I'm a watchmaker carrying on a local tradition in a Glasgow city centre workshop

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Three watchmakers share how they are reviving Glasgow’s watchmaking traditions in a new landmark workshop.

In the heyday of Glasgow’s shipbuilding era, each new vessel would be presented with a timepiece to mark its maiden voyage. Laings, founded in the city in 1840, created many of these handcrafted clocks and watches. There’s a substantial old maritime clock stamped with Glasgow on it’s face that sits in the new headquarters for the family business, Rowan House on Buchanan Street, which will open later this year. A reminder of generations of craftmanship. Laings Service Centre is a cutting-edge workshop for the next generation of Glasgow watchmakers. It will provide clients with a purpose built destination for timepiece servicing, including luxury watches like Rolex, Patek Philippe, TAG Heuer and Longines. They also delicately restore heritage watches, reviving family heirlooms. Serena Gough, Services Director at Laings leads eleven watchmakers, three technicians, three polishers and a final quality control technician. The team is responsible for carrying out complete servicing, maintenance services, refurbishment and adjustments to the high quality watches Laings works with. The centre offers local opportunities for apprentice watchmakers and trainees as they continue a long tradition.

I took apart the cogs, screws, levers and facings hidden within the wristwatch. I took apart the cogs, screws, levers and facings hidden within the wristwatch.
I took apart the cogs, screws, levers and facings hidden within the wristwatch.

When I visited the new centre, Serena guided me through the remarkable process of disassembling the mechanism of a highly precise wristwatch and putting it back together again. It was a surprisingly relaxing, focused experience, unveiling the art behind the statement piece of jewellery.

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The mechanism and components haven’t changed much through the centuries although they are continually refined and added to by watchmakers. The parts of the watch that only the watchmakers see are surprisingly adorned with subtle styling around the tiny slivers of metal and cogs that mark every second.

Serena explained that older watches would also have markings from each individual watchmaker who made adjustments over the course of its lifetime. Putting the watch back together was more challenging but quite rewarding. With a sense of achievement, I then spoke to some of the team about being a watchmaker in Glasgow.

Thomas Lohse and Blair EllisThomas Lohse and Blair Ellis
Thomas Lohse and Blair Ellis

Blair Ellis is a 27 year old apprentice watchmaker, originally from Dunipace, Stirlingshire. He has been working with the jeweller for just over two years.

“I started at Laings working in one of the stores in Glasgow, then transferred to the store in Edinburgh. I saw the role of apprentice was available and, knowing that the position of watchmaker is rare, I thought I would submit my application.

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“I have collected watches for over 10 years, a few stand outs in my collection are my great grandfather’s Longines from 1963, his Seiko and my Rolex Submariner which was gifted to me when I graduated from University. Each has its own meaning and sentimental value.

“With my interest around watches already sparked, moving onto the craft of watchmaking felt like a natural progression. In the role of apprentice watchmaker I’ve learned perseverance, patience, attention to detail and enthusiasm for the craft.

“The new workshop is amazing, a really nice place to be, to have an industry leading workshop like this in Glasgow is a huge privilege. The cleaning machines, pressure test machines, and movement measuring machines are all very state of the art. The workshop gives the chance for people to find their way int the craft.

“Since beginning my watchmaking journey I’ve noticed just how small some of the parts are and how a small movement can affect a part by a lot, it’s an extremely delicate craft.

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“I really enjoy getting to focus on the one thing that is in front of me, at that particular moment nothing else matters around me. I hope to progress and eventually become lead watchmaker or workshop manager.

“If I were to be a watch, I’d definitely have to be some type of dive watch as I love an adventure and being in the water. If I could own any watch it would be a Patek Philippe 5207G. It has a tourbillion, minute repeater which is the most fascinating complication, a perpetual calendar which calculates leap years and a day/night indicator.

Thomas Lohse (42) lives in Glasgow but grew up in a small village in the south-west of Germany. He has been senior watchmaker at Laings for a year.

“When I was 13, I started my first job in the village I’m from. Every day I would climb up the church tower to wind and look after the clock, little did I know I’d get into watchmaking a decade later. After finishing school I became a carpenter and, after several years, I began looking into a new career in architecture, however before I got there I saw an ad in the local newspaper that said Glashutte Original was looking for apprentices, it sparked my interest for intricate design so I applied and the rest is history.

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“I worked in the assembly department at Glashütte Original then moved to Ireland to run the new watchmaking workshop for Swatch group. After that, I joined an independent shop to work on vintage and more complex watches. I worked for Tag Heuer in Manchester before joining Laings in Glasgow.

“This industry has really strengthened my eye for detail. In the new workshop there’s lots of space for an expanding team in the future which is fantastic. Even though we only moved in a few months ago, this feels like ‘home’.

“I really enjoy learning new things, and in this role I am also able to share my knowledge with new watchmakers and technicians and help them develop.

“I have a Longines pocket watch, which I purchased for close to nothing when I was very early into my watchmaking apprenticeship. I had to repair the dial and make parts like the balance staff from scratch but it is still fully working today.

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“If I could own any watch it would have to be the Breguet No. 160 “The Grand Complication”, more commonly known as the Marie-Antoinette. I developed a fascination behind this watch when I got to see it during my internship in Breguet.”

Thomas Lohse and Annie DeansThomas Lohse and Annie Deans
Thomas Lohse and Annie Deans

Annie Deans (27) from Glasgow has been a trainee technician with Laings for almost two years.

“I had worked in customer service for my whole career, most recently with Laings in the head office team. This gave me enough experience and knowledge to move forward into the workshop. I studied Jewellery Design and Silversmithing at college which is why I wanted to work at Laings.

“The more I learned about watches the more my interest grew, and as soon as the opportunity to apply for the new watch workshop came up, I absolutely had to go for it. Having the jewellery making experience has given me the dexterity and patience needed when working with such small and intricate pieces. 

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“I think the most challenging part of my role would be how much information there is to take in and learn, as watches can vary so much there is often something new that I have never come across before. 

“I love that there is so much there is to learn, I love the processes involved with servicing and caring for watches and learning what it takes to keep them working at their best. My core ambition is to become a Watchmaker, thanks to Laings I will be attending the British School of Watchmaking in 2024 which will allow this to happen.”

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