe more for that watch, it's not worth your time. So, the price has to cover your costs; and the costs are you're--the fact that this is what you're doing essentially full-time.

So, this revolutionized both the production of watches--and of course the availability. and thereby the price. and thereby who could have them. And that changed life in all kinds of other wonderful, interesting, sometimes not so wonderful ways.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. The wonderful thing is you can follow it in archives and accounts from people, witness statements over this period in history. And, you go from watches being these hugely valuable things that only the wealthiest can afford and starting to trickle down into all walks of life. So, then they eventually come down to the point that if, say a farmer's had a really good harvest or a fisherman's had a really good season, they can afford to get a watch. Right the way down to everyone.

And, that kind of happens over the course of the following century.

So, although Dutch forgeries were a huge revolution in the way we made watches, they weren't the ultimate solution to bringing down the watch to a price that could be afforded by all. That was something that happened in the United States the following century. Because, Dutch forgeries weren't standardized. So, you couldn't make parts in one place and put them together with parts made in another place. You couldn't make the most differences in materials, values in different countries at different times, different tax breaks and benefits. For that you needed standardization. And, for standardization you need full mechanization. So, to remove as many humans from the process as possible.

And, that was really the likes of Waltham, Elgin, and Hamilton in the United States who started producing machine-made watches. And, this was where the English industry really hit its downfall. So, whereas the Dutch forgeries left it walking wounded, but still in existence, this complete transformation in production just pretty much demolished what was left. And, by the end of the 19th century, the U.K. industry is in a state of decline that it never recovers from.

Yeah, but yeah. So, the fully mechanized production, that goes up to making over a million watches a year, and by the end of that century you have Ingersoll's the Dollar Watch--the Yankee--which was priced to be the average worker's wage at the time. So, that was the point that even kids could have pocket watches. Everyone had a watch.


Russ Roberts: And that, of course, changed how we think about time and how we got to appointments and how the workplace was structured. And, you write about that in very interesting ways.

I just want to say one last thing about the Swiss production of Dutch-style watches to look as if they were made in England--except by Rebecca Struthers, who understands what a Dutch watch was typically going to look like. It reminds me of--abd there may be a general principle here. It could be we have a data set with two data points, and that's really not enough; but I just want to mention it. I'm older than you. When I was young, when I was say 10 years old--it was 1964. Around then I had a radio--which was small. It was called a transistor radio. It had a little earpiece. It had a speaker, too, I think. You would plug in the earpiece. It didn't have two--one for each ear. Just one. And, you could hear, with very poor quality, tinny sounds of music or sports or whatever, and you could tune it to the station that you were interested in.

That transistor radio that I had was almost certainly made in Japan. In those days, in the early 1960s--which is hard to remember--it was fewer than 20 years after the second World War. Japan was recovering from the devastation of World War II. Japan was famous, well-known in those years, for producing shoddy, crummy, inexpensive electronics. Whether it was TVs or radios. And--this may be apocryphal, but I remember being told--this is the typical story. There might be an element of truth to it. But, that there was a town in Japan called Usa, so that Japanese manufacturers could put made in USA on their--made in Usa--on their low-quality, inferior electronics products.

The irony is: is that 20 or so years after that, Japan becomes the finest creator of electronics products in the world. Sony becomes synonymous with quality. Their TVs become spectacularly good. They, of course, come to dominate the electronics market, and then there's another turn of the wheel, and we're now in a different era.

But, it fascinates me that your Dutch forgers were producing things in Switzerland where it was cheap, and sort of low quality. But, eventually Switzerland becomes synonymous with the best watches in the world. For a while, anyway.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. This is where you get the coming together of the capital and the innovation to really get things going. And, as the Swiss industry was growing, you get the American industry perfecting the mass production of watches. So, you could make a watch with 99 machines by the 1880s.

And, the Swiss saw this. And, rather than fighting against it, which is what the British industry did--there were a few watchmakers who tried to bring the American mass production system to the United Kingdom and they were effectively blocked by the British Horological Institute and the Clockmakers Company because they refused to take on this, what they saw as just taking down the value of watches. That English watches would continue to be these beautiful expensive things and other people could make for the masses. It wasn't our bag. Which was a grave mistake, obviously. And, the Swiss saw this and thought, 'Hang on a minute, this is the future. We need to embrace this.'

But, unlike the American industry, they combined mass manufacture with luxury and put luxury marketing into mass-made watches. So, that was a real stroke of genius. And also, backing[?] the future of the wristwatch over the pocket watch. This was still in the reign of the pocket watch. And, at this point, wristwatches were seen as being quite effeminate. They were something that women would wear. Men or manly men--any men--didn't want to be seen out in a wristwatch. That was kind of a girly thing to do. Whereas the Swiss industry saw the future particularly coming out of reports from the Boer War, and by the time it gets to the First World War, as soldiers were increasingly realizing that it was quite handy having the time on your wrist as opposed to in your pocket. And, they put their money behind the future of the wristwatch.

So, you get this coming together of the trusting the future of the wristwatch based on the reports that they had, which was a bit of a gamble, with mass manufacture and with this very European sense of luxury in a masstige product--a mass-produced prestige product. And, it's genius. Absolute genius.

And, that's kind of how the industry as we know it today came together. And, like you say, for how long as well? Obviously there are emerging markets right now who are doing a fantastic job who had been long dismissed for making cheap knockoffs that are becoming so high quality now that even experts are struggling to tell the difference. It all goes round in circles, doesn't it?

Russ Roberts: Yeah. That's amazing.


Russ Roberts: I'm now going to read from The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. I did not tell you I was going to do this beforehand, so it may--I don't know how you'll react to it. But it's one of my favorite passages for lots of different reasons. He's talking about watches. And, again, I don't remember if this is in--I didn't check. Scholars listening, forgive me. So, this may be from the first edition of 1759, or it could be from a later edition. I think 1789 was the last edition. But, it's definitely in the 18th century. And, here's the quote:

A watch, in the same manner, that falls behind above two minutes in a day, is despised by one curious in watches. He sells it perhaps for a couple of guineas, and purchases another at fifty, which will not lose above a minute in a fortnight. The sole use of watches however, is to tell us what o'clock it is, and to hinder us from breaking any engagement, or suffering any other inconveniency by our ignorance in that particular point. But the person so nice with regard to this machine, will not always be found either more scrupulously punctual than other men, or more anxiously concerned upon any other account, to know precisely what time of day it is. What interests him is not so much the attainment of this piece of knowledge, as the perfection of the machine which serves to attain it. [The Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Adam Smith, Part IV, para. IV.I.5]

Meaning: This guy goes out; he's got an inaccurate watch; he buys a better one, but it doesn't make him any more on time for his meetings. And, then Smith continues--and, this is going to hurt a little bit, Rebecca so brace yourself. It's a little bit disrespectful of your livelihood:

How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. [The Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Adam Smith, Part IV, para. IV.I.6]

End of quote.

Of course, in our time, we love our toys; we love our frivolous toys. Our Apple Watch or whatever gadget we have. I don't quite agree with Smith, and I know you don't either, because it's not just that the machine is apt, it's that it's beautiful. So, sometimes art is worth paying for even if it doesn't make us more on time for our meetings.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. I mean, I've got to admit there are elements of that I do agree with completely. Although, like you say, it's the beauty of the object that I think really appeals to people.

In terms of accuracy, it's not. Funnily enough, people ask how accurate the watches I make are. And, I mean, they're accurate--particularly by the standards of the watches that Smith was talking about. But, this kind of quest to reach fractions of a second in accuracy over several months is not something that personally interests me. I want to create things that are really beautiful and I don't live my life to an accuracy of a few seconds a month. Although we do have clients that do, and complain when their watches don't meet those standards. Not my own watches. They come with a warning.

But, yeah, it is fascinating, this obsession some of us have with super-, super-accurate time, when ultimately the most accurate timekeeper you're going to be able to get is a quartz watch, or particularly with atomic time-keeping reference.

Russ Roberts: Which I think you said loses a second every 15 billion years? The age of the universe?

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. That should keep you on time for your meetings.

Russ Roberts: That's a comfort. That's a comfort.


Russ Roberts: Let's talk about one of perhaps the world's--perhaps the word's most famous watch. I think if we asked our listening audience, 'What's the most famous watch?' I think they'd struggle to come up with one. And, I don't know if in your profession if it's a well-agreed--if it's a consensus. But, let's talk about the watch that was made for Marie Antoinette--which ironically, it's about two miles from where I'm sitting right now and it's had a bit of a journey to get here both in its long ago past and in its recent past. It's sitting in a museum in Jerusalem called the Museum of Islamic Art--which is strange because it's not Islamic. But, that's a whole 'nother story. So, tell us about that watch. Do you agree? Is it the world's most famous watch?

Rebecca Struthers: It's defif you're looking at the specific watches rather than brands, it is truly an extraordinary work of engineering. And, it was made over the turn of the 19th century by a watchmaker called Abraham Louis Breguet, who, to this day is regarded as arguably the greatest watchmaker to have ever lived. He has created more inventions still in current use in mechanical watches than any other watchmaker.

And, he was working through one of the most extraordinary moments in modern European history. He worked through the French Revolution. So, this is why for me--I love him not just because of what he achieved as a watchmaker, but for who he was as a person; and his story, his moment in time is utterly fascinating.

?he Breguet No. 160, also known as the Marie-Antoinette or the Queen, is a case watch designed by Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet. Source: Michael Vainshtein, own work, Wikimedia.

And, the watch he made for Marie Antoinette--unfortunately she didn't live long enough to see it. She met her gruesome end too early to receive it as a gift. So, it was commissioned for her by an unknown admirer--of which she had many. So, we can't be sure who it was. And, Breguet was effectively given every watchmaker's dream of an open checkbook and an open diary. He was told that he could take as long as he wanted. Fatal mistake. And, there was no limit on cost: Just create the most incredible, beautiful, complicated watch ever created. That gold should replace other materials, other metals in the mechanism wherever possible. The case itself has a crystal on the front and back, so you can see into the movement. And, it's a work of mechanical art. We talk about mechanical art and people wanting things because they're beautiful. I can't think of a finer example ever created then Breguet's 106. Yeah, it's just exquisite.

Russ Roberts: You summarized--here's a quick summary of it:

    It had 23 complications--those functions which are surplus to telling the time. It was self-winding and could strike the time out loud, sounding the hours, quarters, and minutes on finely tuned gongs made from wire, and it displayed the equation of time. It had power reserve indication. It could run for 48 hours from full wind. A chronograph, a thermometer, and a perpetual calendar. In total, the watch required 823 parts squeezed into a six centimeter diameter pocket watch, and is still considered one of the five most complicated watches in the world.

Tragically or not, Breguet did not complete it in his lifetime. He got close, right?

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. It was on his bench when he passed away. It was his son that finally finished the watch off. That's how long it took.

So, yeah, it was a phenomenal work of engineering. Some of the complications you mentioned are the ones that are still in use today. So, automatic winding, self-winding, we think of automatic watches, that was Breguet's invention.

Shock settings in watches. So, that's to protect watches from knocks and bumps when they're being worn or if you drop them. They were Breguet's invention.

Even the gongs--so, for chiming out the time, historically, watches had used little bells inside them in the case, which take up a lot more room. Whereas Breguet invented these wire gongs. They run around the outside the movement in a circle that take up a lot less space. And, this was really popular with the fashions of the time as well, because we were moving into the era of gentleman's tailoring. So, you get these finely fitted almost pantsuit-style attire rather than wearing--traditionally watches were worn in quite visually apparent places, so usually hung from the waist on a chatelaine.

And, by making watch thinner watches--not needing these big bells, they suited the tailoring of the day.

So, yeah, he was all the rage. And, Marie Antoinette was regarded as one of the famous names who brought him into vogue.

Russ Roberts: And, used the word chatelaine--which is the name for the chain that connects the watch to your waistcoat pocket, correct?

Rebecca Struthers: Yes.

Russ Roberts: So, couple questions. Did Marie Antoinette ever see the watch? Did she know it was being commissioned for her?

Rebecca Struthers: No. She was a huge fan of Breguet and owned several of his watches. In fact, she requested a Breguet watch while she was incarcerated at the end of her life. She requested a simple Breguet to help her keep the time while she was in prison. But, I don't believe--well, there's no evidence that she knew this watch was being made for her, and she certainly didn't live to see it completed.

Russ Roberts: I would like nothing more than a simple Breguet myself, even though I'm not incarcerated.

Rebecca Struthers: Me, too.

Russ Roberts: Did Breguet ever get paid for it?

Rebecca Struthers: Yes. Yeah. It was completed and sold on to another person, and that's where it goes in and out of the history books before appearing again in the 20th century and ultimately ending up in the collection of David Salomons.

Russ Roberts: So, by my calculation--I don't know if I did this correctly--the watch took 44 years to complete.

Rebecca Struthers: Yes.

Russ Roberts: I think I got that right. At least from the start of the commission to the finishing by the son. Obviously Breguet did other things in his time than just work on this watch. But, it could have been the LBJ [Lyndon Baines Johnson] Caro biography of Breguet, but it wasn't. He wrote other books along the way.

Now here's the strange part. So, it ends up in the collection of David Salomons, who donates it to the Museum of Islamic Art here in Jerusalem. Which--it's about, oh, four blocks from where I live. About two miles, maybe, from where I'm working and recording this. And, it had a little hiatus for a bit. What happened?

Rebecca Struthers: It was stolen. It was stolen from the museum in a heist that defied physics, from what I can gather. It was an incredible theft that took a large number of watches from the collection, including this watch. And, it disappeared. Completely disappeared off the face of the earth. The authorities took every avenue they could to try and locate the watch, and it was assumed gone. Disappeared off into a private collection somewhere, never to be seen again.

And, it wasn't until the person who had stolen it, the thief in question, had passed away that--so I think it was his late wife phoned a solicitor to notify that she'd found a cache of watches, including the Marie Antoinette, in his possessions. And, there it was wrapped in yellow newspaper in a cardboard box. I think--I can't recall--I think it was under his bed.

But, yes, this incredible watch that was one of the most significant pieces ever to be made had been relocated again and was returned to the museum and is now on display after yet another adventure in its long life.

Russ Roberts: I'm surprised there hasn't been of movie made about it. Maybe there will be, or maybe I'm wrong. But, according to the wife--and of course we don't know this. But, according to the wife--I'm giggling because it strikes me as implausible--he confessed on his deathbed that he had stolen the watches. I'm laughing because it's very possible she was in on it, but this was her way of I think at least sustaining some deniability. Who knows? But, it's worth noting that not all the watches were returned, if I remember correctly.

Rebecca Struthers: No. That's correct. A lot of them were, and this one included, but there are still some watches out there we don't know about.

Russ Roberts: And, they had spent their entire time in Tel Aviv. It had been presumed that because of the value of these--and we don't don't know what the thief had planned to do with them--but, he just held onto them. He didn't sell them. He kept a number of them. A good chunk of them, including the most valuable one. What might that watch fetch at auction today, you think? Do you have any idea?

Rebecca Struthers: Oh, God. It's almost impossible--

Russ Roberts: I assume it's insured.--

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah. How do you ensure something like that? Yeah--

Russ Roberts: Now.--

Rebecca Struthers: the prices of watches even in the last 10 years have gone through the roof. Particularly things with history and provenance to them. And, there are a few examples of incredible provenance stronger than this one. It was Paul Newman's Daytona, which is a modern watch, sold for about $16 million. That's for a relatively mass-produced steel wristwatch. So, I don't know what to think. I'm not a valuer, but a lot. A lot, a lot. Yeah.

Russ Roberts: A lot.


Russ Roberts: You talk about a rather extraordinary restoration that you were able to be involved with. Tell us the story of that watch from the Second World War. Which I think beautifully illustrates why Smith was somewhat inaccurate when he talks about 'trinkets of frivolous utility'--watches, pens, gadgets of various kind that we associate with their[?] family take on a significance much greater than their purpose, say, of telling time or writing. There's something precious about them. So, tell us about that watch.

Rebecca Struthers: And, this is why I wanted to be a watchmaker from the very beginning and not a clockmaker, because it's by wearing the objects they take on a whole new meaning to us and our history. And, the way they can remind us of people and our family--particularly sort of inherited pieces--is so powerful and means so much. And that's why they're the favorite restorations for me to work on. I'm not bothered about big names at all. I'd be quite happy work on something worth £20 pounds that means a huge amount to its owners.

So, one of the watches I talk about in the book, one of my favorite restorations, was of Movado Weems. This was to calculate longitude in the air 200 years after the initial invention of the first chronometer. And, yeah, this watch came in belonging to a gentleman who'd inherited it from his father.

And, he told me, this watch has an incredible story, but he wasn't entirely sure how much of it was true and how much was family legend. And, this watch came in. I emptied it out on my bench from a brown jiffy bag, missing its bezel, chunks out of the case. The dial was damaged. Missing parts. And, he told me that his father was on a bomber aircraft providing support during the Dunkirk evacuations during the Second World War. And, his plane was shot down; and it crashed. The pilot was killed outright. His colleague--there were three of them on board--managed to get a hold of the controls and steer the plane into a controled landing. But unfortunately, he was trapped when the plane crashed. This gentleman's father was thrown from the wreckage and ended up being the only survivor of the crash. And so, he was too badly injured to move.

He was behind enemy lines by this point. During the evacuation, the German army was fast approaching and he actually ended up, luckily, being rescued by what he just described at the time as being a Scottish division. Picked him up and carried him to the coast, where he was taken to hospital and eventually evacuated on the last boat--where, he said, had Captain Scott's son was on the boat and he met him. Captain Scott of the Antarctic. So, this was almost like a claim-to-fame celebrity moment for him that he met Captain Scott's son on this boat. But, he was like, 'I don't know if any of this is true. It's just what he used to tell me.'

And, anyway, the watch that he was wearing, which was obviously long assumed lost by this point, when he arrived in hospital, the flight jacket that the people who'd saved him had folded up and put under his head as a pillow, the nurse shook it out and there was a metallic clunk as this watch fell out of the sleeve of the jacket. And, yeah, it survived the crash with him; and it looked like it had survived a crash out of an airplane, the state it came in in.

But, yeah, it survived with him and he kept it after the war and passed it on to his son; and now it had come into us to be put back into a state that he could wear it and pass it on to his children. And, it was the most incredible thing for me. I'm sure every historian's been through this. You hear these amazing stories and you yourself are thinking, 'That's too good to be true. That's just too good.' And, yeah. I fact checked and went through everything and every single thing he said added up.

So, the Highland Infantry Division, they were the last battalion to be moving through to the beach to be evacuated in the days after Dunkirk. They were the ones, Scottish regiment, that picked him up. The last boat was indeed captained Robert Scott's son. Everything added up. Even the record of the crash was listed online so that the flight, the record, everything added up. The names of all the people involved added up. Remarkably the flight--the crash records--said they don't know what happened to the only survivor. They recorded this guy's grandfather as a survivor, but suggested that maybe he'd ended up in prison because there's no record of him after that. And, he didn't end up in prison. He got out.

So, yeah, it's just absolutely phenomenal. It still gives me goosebumps thinking about it, to this day. It's so rare that you have that amount of history and every little detail just ties up perfectly.

Russ Roberts: If I remember, they carried him for two days on a stretcher to the coast. It was a rather incredible thing. You did not restore it to its new condition, though, correct?

Rebecca Struthers: No. No, we didn't. So, sympathetic restoration, we call it, is something that we specialize in; and that's trying to do things that can be undone. So, we don't do any more than has to be done to get something working effectively. And, then we try to do things that can be undone if someone wanted to put it back into its original state again. So, yeah. The bezel that was missing, we replaced. It can be removed.

Actually, I posted about it online, and someone got in touch with to say that they'd recreated, engineered some of these examples of the bezel because it was very specialized. It's the bit that you used to calculate the longitude. It rotates and it's numbered. So, very kindly sent as one of those. Only, it was brand new. So, I put it in a box of metal files. This is one of my tricks to rapidly age something. And, shook it around in a box of metal files to put dents and scratches and marks back in it.

We didn't repair all of the dents and marks out the case so that still looks like it survived an air crash. And, the dial, weirdly, it was the only thing he didn't know why this damage had occurred. But, the Movado written across the dial had been very carefully scratched out with what looks like it might have been in a pin to just leave the V in the middle. So, something that was very clearly intentional, but no explanation as to why. And, it was theorized, perhaps it could have been the victory V, which was made famous by Winston Churchill, with the V for victory. But, we don't know. And, that was all left original. We didn't restore the dial. It still looks completely as it would've done and the original owner would've recognized it.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. I'm not sure--this is easily checked. I'm not sure when Churchill first started using V for victory. I'd be interesting it was before Dunkirk. He certainly used it more frequently after.

Rebecca Struthers: Yeah.

Russ Roberts: I'm curious, there were chunks out of the case. If he had wanted it restored to look brand new, could you have done that?

Rebecca Struthers: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So, these days, modern technology sometimes is really useful in what we do and even we have to incorporate it. So, lasering. You could have[?] laser-filled with steel to fill all the gaps and you could have finished it back so it looked virtually new, but that's not the way it would've been remembered. And, obviously this was something that was so important to his family. I think the fact that they had both survived and obviously we'd gone on to win the war was something that was really important and the connection that the original owner had with this watch and that had been passed on to his son.

So, I think the V for victory thing, if that was what it was, would've been done obviously after the war as part of the celebration that we've all survived and we are victorious and now this watch is a literal living piece of history. Well, not literally, but a piece of history that exemplifies this one man's survival and the whole generation of people, his family, and his grandchildren now that exist because of his achievements.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. Amazing. I just want to say for listeners, Rebecca has a website. We'll put a link up to it. Not all of her watches that she makes are $600,000. Just want to reassure people. You can own a craft handmade watch for less than that. So, people can check this out if they want.


Russ Roberts: I want to close with time and your thoughts about time. They're scattered throughout the book. There were some beautiful passages in the beginning that were talking about the seasons and certainly at the end when you talk about some of your own personal challenges. Do you think that being a watchmaker makes you experience time any differently than the rest of us? Writing a book about time, does it change you in any way?

Rebecca Struthers: I think it has done. I think it's taken time to change my outlook, but it certainly has now. I think it's something that grew quite slowly in a way that I didn't realize it was happening until it happened. And, certainly some of the things I talk about later in the book. This idea of coming back to watches being this beautiful work of art, that's very much what they are to me. And so, they're not something I feel defined or regulated by. I love working on them, not because they tell me the time, but because they're beautiful things to work on. So, I don't feel pressured by them in that way. A ticking clock is not a source of pressure for me. I find it quite therapeutic. Actually, very therapeutic, because it means it's working again, which is a good sign of course.

But also, making things in a very traditional way takes a long time. And, there's something really beautiful in having the availability to give yourself over to that process: that this cannot be rushed. And, if it's going to take you a year to make this thing, it's going to take you a year. And that is what that is, and you're just going to roll with it.

And, as I say in the book, how you notice yourself visually aging with the watches that you create and you can measure parts of your life with the projects that you've been working on.

But, it's a real pleasure to be able to work that way in such a fast-paced, modern world. There aren't many things I think you can still do that really allow you to give yourself over like that and just enjoy the process.

Russ Roberts: My guest today has been Rebecca Struthers. Her book is Hands of Time. Rebecca, thanks for being part of EconTalk.

Rebecca Struthers: Thank you.

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