Interviews • 25 Feb 2020
Reuben Schoots on Australian Watchmaking
Hi Reuben, could you tell the audience a bit about who you are and how you got into watches?
Growing up as a boy in Canberra, I have always had an interest in anything mechanical. It all started when I was a boy, helping my father restore a 1961 Triumph Tr4 sports car. Learning the mechanics and watching old parts come to life, fascinated me. In terms of how I got into watches, I have always been into them, at least ever since receiving my grandfathers watch as a child, but it really starts with a back story during my visit to South America in 2015. I fell victim to three tropical viruses and a parasite which took me over 2 years to recover. During this time, I had a feeling of helplessness and dug deep into my mind. It was then that I discovered a book on watchmaking by George Daniels which piqued my interest in finding out who made these wonderful mechanisms. Delving deeper, I soon learned about the great watchmakers including to name a few Arnold, Earnshaw, Harrison and Breguet. It struck me hard and I knew that watchmaking was my passion and was something I wanted to pursue professionally.
What are your thoughts on the watch collecting scene in Australia?
It’s growing. The ironic thing is, technology is what’s growing mechanical watchmaking. The internet, social media, and media companies like The Hour Glass, are educating people into why horology is beautiful and worth learning about. I’m currently 26 years old, and it’s amazing seeing people my age with a growing thirst for something hands-on, something mechanical, alive and with a soul, perhaps it provides them with a break from a digitalized world.
In terms of watchmaking in Australia as a whole, it’s in its infancy. Watchmaking is growing, gaining traction and seriously, it’s getting bigger than it has been for the last one hundred years, in a completely new light. Again, this is likely the result of technology.
Could you explain to us common folk, how would you describe building a pocket watch?
Daniel, it honestly is humbling, difficult, time-consuming, but full of meaning. It involves people and connections, embarking on the journey, being ignorant enough to make a tourbillon watch for my first, has allowed me to enjoy the challenge in the best possible way. People don’t make tools to make the components of these watches in Australia anymore, so I need to make modifications to the machines. Of course, you could buy these tools from Switzerland or perhaps Germany if you had deep pockets, but as a young watchmaker, that would be impossible. I think I prefer the process of getting to know my machines and their limitations and then modifying them to rise up to the demanding task of manufacturing watch components.
What areas of horology interest you?
I’m intrigued by escapements and precision chronometry. Timekeeping is so important. As a whole, I love the classics. I love handmade horology and the connection that the timepiece can give its owner, a companion to travel with on the journey of life. I also love the patience, discipline and labour that goes into handmade horology. They take a year or two to make, that’s far longer than building the average house. They tell a story.
Judging from your Instagram and Youtube accounts, this question is kind of obvious, but who do you look towards for inspiration?
I look towards various people. This includes my family and friendship circles. I aspire to be making handmade watches and mechanical watches as scientific interest. So naturally, I look towards people like Breguet, Daniels, Arnold and Earnshaw.
I want to go back to your friends and family, could you describe how they supported you?
They supported me with their very generous hands. I am very fortunate to have a family and friendship circle that never hesitate to lend a helping hand. They constantly remind me of important ideals on how to approach life and relationships. My partner has been supportive from day one. This journey would not have been possible without her. As I was mentioning earlier, I was in a state of despair trying to work out my life. As my health started to improve, coupled with being in love with horology, I knew that I was prepared to sacrifice myself for the art. When I wasn’t working on my watch, I would be repairing clocks and watches in Canberra to make sure that my hand skills are always sharp. My family and friends saw this passion of mine and they fully supported me.
Honestly, there are so many hands that make one watch, project or career. I don’t think many people realise this, as it’s very romantic to think that one person made the watch on their own. Although I’m the one enduring the labour, behind my energy is my friends and family that support me. Once my watch is complete and ready to embark on its journey in the world, I can be proud to say that this object reflects me and tells a story.
Reuben I have to ask, pocket watches, is there room for them in a wristwatch dominated generation?
Absolutely. Firstly, let’s make it clear that I don’t dislike wristwatches at all. There are many that I adore and I would like to make some. However, the pocket watch has charming qualities that wristwatches struggle to possess. In my opinion, they’re more elegant, particularly their cases, which are uninterrupted by bands and bracelets. In addition, the enthusiast can more easily observe the architecture of the movement with the naked eye. There’s also more heft when you pick one up. Pocket watches are always in the collections of true connoisseurs of horology.
How do you unwind? What are your hobbies outside of watchmaking?
I push myself very hard. I read, study and think really hard about watchmaking. Being a watchmaker and pursuing the science of horology comes at a huge price. I religiously go to the sauna and push myself to the limit. I challenge myself by pushing to see how long can I sit in the heat. Once I’m done, I swim underwater lengths of the Olympic pool. I do this for the similarities in qualities required on the workbench. Such as focus, calm and breathing. I also enjoy getting away camping in the mountains for a few days wherever possible.
[Banner image: Reuben turning on the lathe]
To follow Reuben on his journey follow him on YouTube and Instagram.