If you are a regular reader of Time+Tide you might be familiar with Australian watchmaker Reuben Schoots. Reuben and I are the same age at 27 years old, but whereas I have yet to finish my copy of Watchmaking by George Daniels, Reuben is on the precipice of finishing his very own watch – built using the Daniels method. It takes a mountain of perseverance and technical skill to build a watch, especially when its components are all built by hand. But it is that much more impressive that Reuben is able to do so in the wake of battling a life-threatening illness that he caught while travelling through South America.
In this interview with ABC News Australia Reuben explains, “I went to the doctor and they found I had glandular fever, but the glandular fever was actually the result of my immune system being so suppressed as I had contracted three tropical viruses, as well as a parasite I had in my gut. I became really unwell, I lost 16 kilos, I couldn’t leave the bed, I had this huge mental depression as well.”
Reuben’s condition rendered him bed-ridden at the time, and as a result he lost his job, athletic drive, and even quit his studies. If the illness alone was not enough to overcome, Reuben also developed an addiction to the opiates he was prescribed to treat his chronic pain.
Ultimately what would save him was the art of horology. One fateful day the timepiece that a friend of Reuben’s was wearing captured his curiosity and imagination. Reuben explains to ABC News, “It was a mechanical watch, and you could see the movement through the back of the watch … and I remember seeing that movement and just thinking ‘Wow, who makes this? How does this work? There’s hundreds of components all ticking away, working together to tell you the time’.”
While I am sure Reuben would have preferred not to battle illness, addiction, and depression, the silver lining was that it led to his new passion for the mechanics of timekeeping. “I really wanted to be doing something with my hands, making, but I didn’t realise that’s what I wanted to do until I actually became sick and everything that I was doing or had was stripped away,” Reuben said.
But it’s a very time-consuming and strenuous process to become a self-taught watchmaker. It is one thing to have an entire factory and its machinery at your disposal. Reuben was only armed with his passion and the words of George Daniels. As Reuben explains to ABC, making components by hand can take months. A flywheel, for example, has 100 steps before completion – and it took many attempts before Reuben was satisfied with the finished result. With over 2500 hours under his belt by the end of December, Reuben is now only two parts away from finishing his 255-component Daniels-style watch.
Such a feat has been completed by very few people around the world. “I know of two people that have completed a George Daniels watch outside of Daniels himself,” Reuben explains. I personally can only name one of the two: Roger Smith. Whereas Roger had the good fortune of eventually becoming the horological legend’s sole protege and apprentice, Reuben does not have the privilege of having worked side by side with Daniels.
Reuben maintains his focus and dexterity by finding time to hit the sauna and swim laps in an Olympic sized pool. Even with thousands of hours of work completed, he is still beginning his horological journey and wants to ensure he is in the best state mentally and physically for his pursuits. Our very own Nick Kenyon spoke to Reuben Schoots back in April – where Reuben expressed his motivations, aspirations, and goals in watchmaking. He explained, “My biggest goal is to help keep watchmaking alive and contribute to the world of horology. I really want to be making handmade watches without automated machinery, just like Daniels and Breguet did. I find something really beautiful in how long the process takes, because there is so much meaning to be extracted from the journey. I like the idea that you can sit down for a while and make something tick. Handmade watches in Australia are what I want to be doing.”
With the determination of inspiring individuals like Reuben, we can feel that much more comfortable the art of hand-made watches will be preserved in the years to come.