A CELEBRATED tradition for more than 200 years, Jacob Russell, 19, from Chichester, has become the very first sponsored apprentice for watch-making in the UK.
“I grew up admiring my grandfather’s watch and clock collection and I began repairing my own at an early age,” he said.
Once at the centre of the horological world, the UK has witnessed a decline in the popularity of watches in the past 50 years – but there has been a recent revival.
Geoff Allnut of JE Allnut and Son, watch and clock-maker of Midhurst, said: “When I trained in 1980, the course started with 20 students and finished with seven. To my knowledge there are just three of us still working with watches. Even my training college in Hackney closed in 1995.”
Recently though, in the past decade there has been a rise in the demand for mechanical wristwatches.
Now with an ever-growing interest in mechanical watches, there lies a steep demand for those qualified to service and repair them. There is concern in the industry that the numbers of student watch-makers have fallen, paralleled with the increasing sale and manufacture of branded mechanical watches.
Jacob Russell left his secondary school at the age of 16, to pursue a career in watchmaking. Now at the age of 19, he has been training for two years.
“I was fascinated by these tiny machines; powered solely by a spring,” he said.
“I like the satisfaction of repairing a watch that was once not working.”
After approaching Matthew Read, a tutor for the conservation of clocks at West Dean College, he began voluntary work.
Despite Jacob’s interest in wristwatches, working with clocks allowed him to gain the contacts and advice he needed.
Geoff Allnut offered Jacob the opportunity to become his principal apprentice.
Mr Allnut secured funding from the Worshipful Company of Clock and Watchmakers, for Jacob’s three-year distance-learning course with the British Horological Institute.
Jacob is now about to start his last year on the course.
“You have additional hands-on experience, compared to the university courses which are usually far more theory-based,” he said.
Watchmaking is now recognised by the National Apprenticeship Service.