Thursday, October 16, 2014

Student Interview with Charles Birchall

The second student we introduce to the watchmaking world is the school 'comedian' (every school has at least one, even a small school like ours), Charles Birchall from Toronto, Canada who sees the positive and humor in all things possible but is also quite serious when it comes to watchmaking and the future of the industry.

Name: Charles Birchall
Age: 23
Nationality/Origin: Canadian

What attracted you to watchmaking?

I think what first attracted me to watchmaking was the sort of purist nature of the movement. Here is an instrument that has not fundamentally changed in hundreds of years and yet it still commands the interest and wealth of so many people because of its complexity and the romantic, seemingly mysterious profession that surrounds it.  I always had an inclination toward working with my hands which took me from modifying paintball guns to building computers and so on and so forth until I stumbled upon what I thought, and still think, is the trade with the highest level of craftsmanship around today; watchmaking.

What did you do before you started studying watchmaking?

Before I started at K&H I was studying Political science and Sociology at a University in Toronto called Ryerson. A massive beast of a University where I found myself really quite frustrated. I was stagnating, I wasn't into my major so I thought I would take that hobby I had been pursuing so intensively on my free time and see if there was a place for me in any of the watchmaking schools around the world.

What has been your favorite part/subject of your time at school so far?

I think my favorite subject so far has been the pivot gauges. It was a subject that you could really throw yourself into and spend lots of time focusing on because it was such a simple and streamlined task but took so much skill to accomplish. I found myself really absorbed in the subject and everything else seemed to just fade into the background.

[Note from K&H admin: A pivot gauge is a small and highly accurate measuring tool, tolerance only 0.002mm, that is pivot shaped and used to measure small holes or to calibrate measurement tools such as a micrometer for instance.]

What is your favorite watch brand and why?

That's a difficult question as the more you learn about the industry the more the lines become blurred. It's tough to think of a brand that has a lot of integrity these days and produces a product that truly embodies the real craftsmanship involved in watchmaking. I'm going to have to state the obvious here and go with A. Lange & Söhne because they do put the most handwork and thought into their products and it's by far and away the biggest 'bang for the buck' in the industry.

What was your first watch? How old were you when you got it?

A Keith Haring Swatch watch I was probably around 8 or something. It was nothing special, no feelings of curiosity or anything, I just wore it and probably broke it soon after I got it.

How many watches do you own?

At the moment I own about three watches; A SWATCH watch, a Shanghai Special (Chinese brand) and lastly, meine liebe, my IWC Mk11. I have a particular obsession with the Mark elevens which were produced for the RAF and RAAF just after the Second World War. One day I hope to own a nice JLC MK11 with the original radium dial!

What do you plan on doing after school?

I plan on working as a watchmaker of course! Hopefully in a capacity which allows me to really use the special skills I have learned here but I don't mind paying my dues early if I have to. I have a few places I would ideally like to end up, namely a really well established repair shop in Zurich where I could repair a wide range of both watches and clocks and do lots of restoration which is my main focus at the moment.
Two of Charles's restoration pieces he has been
 working on during his time at the school.

What do you like/dislike about the watchmaking industry?

I understand the perspectives of the big brands and their approach to after sales service but think that parts should be made more easily available to the watchmaker. I also believe that the industry needs to make a serious commitment to education and to taking a more sustainable view on management.  

What types of watches do you like (classical, sporty, extreme)?

I like classical watches most of all. Early into our time at school we visited Philippe Dufour's workshop and needless to say we were all gob smacked and now I have the site of fine lines, small case sizes, and hand finished bridges ingrained deep within my philosophies and opinions on watch design. I do also like a good military watch though. A rugged watch designed for the elements without any sporty technology though something really simple.

How do you like in Switzerland?

We're truly living in a paradise here and would love to make a life for myself in this country if given the opportunity. 

What do you like to do in your free time here?

I think an interest in sports is easily supported here as everyone seems to get into seasonal sports and exercise. I also enjoy the galleries and museums in the German part of Switzerland as many of the private collections of some of the biggest names in the industry are open to the public along with lots of small galleries, especially in Basel.

What is your favorite tool you have made or use, do you often buy second hand tools?

I think my favorite tool which I had to make is the support we had to construct that is designed to rest a balance wheel on when doing poising. It's in the shape of a stick man and took a long time to file by hand. I rarely buy second hand tools but will start to buy more and more as my ambition to eventually have my own workshop keeps growing.

Charles had to re-make the stopwork finger and the Maltese cross for this barrel by hand for one of the two restoration watches he has been restoring.

Us here at K&H Watchmaking Competence Centre would like to thank Charles for taking his time and answer few of our questions. Charles's blogpage is:, please check it out.

Disclaimer: The opinions of the students of K&H Watchmaking Competence Centre do not necessarily represent the opinions of the school.

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