Hands of Time by Rebecca Struthers

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

There is an old hymn that describes time as being like an ever-rolling stream that bears all of us away. Rebecca Struthers captures this neatly as she takes us on a journey through the history of time. Her experience and expertise as a watchmaker put her in a unique position to look back at how humans have tried to measure the passage of time as well as looking forward by examining how modern ways of measuring time are drawing the curtain on craftspeople, like herself, who make their living making and restoring bespoke timepieces.

Struthers begins by describing how ancient cultures first used carved bones to assist them to mark certain periods of time in company with what was occurring in the celestial heavens as day and night moved through various seasons. Sundials were also part of the ancient world scene though, as Struthers points out, no one knows when they came into existence. Unlike the carved bones, sundials have survived the journey into the modern age where they are more curiosities than the necessary time pieces they once were.

Dividing the day into hours, minutes and seconds is also a legacy of the ancient world. It ties us to humanity’s desire to have some control over the ever-rolling stream that time purports to be. This desire is reflected in the need to have portable ways to keep track both of time and place. Struthers’ descriptions of how watches and their intricate parts were developed and improved on makes fascinating reading.

This book is, for Struthers, a very personal one. She tells her story of how she came to be a watchmaker or to give it its technical name horologist. Her passion for the craft is obvious as is her love of restoration that forms the backbone of the business that she and her husband Craig run in Birmingham. Knowing that the market for their skills is diminishing, Struthers offers the hope that there will always be a place for special watches and clocks that need a particular touch both to make and to maintain in a world where watches are hardly worn or if they are, they can be changed and disposed of according to the mood of their owners.

Hands of Time may encourage the reader to look at their watches, both old and new, in a different way. It won’t hurt to get an old one out and wear it from time to time. While it could be seen as embracing a retro style there is the thought that an older timepiece connects us to the past while we are facing the challenges of the present and future. Struthers, through this history, gives us food for thought as we, like everyone else is borne by the ever-rolling stream we call time.

Rebecca Struthers is a watchmaker and historian from Birmingham. She co-founded her workshop, Struthers Watchmakers, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter in 2012. Rebecca and her watchmaker husband Craig use heritage equipment and traditional artisan techniques to restore antiquarian pieces and craft bespoke watches. She became the first watchmaker in British history to earn a PhD in horology.

Hands of Time – A Watchmaker’s History of Time

by Rebecca Struthers


Hodder & Stoughton

ISBN 978 152933 900 0

$34.99; 260pp


🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

🤞 Want to get the latest book reviews in your inbox?

Scroll to Top