Book Review. “Hands of Time: A Watchmaker´s History of Time” by Rebecca Struthers
Hands of Time: A Watchmaker´s History of Time by Rebecca Struthers is a journey through history, a comprehensive compendium, a rich historical reference book about time, clocks, movements, craft, material, significant inventions, and the people who made them.
The book immediately aroused my curiosity, taking me on the author’s journey, a journey that is very entertaining and lively. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in clocks, watches, watchmaking, and a profound engagement with horology. The book feels like watchmaking on every page, it lives, breathes, and smells of mechanical crafts. Hands of Time is full of anecdotes.
A Very Personal Twist
The structure and method of Hands of Time are historical. The perspective follows a walkthrough of horological history up to today. Chapters are occasionally commented on and evaluated politically. Most importantly, the book is very, very, very personal (especially Chapter 11 – “Eleventh Hour”). This chapter marks a twist and reveals a strong personal view of the author.
Rebecca Struthers repeatedly gives the reader a very open view of her life and work, as well as her goals and motivation all throughout the book. She describes her long and at times difficult journey in horology, and the very individual and unique creations of Struthers watchmakers.
This not a picture book and it does not present individual brands or, even more specifically, individual watches, and it stays out of some of the myths and controversies of our time (Everest, Mariana Trench, the first clock, etc.). However, it does describe some of the sad moments of more recent times (e.g., in the section on radio luminescent paint and the radium girls).
A Wonderful and Challenging Walk
Fantastic are the many beautiful illustrations (by Craig Struthers) throughout the book. Although Hands of Time is a historical reference book, it is not a strenuous (scientific) read. It is a wonderful and challenging walk through the history of time.
It takes the reader past all the great inventions and many well-known and famous names. And yet relatively unknown developments also appear, such as the story of the so-called myth of Dutch Forgery (from Rebecca Struthers’ academic work). Not everybody has read this publication, but here you can catch up as an abstract.
I was also very pleased to learn something about Rebecca and Craig Struthers’ Project 248, its background and intention.
A Book that stimulates questions
Hands of Time has a lot of annotations and references – there is a quoted endnote section at the back of the book). A scientifically educated reader will enjoy this, and the references belong to a book with such methodology. Readers will find countless literature references here.
You can recognize good books by the fact that you don’t just read them once, and good books, from my perspective, are not meant to answer questions – they stimulate many new questions in your head to research. And after reading Hands of Time, thanks to Rebecca Struthers, I now have many new keywords on my list that I want to read up on.
The most beautiful sentence of the whole book for me is: “The connection between person and watch […] was for a long time the closest relationship we had with a machine […].” And I liked and enjoyed the chapter about al-Jazaris elephant automaton, and the fascinating chapter about “MDVPHN” which is the story about the 1505 Peter Henlein Nürnberg clock.
Chapter 2 “Ingenious Devices” contained the most fascinating information for me, but everyone may judge that differently.
Hand-wound (hardcover) or Smartwatch (digital)
Hands of Time is a fantastic book and I am very happy that Rebecca Struthers has written it. And I finally I have a piece from Struthers watchmaking in my collection now.
Those who appreciate hand-wound watches should buy the hardcover to “turn the pages by hand”. I particularly appreciate Hands of Time for quickly looking up certain keywords., which is why I also bought the smartwatch edition as an e-book.
Hands of Time is available as a softcover, hardcover, or as an e-book. I highly recommend it in any format that suits you.
For more information and/or where to buy, please visit https://www.amazon.com/Hands-Time-Watchmakers-History/dp/1529339030
You might also check out Struthers Watchmakers at www.strutherswatchmakers.co.uk/
Rebecca Struthers: Hands of Time. A Watchmaker´s History of Time. 2023, Hodder & Stoughton, London. ISBN 9781529339000