The Horological Society of New York was America’s first watchmaking guild, originally founded in 1866. What began as a small group of men in the industry meeting wherever they could find space in Manhattan has grown into one of the largest watch communities worldwide. Today, they’re headquartered in the historic General Society building in the heart of NYC. The General Society, like the HSNY, is a non-profit who’s been a vital partner. The HSNY’s monthly lecture series is held in the General Society’s main library, and the HSNY’s main office and educational workshop are located just a few floors up.
Ed Hydeman has been one of the HSNY’s most crucial members. He first joined the organization in 1994, and by 2000, he had been elected Vice President. Eight years later, he became the HSNY’s President, and with the help of members like Nick Manousos, he transformed the HSNY from those modest beginnings into what it is today. Now, Ed serves as Executive Director and Nick as President. We had the pleasure of sitting down with these two gentlemen as well as the HSNY’s Director of PR and Marketing, Carolina Navarro, to dive deeper into the organization and the importance of watch communities like the HSNY.
How did you all get into horology and your work with the HSNY? Tell me a bit about your careers so far –
Ed: I’ll start since I’ve been around the longest. I got interested in watches in the early 90s. I went to the Bulova School of Watchmaking in 1994 – the same year I attended my first meeting at the HSNY – and I was smitten from the beginning. My first meeting I was 45 years old, and the facilitator said it was nice to see someone young in the room. I looked around wondering who he was referring to, and I realized it was me. I got active right away and became close friends with the President. In 2000, he asked me to serve as his Vice President. One of the ideas I introduced early on was that we needed to be more inclusive – that enthusiasts and collectors should be part of the organization – and the membership at the time fought back. Then in 2008, when I was elected President, I decided I had to do something more. We weren’t getting any new members – certainly no younger members – and the older members were retiring or literally passing away. So, I brought in a friend who was a web designer, and she offered to design a website for us. We had to explain to the membership what the Internet was, so we were really starting from scratch.
I worked for Tiffany right after I graduated from school and then Richemont for eight years. All that time, I was asking my co-workers to come to meetings. Finally, when I got to Rolex, I was able to recruit some of my co-workers, and that’s sort of when things took off. Shortly thereafter, I met Nick, and he graciously agreed to help us develop the website further. Then, when I retired from Rolex, Nick asked me to come on as Executive Director after he became President in 2017. At first, I was working on a laptop in my living room. And Nick and I talked, and I said, I really need an office if I’m going to do a good job – I need to have space. Once every month I’d meet with the Executive Director of the General Society. Then, I started working in their library – I’d set up my laptop and sort of stake out my territory. Finally, they agreed to let us have space. So on January 2, 2018, I moved into our space in Suite 506 with nothing. It was actually filled with junk when I moved in. So, I cleaned it out and ordered furniture, office supplies, benches, tables, chairs, and desks. What you see today is the culmination of that effort. Since then, we’ve just been expanding. We have members as young as nine and probably as old as 90. It’s been an adventure these 25 years of my life. I can’t imagine being in a better place.
Nick: I had a previous career in the tech industry in Silicon Valley. It was fun, but I didn’t want to do it my entire life. So eventually, my wife persuaded me to try something different. I’d heard about watchmaking school and realized it was free to students. So my wife and I moved from San Francisco to Miami, and I enrolled in the Nicholas Hayek Watchmaking School, it’s a Swatch Group school. After school, my wife and I moved to NYC so she could pursue her education. It just so happened that NYC is a great place for watchmaking, so we were both really happy here. And when we first moved to NYC, I had this idea in the back of my head: there’s probably some type of ancient watchmaking society somewhere in Manhattan, in a room on a historical street with really beautiful wood panelled walls and a library with that old fashioned NYC feel. Then, I was talking with a friend, and he said, you should come to the HSNY – we have these meetings. And it all clicked: wow, this thing that I’d been thinking of – it does exist, it’s here. So, I went to my first meeting, and I met lots of very friendly people – I met Ed right away – and I realized this was a place and a group I could really connect with and learn from. Back then – this was 2013 – it was a small group of people, primarily older men – there were very few women and very few young people. Regardless, everyone welcomed me with open arms, and I felt just inspired coming to these meetings. So, I got as involved as I could right away, and that kind of brings us to where we are today.
Do you consider yourselves watch collectors? Tell me about your watches and the watches that interest you –
Nick: I can go first on this one because I have a short answer: I really don’t consider myself a collector. Sometimes you hear the saying, once you know how sausage is made, you don’t really want to eat it. I know how watches are made, so I just don’t get as excited over, say, a special dial on a watch. I don’t really follow a lot of the collecting mentality. But, I do have a couple watches I like. I have a few old American railroad pocket watches. Those, to me, signify a period when the American watchmaking industry was really at its peak. I have other watches that are meaningful to me in some way. When my wife and I got married, we both bought each other nice watches. Right now, I’m wearing a Bulova watch, which was actually Ed’s. It’s meaningful to me because it was his watch and because he donated it to the Society – it was auctioned at our annual Charity Gala back in April. I enjoy watches that have some personal significance to me, but I’m by no means an expert on tropical dials or rare vintage watches. It’s just not my ballgame.
Ed: As I said, I worked for Tiffany, then Richemont, and then Rolex. And during that time, I took advantage of the discounts that were available. So, I’ve owned probably 100 watches over the course of the last 25 years. What I have now is about 40 watches of which ten maybe have any resale value. I put this Tudor Pelagos on this morning. One of the things I love about this watch is the story behind it. At the time I worked at Rolex, it was unavailable to employees. About three months before I retired, they allowed employees to buy the LHD – it means left hand drive. It’s a collector’s item and has special features that the regular Pelagos doesn’t have. It arrived my last day on the job. About 9:30 that morning, I got a call from new goods. They asked when I was leaving, and I said about 2:30. They told me, make this your last stop on your way out the door. So, when I went downstairs to new goods, about twenty people stood up and applauded. It was just a very touching moment to pick up that watch on my last day. So, this watch has sentimental meaning even though it’s new. I also have a Cartier, a Tiffany, three other Tudors, and a Rolex – those are probably the most precious to me. I have my grandfather’s pocket watch. Over the years, I’ve collected – I had a wonderful Reverso at one time, two Panerais, about five or six Baume & Mercier watches. But today, like Nick, I no longer consider myself a collector. When I went to school, I was so excited about watches. After 25 years working the bench, some of that excitement has gone away. For me, the excitement now is watching the HSNY grow.
It’s been great to learn more about your backgrounds, but now I’d like to transition a bit. In your opinion, what’s the importance of taking the discussion of watches offline and facilitating events like the HSNY’s lecture series to bring enthusiasts together to connect about watches?
Nick: I think there’s only so much you can learn by yourself reading an article or a book. I remember before I went to watchmaking school, I was studying a lot – reading George Daniels watchmaking book – and I thought I had the basic understanding of how things worked, but I really didn’t. It wasn’t until I went to school and interacted with others – other students, my instructor – that things really clicked. I think the same is true for our lecture series and our classes. You learn so much more when you’re doing it with other people or an instructor or speaker who’s very knowledgeable. I think it makes a big difference. It’s also enjoyable from a social perspective, to get out and talk with other people. We’re kind of lucky to have so many people that are so passionate about watchmaking, clock making, and horology all in one place. It’s just a nice feeling of community that we have here.
Ed: For me, it’s the people. It really is the connection. Anytime we have a gathering, it’s nice to spend an evening together – to see old friends, people I’ve worked with, or to meet new people – such wonderful people who share my interests. I’ve had the chance to make a lot of friends over the years because of experiences I’ve had in this community, and, to me, that’s the most rewarding part.
You all touched on this earlier, but can you expand on how meaningful it is for the HSNY to attract a diverse community? Not just age and gender, but, as Ed mentioned, beyond watch industry people – collectors, enthusiasts or even journalists, executives, etc. –
Nick: When Ed had the original idea to be more inclusive, what he was referring to is actually from a tax perspective. Before, we were classified as a 501 C (6) non-profit. It’s a U.S. government, IRS classification, and it’s a business league. So, it’s a group of people from a certain industry who form a non-profit to help each other out. His idea was to switch to a 501C (3), which is also a non-profit but one that’s not specific to a business or industry. It’s for the greater good of the public. So, that’s what we did, and it opened our doors. Now, you don’t need to be a watchmaker to come to the HSNY, you don’t need to be a clock maker, you don’t need to work in the industry. You just need to be curious. That’s it. You don’t even need to own a watch or a clock. You can just say, I’m interested in this subject, and I want to learn more.
I think the other perspective on this is that yes, when you come to our lectures, they’re incredibly diverse. You see all the different people from different age ranges – you see men, you see women – you see everyone there. I definitely think that’s part of what makes the HSNY so strong – that we have all these different people coming together with one common interest and passion that they want to learn more about.
If you look at industry legends like Jean-Claude Biver or George Daniels, they shared an enthusiasm to engage the next generation. Do you find more and more young people attending your events, and is engaging that younger audience a priority for the HSNY?
Nick: It’s absolutely a priority. It’s incredibly important – something we think about all the time. We want to make the events comfortable for everyone. We want people to come and not feel nervous, not feel like they’re going to be judged if they’re not wearing a fancy watch. From a different perspective, we’re constantly monitoring the number of watchmakers in the in the U.S. The Department of Labour puts out a report every year with how many people in the U.S. are working in different industries, and the number of watchmakers in the U.S. has been consistently declining over the past decade. So, we’re really trying to encourage or convince the youth that watchmaking is a real, viable career. It’s something you can really enjoy, a job you can have for a long time that pays well. You can really work anywhere in the world that you’d like. And we’re doing our best to convince young people that this is something they should consider and, really, not just young people – anyone who’s considering switching careers. We’ve had quite a few people come through our classes who’ve had a previous career, and they want to try something different. So yes, it’s incredibly important to make sure that the next generation of watchmakers is on the right path and that we can change this trend. I’d say once we see that number change, we’ll have started to meet our goal, but that’s just the start. All of our outreach, all of our educational initiatives are to get as many people interested in watchmaking as possible.
What are the challenges of getting people in the door to an in-person event? And how has the HSNY overcome them? Is there anything that’s been really crucial to the HSNY building this community?
Nick: I’m trying to think of a way to answer that doesn’t sound like we’re bragging or something. I’m trying to think of a challenge that we’ve had, but it’s actually been the opposite. When we first started our watchmaking classes, we had a waitlist of over 1000 people. They were free, and that was the issue – we needed to do something to manage this demand. So, we said you need to pay a little bit to have a seat. At the same time, if you can’t afford it – if you’re student or veteran – it’s free, but otherwise, we ask for a donation. Then, we started to see the same issue with our lectures. We were having so many people come to the lectures that we needed to at least be able to predict the number a little bit better. So now, we ask people to RSVP online. It’s easy, it’s still free – just so we know how many people are going to attend.
Sometimes it’s challenging to get the same amount of people coming to every lecture. We try and keep the lecture topics diverse – some lectures are about collecting vintage wristwatches, and those are wildly popular – standing room only. Then we have other lectures that are very technical, say, about dynamic poising of balance wheels, and they’re not so popular. It’s a balance, but we like to keep this range of topics so no matter what your interest in horology, there’s some lecture that appeals to you throughout the year.
Ed: I would say yes, there certainly have been challenges, but I have to credit Nick and Carolina to helping us overcome those challenges. As our Director of PR and Marketing, Carolina spends most of her time promoting our lectures and our classes and inviting people like you to come visit and talk about this wonderful organization. So, I would defer to Carolina to answer that question.
Carolina: Instead of challenges, I’d say it’s been uncharted territory. When we started, we had Instagram and Facebook. I added Twitter and helped us get more active on these platforms. Our numbers have grown ever since. Many people like to follow in real time, even those outside of NYC and all around the world. So, these outlets allow us to communicate with people in addition to our monthly newsletter.
Knowing that people like Ed make up a decent portion of your community, have you found these millennial platforms still speak to a more old school demographic?
Carolina: I think it depends on the platform. The majority of our older community prefers Facebook, so I’ll tailor the messaging – I’ll abbreviate more on Twitter or do something quicker on Instagram. Then Facebook is where I’ll really flesh things out. We also have our monthly newsletter. The HSNY has been publishing that newsletter since 1936. Up until 2014 or so, it was solely a physical newsletter that we mailed to our members. Believe it or not, we still mail it to certain members who prefer the physical copy.
Earlier, we talked about the importance of engaging the next generation. Do you think expanding the work on Facebook and Instagram, adding Twitter, etc. has helped attract that younger community?
Carolina: Definitely. When I started, I was one of the only millennials and maybe one of the only women attending the lectures, and I knew there had to be others like me who were just as passionate, regardless of whether they were watchmakers or not. So doing organic searches on platforms like Instagram and Twitter have allowed us to connect with millennials in NYC as well as all over the world who want to follow us and what we’re doing here.
So, in your experiences with other watch communities and events around the world, what similarities and differences have you seen?
Ed: I have an example of other groups in the U.S. We’re currently an affiliate chapter of the American Watchmakers and Clock Makers Institute, and I‘m the affiliate chapter representative. What I’ve realized is all the things we’ve talked about today – our efforts to include collectors and enthusiasts, having an Internet presence – has put us leaps and bounds ahead of most of the other chapters. We just had a teleconference where each of the chapters gave their reports. After hearing what the others are doing, it was difficult for me to say what we’re doing and how well we’re doing. The best I could do was offer personal assistance to our fellow affiliates in hopes they might be able to expand their base and reach more people. I really feel like we’ve grown so much that I’d say we’re the most organized and well publicized of many of our sister organizations. And, we still seem to be growing considerably. I consider myself the luckiest guy in the world that we’ve been able to accomplish what we have and to have a team that we have – all of the volunteers, the four paid staffers, and present company of course.
Outside of the events offered by the HSNY, what are some of your favourite events, meetups, or communities for watch enthusiasts?
Nick: I always like to mention the events put on by our good friends at Red Bar. If you’re interested in horology, you can come to an HSNY lecture, which is a more formal, academic feel. Or, if you want to talk about watches in a more relaxed environment – a bar or a club – listen to music and have some drinks, you can do that with Red Bar. They have Red Bar affiliate chapters all over the world where people can get together, hang out, show off their watches, and talk about watches. There’s another event coming up here in NYC in October. It’s the WatchTime exhibition, which we all look forward to every year. It’s a lot of fun. They have a beautiful venue called Gotham Hall with tons of the exhibitors. So, we’re very much excited about that.
You’ve shared many of the opportunities put on by the HSNY from the lecture series to educational workshops here and abroad – can you tell us anything about what’s next for the HSNY?
Nick: We always look at our mission: education. And we try and think, what new and different ways can we expand to satisfy that mission? Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll be expanding our library even more – make it into a better resource for both our community and the public. We’re working on, I guess you could say, expanding to Hollywood. Pretty soon, you’ll be seeing a big “movie premiere” from us. Actually, this month, we’re going to debut it at the September lecture. We’re always looking for different ways to get the word out – to let people know who we are and what we’re doing at the HSNY.
Ed: To echo what Nick said, I think education is really the primary focus. Whatever we can do – having books available for research or providing a place where people can do research – is important. And also to have the resources for anyone who’s interested in pursuing horology. If they have questions, to give them guidance, support, encouragement, and, in some cases, financial aid.
For those looking to get involved in a watch community and meet other enthusiasts, do you have any advice about the best way people can find local opportunities?
Nick: A lot of the watch community today is on Instagram. So maybe you can find some people on Instagram and organize a meetup, get together, and start talking. I’d encourage people to start building that community in their city. When you get people together, good things can happen. I think everyone should try to build a community around their shared interests, wherever they are in the world. If you get a chance to visit us in NYC, come to a lecture or come to a class, but if you don’t have the opportunity, we’ll come to you. And if you live somewhere that our traveling education classes aren’t going to visit, we also have all our lectures available on YouTube for free. Also, if you work at a big company or go to a big school, look for a club or group. We’ve taught classes at Google and MIT.
Ed: To echo what Nick said again, the one thing I strongly recommend for almost anyone who’s not in NYC is to watch our lectures on YouTube. It’s a simple – you could get four or five or 30 people together, watch one of our videos, and learn something. There’s always a good Q&A at the end. It’s certainly an easy thing to do to encourage a community to form.