Monday, July 27, 2020

The Long Now

The Ise Jingu grand shrine in Japan is built of wood and leaves and it is 1500 years old. Yet today, it looks like it was built yesterday! The secret of this longevity, which retains this 'new' look, is based on a rather peculiar fact: every 20 years, the temple is dismantled and torn down - only
to be rebuilt again on the same property. The process of rebuilding has been completed 62 times with the latest in 2013. There is a forest around the shrine area that is considered sacred that covers 13,600 acres that is used for some materials to construct the new shrine. About 222 acres of this forest haven't been touched since the shrine was first established. Any trees used for the shrine are cut down in a special ceremony and floated down a sacred river to the construction site.

In order for trees to be of a suitable size to be used for the shrine, they have to grow for hundreds of years and the builders of the shrine use techniques passed down from generation to generation. The symbiosis is obvious:  the religion needs followers who will remain together for ever, and the ritual of building and tearing down, which cycles every 20 years, provides both spiritual and practical meaning to religion. And there is one significant element to this tradition: perpetual preservation of builders' skills which are passed on from generation to generation. Clearly, a young apprentice builder would be part of the first shrine rebuild in his twenties, in his forties he would be at his peak of strength and at his sixties, at the third rebuild, he would be master builder.

Similarities with our watchmaking project are numerous. If my decision to start the project at the age of 50 was to be based on 'showcasing watchmaker's talent and genius', I would be too old before a first
masterpiece would be assembled - if ever. Quite frankly, I would most likely give up because it would take decades to develop the skills required to produce a masterpiece. Yet for the fact that the brand started with a rather humble and very affordable watch which can be put together and sold to a sufficient number of 'followers', and for the obvious fact that such watches would require regular maintenance every five years, we are now in a position to train apprentices and pass on whatever knowledge we have, and prepare the ground for that next generation of talented ones to take the 'Manufactured in Australia' project to the next level.

Yes, 'Manufactured in Australia' is nothing but religion which requires adherence to strict rules of horological perfection built over generations. The good news is that the ingredients are already here: the seed of watchmaking knowledge developed over 3 generations, the apprentices, tools and machinery, and one day - the dedicated Mittagong workshop which will nicely tie it all together.   Which brings us to the most peculiar aspect of the project: one who wants to call himself an Australian Watchmaker must embrace the mindset of tradition and determination of 'The Long Now' - of which neither exist in Australia. Or more precisely - not yet.

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