#Reuben #Schoots sits barely visible behind a wall of antique clocks — heavy longcase pendulum pieces, ornate #French marble clocks adorned with baroque sculptures and naked timepieces without cases or dials, their movements exposed.
#None of the clocks are ticking.
The 27-year-old works in silence because he is working by hand, at a scale of microns, on the pieces of a mechanical watch he began two-and-a-half years ago.
#When he made its first part, he knew almost nothing about horology, the study of timekeeping.
#It was an arcane craft he had just begun to delve into, after becoming seriously ill.
#Once an athletic man working as a barista and studying nutrition at university, #Reuben became sick from an unknown illness he contracted during an eight-month backpacking journey through #Latin #America.
“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,” #Reuben said.
“I became really unwell, I lost 16 kilos, I couldn’t leave the bed, I had this huge mental depression as well as this physical depression.”
#Rarely able to leave his bed or his home, #Reuben lost his job, his sporting ability, and ultimately quit his studies.
#He also became addicted to the opiates he was prescribed to treat his chronic pain.
Then something unusual on the wrist of a friend caught #Reuben’s eye.
“#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’.”
“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.”
#Rediscovering a relic of time
#But you cannot just start making a watch with 200-year-old techniques on the fly.
There are no online tutorials or group classes for making a mechanical watch from scratch — even modern handmade watches are usually built by a team of up to 32 craftsmen, each with a specialisation in a particular part honed over a lifetime.
#And the old books that could teach #Reuben were intentionally obtuse.
#His guide, a late master named #George #Daniels — famed for making complete watches by hand — would sometimes write a single instruction (like “make a flywheel”) for a part that required more than 100 steps and three months of work to make.
The dexterity and focus required also means #Reuben must test his body daily, pushing himself to his limits inside a sauna before swimming laps in an #Olympic pool to condition himself.
#Following the methods employed by #Daniels, he is dedicated to initiating himself into an intimate fraternity.
“I know of two people that have completed a #George #Daniels watch outside of #Daniels himself,” #Reuben said.
#After 2,500 hours of work, #Reuben has just two pieces left to make before his watch will finally tick.
“#It’s a strange thing for me to look at, for me to hold and to touch — of course it’s very precious,” he said.
“#It embodies an incredible amount of, basically, perseverance. There’s a lot of frustration, there’s a lot of pain, there’s a lot of mistakes. #Some components I’ve made over 20 times before one works.
“#You lose them, you drop them, they fly across the room.”
#Reuben wants to make a mark for #Australia in the history of handmade watchmaking.
#And there are collectors out there ready to buy a watch like his — #Daniels’ greatest watch sold at auction in 2019 for more than $6 million.
#Though #Reuben has learned more than just to make a watch in his thousands of hours of toil.
#He has also built a tool to overcome the isolation, illness and loneliness he was plunged into — something he says many others could benefit from as they face the ongoing pandemic.
“I think that a lot of people are feeling very negative and don’t like this isolation, or this time to yourself. #Change hurts,” he said.
“#But they undervalue, or underestimate the value of, down time and I think people are scared to be with themselves. #Evolution comes out of down time.”
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