Her-ology: Talking Horology with Tabea Rude

Tabea Rude at The Clockworks Museum. Photo courtesy of Michael Goldrei

Tabea Rude at The Clockworks Museum. Photo courtesy of Michael Goldrei

Tabea Rude is a graduate of the Watchmaking University in Pforzheim, Germany before completing her MA in Clock Conservation at West Dean University, England.

Now a conservator at The Clockworks, a London Museum that showcases electrical clocks from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1970s, Tabea also works on restoring vintage mechanical clocks, her specialty being ship clocks, chronometers and carriage clocks. She's one of the few people I can think of who would describe the movement of an English mantle clock as 'cute' and then compare an uncoiling mainspring to a butterfly's tongue; my first question to her was when did she realize that she wanted to work with clocks? 

Tabea Rude: After I finished school I was systematically looking for a handcraft I would like to learn. Working with metal interested me very much, that is why I narrowed my search down to goldsmithing and watch/clockmaking. In the end I mostly chose watch/clockmaking because I didn’t know anything about these mysterious machines that were used and also nothing about clocks or watches at all.  



TR: While I was doing my three year apprenticeship at Pforzheim watchmaking school I realised that I didn’t want to work for the watch industry as it seemed repetitive and most components are interchanged rather than being repaired or made, so the hand skills I gained would only be partly used. Clocks offer a far greater variation. From the sturdy turret clock over electrically driven or rewound precision timekeepers for observatories to the fragile watch-like carriage clock- there is a timekeeper in every shape size or form.

TC:  What cultural differences are there between German and English clockmaking? I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that because of the continued cultural tradition of continental watchmaking that female horologists are more common? How diverse was Pforzheim compared to West Dean to where you work now?

TR: The German word ‘Uhr’ describes both clocks and watches, and the traditional apprenticeship for the ‘Uhrmacher’ includes studying both. As most apprenticeships for the clock/watch maker are paid for or supported by the watch industry and job opportunities are very good, most journeymen and women move on into a watchmaking job. These jobs are taken by approximately 60% men and 40% women, the very small percentage working in clocks (from my class of 16, just me) is mostly male and tends to be older.

TR: In my watchmaking school class we were 4 female and 12 male students, but recent classes my teacher told me the female students are increasing.  During my Master of Clock Conservation studies at West Dean College I was the only female participant in both years. I have done several placements at clock workshops and museums and, in most cases, the majority of people working there were male. Now I am working at The Clockworks Museum with a male and female colleague. 

TC: Why is watch & clock making so often thought of as male profession? Does this stereotype actually hold true under scrutiny in real life? 

TR:Traditionally, the job was a male profession. All famous clock and watchmakers in history were male, but when looking behind the scenes it becomes clear very quickly that it was women and even children who did a lot of the work such as chain making, dial painting, coil winding etc. The watchmen or clockmen received the credit but watch and clockmaking especially in later years was such a great example of work division. Workshops specialised in just making springs (‘Springers’) just making hairsprings, chains etc.

TR: The way the profession is described and advertised today highlights facets which attract men, such as maths and physics. I was never good at either of these subjects and chose my profession because of the precision hand skills needed and the aesthetic results. I was worried about the science part at the start of my apprenticeship but ended up really enjoying it as it’s applicable science; something that can be seen and understood by looking at a timepiece.



TC: There is a reason that I spend my days working with words rather than equations and integers, I'm completely hopeless at science and math! I learnt after two years of studying to be a vintner that I'd much rather be working in the field (Or drinking), rather than working with pipettes in the lab. If traditionally masculine traits are used to attract students to watchmaking, how can horology and watchmaking schools better encourage women to apply? 

TR: In order to encourage more women to start watch or clock making I think the emphasis when introducing the profession should be on the aesthetics, finishes and precision work involved, not so much on the science side of things. When I used to talk with my female friends about what we did during our apprenticeship, the science parts (calculating ratios, pendulum length etc.) scared them away while it made my male friends listen more closely. It’s important to introduce the profession as a many-faceted job, where maths and science are only a small part of it. Additionally, it should be mentioned that the science needed on a day-to-day basis is not abstract matrices or graphs, but something that can be understood logically.

TR: My watchmaking school promoted itself at many job fairs. Most people are unaware that the job of watchmaker still exists and that the opportunities for employment are great, at least in the industry. For clocks I think it is much harder to encourage young people as there are very few vacant positions, meaning a young clockmaker has to start up self-employed and invest in a lot of machinery, which is very risky and often not possible. For watch restoration and clockmaking more traineeships or shared workshop options should be available to make the start easier.

TC: What advice would you give to women looking to study horology and clock making?

TR: Don’t be intimidated! Most horologists are very interested in having more diversity. Young people with new ideas are needed in all major horological groups and they are very open to hear what interests the new generation. As an active member in horology you can help shape the future of horology and contribute to research in your favourite area. All my contributions and the ones made by my young female colleagues (such as talks, blogs, articles) are perceived very positively and we get incredibly positive feedback and encouragement from the older generation.

TC: Which women in watchmaking/horology/watch culture do you admire?

TR: I don’t know many women in watchmaking, and in horology women are mainly caring for the preservation of timepieces rather than making new things. I admire them as much as their male colleagues for their dedication and their continuous efforts to preserve our horological heritage which, compared to the watch trade and culture, is much less glamourous and is underpaid but is equally as important.

I'd like to thank Tabea for taking the time to talk to me. Visit TheClockworks.org  to learn more the Museum's Collection and head to TabeaHorology.com to learn more about Tabea's restoration service.