Not so many years ago, everyone wore a watch. We’re not talking about a digital watch with a stopwatch, we’re certainly not talking about a computer strapped to the wrist that will tell you where you are within a few metres using satellites and other hi-tech equipment. We’re definitely not talking about the new-fangled fashion of effectively strapping your mobile phone to your wrist. Actually, we’re not even talking about a surfing watch or a pilot’s watch or even something waterproof. Not so long ago, people looked at their left wrist to tell the time on a good old fashioned watch with minute, second and hour hands.
The high class watch
These days, good quality analogue watches are something of a fashion statement. There is a whole industry based around high class time pieces, from tailor made grandfather clocks right through to used Rolex watches, still as sought after now as the day they were made. Back in the good old days though, watchmaking was a trade in which young men trained as apprentices. Interestingly, it was in fact a trade that allowed young men to survive when their villages could no longer sustain them.
Learning a trade
Back in the late 1850s and early 1860s, the German economy was struggling. In particular, small rural villages were unable to sustain the growing population. Villages at the time were managed by a collection of ‘elders’, who would meet and advise the rest of the villagers on the best way to proceed in times of crisis.
In a village called Oberharmersbach on the outskirts of the Black Forest, known locally as Schwarzenwald, the elders decided that the young men of the village would be unable to find work there and must move on. This was particularly controversial owing to a tradition at the time that continues to this day. Houses were built on many levels, so that as the family expanded the house was large enough to house all living generations of the same family. This meant that young people would remain in the village, living with their families, taking over family businesses and maintaining a fairly self-contained village environment.
But at the tail end of the 1850s, a generation of boys were forced to leave the village. It was decided that the oldest boy from each family in the generation reaching adulthood at that time would leave the village to seek work elsewhere. On arriving and settling in their new home, the boys would be followed by younger brothers whom they could assist in finding a livelihood. It was widely accepted that Germany was unlikely to provide the best opportunities for the boys, so many of them looked go abroad.
Watchmaking was an upcoming trade at the time, and boys forced to leave the village used the contacts they had made when growing up to find a trade and train as an apprentice. Many of the boys headed for the UK, training as watchmakers in towns where their ancestors remain today. Some of them leave generations of watchmakers still trading today.