Britain running out of clockmakers

If you need a mechanical clock repaired in Britain, time is running out: the country is running out of horologists, with few entering the highly-skilled trade and those remaining in it not getting younger.

There are now only two training colleges offering horology courses in England; West Dean College, Sussex, and the School of Jewellery, Birmingham. The HCA said there are only about 250 makers and restorers left in Britain with more specialists retiring than entering the profession. Mr Sampson added: "I will keep going for another ten years unless I lose a skill such as my eyesight. The craft is certainly endangered. We are all near retirement."

There is an incipient market for cool mechanical clockwork, with all the artisanal trappings, but like fancy candles the transition from mass market to luxury branding involves a big drop-off in trade. This results in consolidation, and Geneva is where this business is at. All the same, this seems like a profession ripe for takeover by youngsters who might, a decade or two ago, have been scoring amazing career-making deals on unused industrial denim sewing machines and film processing equipment.

Horology is on the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts, along with for-edge painting, bellfounding and millwrighting. Goldbeating and handmake cricket balls are both listed as "extinct", the last professionals in Britain having retired without training new apprentices. Riddlemaking is critically endangered: there are but two apprentices keeping the flame alive, having hauled a retired riddlemaker out of his leisure to train them.

Some of these crafts are not endangered elsewhere in the world, and many of them are approachable by self-instruction. But the tricks of the local trade, the fine details of experience and tradition, die with the pros.