Posted on May 31, 2014 by Gary Carruthers

Clink Street, London, 31st May 2014

We have a problem.  A problem that no other watchmaker has faced before.  And that is one of choreography.

When you've got a timepiece with five or six hands, each of which can be driven independently in either direction, you can make them do anything.  Our initial, accidental forays into this world were rather timid.  We had no idea of the rich territory we had stumbled upon.  Maybe the wiggle of an hour hand, perhaps, to indicate the watch is trying to connect to the phone, or a seconds hand that slowly rocks back and forth like a pendulum.  But when I ran one of the motor tests I'd asked Mike to set up (see video below), it dawned on me that we could really make the hands dance.

But how to dance?  What to dance?  This is a new era for watchmaking.  The watchmaker must learn a new discipline: Theatre.

I have a little experience of this, but not much - a month in Paris on a New York Film Academy movie-making course.  That taught me a fair bit.  But I needed to know more, so I looked more deeply into how the film industry creates, in particular Pixar and Disney, to whom I've had good access. 

Here's what hit me.  Everything is storyboarded.  By hand.  Rubbed out.  Redrawn.  Discussed.  Ripped up. Re-boarded.  Again.  And Again.  On, and on.  And this isn't about what you actually see on the screen - the Director of Photography can worry about that.  This is about the story you tell.  The emotions you want to stir in you viewer.  In the end, all you are doing is holding up a mirror to him.  Le sujet n'est pas l'objet, c'est l'homme.  And only at the very end of this process do you pick up the camera.

Then I suddenly realized I could actually learn more, closer to home.  My father-in-law.  He used to dance with the Royal Ballet, touring the world with Nureyev and Fonteyn. 

So last night I asked him what makes a ballet a success.


"Of course, the music has to be good," he said.  "But what really drives it is the story.  The ideas behind the action.  You never know what really works until you try it.  So you have to try many things.  And the only way you can tell it's good is by looking at how the audience reacts.  You know you've got 'em when they forget they're at the ballet; they're too wrapped up in the story, wanting to know what happens next.

"When I started at the Royal Ballet it was nerve-wracking.  I was very nervous.  Always going wrong.  I wasn't very musical - not like Margot.  But you mustn't let it worry you.  You just have to go out there and do it.  Just keep it simple.  They want beauty, not cleverness."

Comforting words, since that's how I feel now, desperately trying to teach the hands on my watches to dance like eagles' wings. 

The mist is beginning to clear a little in this new territory of horological choreography.  We're slowly developing our own lexicon of pas-de-deux, jetés and pirouettes.  We've a long way to go, but we've begun our first steps.

Ballet images (c) Colin Jones


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