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An Horologist

From Horology magazine, December, 1937

An Horologist 
By D. L. THOMPSON

In lexicology the derivation of horology is shown to be from the Greek word hora, an hour, and from ology, a colloquial term for any branch of science, and this compound word means, "the art of constructing machines for measuring and indicating time." And, further, the definition of a horologist is, "one adept in horology." How many may claim the right to be addressed by this name?

The definition of watchmaker is, "one whose occupation is to make or repair watches." Many may, without compunction, claim this distinction.

Horologist is, undoubtedly, a more intriguing word than watchmaker, and, while the latter title may be more understandable to the English speaking public, both are misnomers when applied to the average workman engaged in the repair of watches.

In order to conscientiously apply either of these names to ourselves we should be able to construct a watch in its entirety and be equipped to make any part thereof for replacement purposes. Many workmen, given the proper tools, could do this but it is neither expected nor required of us in this modern age.

What then is the present requirement in order that we may call ourselves Horologists? The minimum requirement is that we must be able to fit and adjust any of the replacement parts that may be needed in repairing a watch to return it to its original condition and usefulness, and, further, we should be able to make certain parts such as staffs, springs, stems, and screws equal in appearance and utility to the original ones being replaced. This may sound simple in its statement but in practical work it is far from simple as it requires knowledge and ability equal to that of the designer and maker of the watch if it is to be returned to its original condition and if we have pride in our work this should be our aim.

How is such knowledge and ability to be attained? There are two ways and they are: attendance at a recognized Horological School, where the instructors are Certified watchmakers and men of broad knowledge of the art, and for a sufficient length of time to thoroughly learn the work; and, by serving an apprenticeship of not less than three years under the instruction of a recognized Master watchmaker who has the ability and equipment to impart his knowledge to the student. Either of these alternatives must be supplemented with a wide study of all branches of the art.

The novice, whether in school or shop, should first be given a course in applied mechanics, starting with a consideration of the mechanical powers which are: the lever; the wheel and axle; the pulley; the inclined plane; the wedge; and the screw. These are the elementary contrivances of which all machines are composed. A condensed course in Horological drafting covering theory of design should follow in order to give the student a further insight into the mechanical planning and some of the mathematical aspects of the design of watches and clocks. A well planned course of practical work in turning, milling, grinding and polishing, and watch tool making, going through the actual process of making a clock with dead beat escapement, should then be given. All this, of course, for the purpose of building a firm foundation upon which the name of Horologist is to later soundly rest.

With such a foundation laid the student, if his marks are satisfactory in this work, is well started on the long road to receiving his diploma, Horologist, which will be regarded with confidence by the public and which will be a constant source of pride to him.  Only after such groundwork has been given is the student really prepared to begin the study of horology. With this firm foundation in mechanics the novice will progress rapidly in the art as he will have had impressed on his mind the why and wherefore of the mechanical movements and construction of the clock and it remains only that he be taught the construction of the watch and the modern methods of repair and adjustment. This in conjunction with a sufficient length of time spent in applying the knowledge he has gained so as to attain proficiency in the work should give him sufficient instruction to entitle him to receive the coveted appellation, Horologist.

What has been said above may seem to be unnecessary to some but many of the older watchmakers who did not have this sort of training will readily admit that their progress and proficiency would have been enhanced immeasurably had they received such training.

While the present-day watchmaker, generally, is not called upon to manufacture watches he should have a complete knowledge of all the details entering into their construction and it will be seen from the above that there is a wide field of study to be engaged in in order for one to be. able, rightfully, to earn the title of Horologist and it is such knowledge that places one in the professional class, which implies a measure of learning above the average.

There is much being written today on the value of a high-school and college education and there is no doubt that both of these are highly desirable but it is a comfort to the novice with less than a high-school education to know that intelligence is congenital. Some of the greatest inventors of our age have been watchmakers and men of little education who have given us the most valuable of our machines and conveniences. Edison is an outstanding example of a self-educated man and his name will doubtless be remembered when those of his contemporary college presidents have been forgotten. Edison was a student all his life and his success was due to not being satisfied with knowing just enough about anything but by learning all there was to know about the things he put his mind and hand to. Let the young apprentice, whether he has much or little education, take his cue from Edison and in connection with the training he is receiving make an exploration or research into all departments of the art of horology.

The United Horological Association of America has a growing library of practical books on Horology which it will loan to members, the only requirement being the payment of postage both ways.  Some State Associations of Watchmakers, who are affiliated with the United Horological Association, have junior, or apprentice memberships and such members may obtain these books through some senior member. The National Association has, also, a large selection of works on Horology, by well known writers, which are for sale. See the Book Page of THE AMERICAN HOROLOGIST.  If the book you want is not listed there it can be obtained for you.

Watchmaking cannot, of course, be learned from books but there is much horological lore that can be obtained in no other way. 

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