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Time Machines: A degree in Horology

Time Machines: A degree in Horology

Today, London’s great clock above the Palace of Westminster will fall silent for up to four years as its chimes are stopped for major restoration work. Its famous ‘bongs’ will not be heard again, except on special occasions, until 2021. For a nation of fastidious timekeepers whose evening news reports on BBC radio and TV traditionally begin with the great clock striking the hour live, this is quite disconcerting news. Some worry who will maintain this national symbol in the future. Will the skills and knowledge of clock maintenance be lost in our digital world?

Not if City University Birmingham has anything to do with it. It keeps the world’s clocks ticking away smoothly by running a one-of-a-kind Bachelor’s degree in horology, the art and science of time measurement. Well all right, it’s a degree in clock making with a fancy name. But with specialist skills like those on offer, employability should be good. Repair and restoration work on old clocks is in constant demand, and despite everyone having a constantly-visible clock on their laptop and mobile phone, designer watches are still highly desirable.

The BA (Hons) Horology is a three-year course run by the School of Jewellery. It covers the history of timekeeping, how watches and clocks work, restoration skills, and a lot of technical drawing and design work including in-depth CAD projects. The school has established links and partnerships with brands such as Cartier, Rolex, Swatch, Piaget, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy and Montblanc, and work placements are available at these companies. All in all it’s a professional preparation to be a career horologist.

Modules include Commercial Awareness and Employment Skills, to ensure the course does not produce autism-spectrum watch fiddlers without the people skills and smarts necessary to forge a career. Students can specialise in Luxury Jewellery Branding or Advanced Production Techniques in the second year, once they have learned core skills like Commercial Servicing. In year three they produce their masterpiece in a Major Project.

It’s fitting that the world’s only honours degree in horology should be hosted in the nation that produced the first marine chronometer accurate enough to determine longitude, thus enabling global navigation, and home to the Prime Meridian (0° 0’ 0”) thanks to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Entry requirements include a passion for clocks, a good eye for design – and a steady hand.