Giving Back: Horological Society Of New York’s Working Watchmakers Grants
It was a couple of weeks ago that I received an intriguing message from Nicholas Manousos, long-time watch pal and president of the Horological Society of New York, alerting me to an HSNY program under development and asking whether I’d be interested in helping out.
The program, called the “Working Watchmakers Grant,” is a pool of money funded by donors and made available to watchmakers in the United States who had lost work due to the Coronavirus lockdowns, helping to provide a bit of support to tide them over during these difficult times.
It took me no time at all to agree, and to begin getting the word out to my watch enthusiast friends about the opportunity to support those who build and maintain the timepieces we love.
A few words about the Horological Society of New York
These days, the Horological Society of New York is best known for its New York-based monthly lecture series and traveling classroom sessions that give watch enthusiasts the opportunity to learn more about how watches work while getting hands-on experience disassembling and reassembling a watch movement.
I had the pleasure of attending one of their classes last year, and for me what set it apart from other “watchmaking clinics” I’d attended was the time devoted to explaining in some detail not only how things worked but why, for instance, elements such as the sliding pinion teeth in the keyless works are shaped as they are.
It’s one (quite fun, by the way) thing to have an instructor guide you through taking the gears out of a movement and putting them back in, but the “how and why” insights from the HSNY instructors were another level.
Long before the lectures and courses, though, HSNY began in 1866 as a guild founded by watchmakers, for watchmakers, that provided medical and employment benefits. As Manousos said in an official statement, “It took us looking at HSNY’s history to realize what our next steps should be.”
I’m also both pleased and flattered that as it turns out, my plea to the watch community to support your local watchmakers, published in my recent article Why Watchmaking Matters Now, helped to spark the idea of a grant program with Manousos and the HSNY board.
It’s easy to forget the watchmaker community in our own country given the concentration of watch manufacturing in other parts of the world; but today there are more than 2,700 clock- and watchmakers and repairers in the United States. Fewer than half are employed by manufacturers, and many have been forced to shut down their shops or have lost access to their tools and materials as a result of the pandemic.
The Working Watchmakers Grant
After discussing several potential models, Manousos and the HSNY board settled on an initial grant program that distributes $1,000 to each of 100 watchmakers on a first-come, first-served basis. While the watchmakers were required to submit proof of employment or prior employment along with a brief description of how the pandemic has affected their business, the process was otherwise designed to be as rapid and painless as possible for applicants in order to speed relief to where it was needed.
And while it shouldn’t be necessary even to think about it, in this era of nepotism and self-dealing it’s good to see the specific statement on HSNY’s website that officials and fellows of the society and their families are specifically excluded from eligibility.
Response from watchmakers in need was immediate: within eight hours of the program’s announcement on April 29, applicants from across the country had filled the 100 grant slots, with some grant payments issued as rapidly as the following day.
HSNY serves the watch community in changing times
In parallel with the grant program, HSNY has moved quickly to adapt its other offerings to the current environment. Of particular note is the launch of Virtual Horological Tutoring, a series of video classes with HSNY expert watchmakers covering a broad set of topics.
The first basic class is free to HSNY members, and other 60-to-90-minute sessions with an instructor and up to four students carry a suggested donation of $100 (waived without questions for those in need) and are available anywhere in the world.
How can you get involved?
While the first grant series was funded behind the scenes by a small group of generous donors, there may be subsequent opportunities to participate in the Working Watchmakers program. The HSNY officials I’ve communicated with don’t know yet whether there will be additional tranches of grants, but you can stay tuned through HSNY’s Facebook page and website.
In the meantime, become a member! The $100 tax-deductible annual membership fee is a fraction of what most watch straps cost these days and gives you priority access to events and classes, immediate access to video recordings of lectures, and many other benefits including a snazzy lapel pin.
And if you want to provide support to this good cause over and above the dues level, including providing membership assistance to others based on need, additional gifts are always welcomed.
Remember: there are watches involved, but it’s all about the people!
For more information or to join the Horological Society of New York, please visit hs-ny.org/membership.