I got a wonderful gift in the mail yesterday from Valerie’s nephew Cort, who is a watchmaker. A gigantic box of old watch parts!
I was half way to sorting it all out when it occurred to me to take pictures. So far I have four piles: large semi-complete carcasses, large bones, gears, and tiny parts. The gears and tiny parts will go into tellurions and orreries, the large bones (I’m not sure what they are in actual watch part parlance, but they are semicircular and have all their moving parts removed) will wait for an inspiration, but the semi-complete carcasses will provide the most satisfying fun: taking them apart.
I guess other geeky types had this experience as kids: taking apart an old clock or busted home appliance. My father, who was geek to the bone, understood this to be one of the major joys of kidhood, and all my life I saw taking things apart as an adventure more exciting than almost anything except a book. There was an exciting plot – opening the case, finding the hidden screws to get further into the mechanism, thwarted by the vital screws that wouldn’t undo, looking down into tantalizing but inaccessible depths that would reveal hidden wonders if only I could get at them. And finally, sitting back with all the parts undone, laid out in neat lines, seeing the whole and its parts as the same thing. The joy of Figuring Things Out.
Taking things apart is a wonderful introduction to the joy of craft. Carefully setting up a workspace, setting out the necessary tools, sorting parts in a structured and rational way: they’re all part of the ceremony of preparation that craft requires to focus the mind and imagination and enter the state of flow that craft and art require. To screen out the world and focus your attention on your hands and their manipulation of objects is a meditative exercise. Taking things apart and putting things together teach the wonder of a whole greater than the sum of its parts: the parts plus the assembly plus magic equals an alarm clock or a miniature book. The same deep joy and satisfaction is available to the apprentice as it is to the master. The equation works backwards and forwards.