We talk to hipster horologist, Rebecca Struthers, one of the most exciting talents in the watch industry, about being a woman in a man’s world and why chocolate bars shouldn’t be gendered…
Rebecca Struthers is set to become one of the most relevantly qualified people in British watchmaking
As one half of the husband and wife duo behind Struthers London, Rebecca Struthers has been called a hipster horologist and compared to a Kooples ad. Suffice to say she’s cool. With her pixie haircut, tattoos (so committed to her profession is she, that one of her inkings is an antiquarian watch tool) and modern Gothic wardrobe, she looks like she should be hanging out in Dalston, not hunched over an antique watch movement.
Rebecca started out restoring antique watch movements, which led to her unusual PhD topic
But that is where she’s more likely to be found as Struthers London has made its name by designing and making bespoke watches using vintage and antique movements. The duo has also created an exclusive watch for the British motorcar company Morgan and, when she’s not doing that, Rebecca can be found at the British Museum researching her PhD in Antiquarian Horology, which, when she’s is awarded it, will see her become one of most relevantly qualified people in her field.
We caught up with her to talk watches, being a woman in a man’s world and why chocolate bars shouldn’t be gendered…
How would you describe your PhD in layman’s terms and why was this something that interested you?
My PhD is about forgery, smuggling and the birth of mass production in the watch industry. I discovered the subject while working at an auction house in 2008, there was a watch in for sale made in the late 18th century signed ‘John Wilter, London’. When I looked him up it was described as ‘perhaps a fictitious name’. I went on to discover that hundreds of thousands of these watches were being made somewhere in Europe, usually pretending to have been made in London; but no one knew who was making them or where they were based. They played a huge role in the downfall of the British watch industry, and yet they were one of the least researched areas in horology.
It’s a tale of smugglers, merchants and forgers. There are hangings, crooks disguising themselves as penniless sailors and rumours of packs of feral dogs trafficking watches around the Alps. Needless to say I’m really enjoying it!
Sounds like the plot of a film. It’s a very masculine history, but then the world of watches has generally been dominated by men. Have you ever felt discriminated against or underestimated because you’re female and a watchmaker?
Absolutely, escaping discrimination was one of the key motivators in setting up my own business. Then I’ve also had some very positive experiences. I do feel that the atmosphere is changing and these things take time. It’s about making good from bad, being told the workshop isn’t a place for women (yes, that actually happened!) just motivated me to prove those people wrong. On the other side, some people assume others go easy on me and only promote me because I’m a woman, which is what drives me to become the most relevantly qualified person in my field.
However, it can be said that things are changing. There are more women in the industry – Caroline Scheufele at Chopard, Sandrine Stern at Patek and of course Carole Forestier-Kasapi, Cartier’s Queen of Complications, come to mind – there are also more women’s watches available to buy. Why do you think there are more watch options for women now than there were say 10 years ago?
I have a funny relationship with gendering watches. As a watchmaker, it’s kind of like gendering a car or a bar of chocolate.
Sorry, I now can’t stop thinking about what gender a chocolate bar would be…
Ask Yorkie! To be fair I’ve never liked their chocolate anyway, tastes like vegetable oil. Funnily enough, if you Google image search ‘chocolate for men’ there are some great ones. I’ve just spotted one in the form of a six-pack, which if you’re eating entire slabs of chocolate on your own is probably optimistic.
The delusion of some people is incredible, but back to not gendering watches…
My view is if I like it and I want it, I’ll have it. I actually think women are far more liberated than men in that sense. Thanks to the ‘boyfriend watch’ phenomenon there are no ‘men’s’ watches any more, just women’s and unisex, which technically gives us the most options of any gender.
Ok so you’re not keen on gendering watches but people do, so as a fun exercise, using elements of other watches (Breguet’s numerals, Patek’s Calatrava case for example), how would you create the perfect women’s watch?
For me, it has to be mechanical and its primary function has to be telling the time. I do love smart watches and grand complications to play with, but a real watch is about time and mechanics. My favourite movement from past or present is the Omega 30T2. Case, I’d go with a classic 36mm rose gold 1950s IWC with teardrop lugs. For the dial, I like silvered or white in colour, rose gold hands and blued steel centre-seconds. Both Patek and Vacheron make some beautiful centre-seconds dials.
Sounds like something we’d like to wear. Aside from how it looks what do you think are the key components of a perfect women’s watch?
I think the most important component is that the woman wearing it loves it! It’s about picking something you’re comfortable in and enjoy. I wear anything from WWI trench watches to Swatch depending on the occasion; I love them all for very different reasons.
What is your Grail watch?
The one I’m going to build myself from scratch. Then I can retire!
But if you retire who’s going to be flying the female flag? How do you think we can get more women actually making watches, in the way you do?
There aren’t many men mad enough to try and make watches the way I do! I’m from a restoration background, which is a lot more hands-on than the CNC engineering route. We generally have a problem getting young people into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries and watchmaking is no different. I think it’s about getting more real watchmakers in the media and making them accessible so people realise that this is a real and achievable career path. It’s amazing how many people still seem to think of watchmakers as either mythical creatures or old men in sheds.
We are delighted that Rebecca will be joining Eve’s Watch as our guest writer on vintage watches, we look forward to hearing from her soon. To find out more about this talented duo go to Struthers London.