What is time? – a watchmakers view …


There exist many quotes about time when you search for it. But the best I heard recently is: “Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once. Space is what prevents everything from happening to me.” ²


Imaging, all things in your life would happen at once. How many years do you have on your clock? 25, 35, 45, … 65 or even more. But no matter how many years, if all these moments, good and not so good ones, will happen at once … it does not sound really enjoyable.


So I got my time. 24 hours a day. 365,2422 days per year. How many years? Nearly 41 until now. How many more? I don’t know. But what I am going to do with my time? I did not ask for it! I got my time for free. It’s rather a gift to me. But the question remains: what should I do with my time?

I often hear: Time is short, time is precious, time is money, time is more precious than money, time is … it goes on and on.  And slowly I start to run faster, do everything quicker, strive for effectiveness, and efficiency. Whatever that means. And the result is: I experience so many thing in a very short time, that I cannot remember nor enjoy the single moment. I often forget what I did last week. When somebody ask me what I did last week, I take out my schedule to remember. The only thing that I remember is: it was stressful. I had no time to take a moment and think because so many things needed to be done.

When it happened to you as well, that in your daily life you get under time pressure, because things have to be done or deadlines are coming, remember the Anglo-Manx phrases (with is spoken on The Isle of Man): Traa-dy-Liooar – (Trah the looar) meaning: “time enough”. Probably it was not by chance that one of the greatest watchmaker of the last century, George Daniels, moved from London to the Isle of Man.


A watchmaker has a very special view towards time. At least I realized, there is something unique when I look into an old grandfather’s clock, a historic marine chronometer or an antique pocket watch. The clock- or watchmaker put a lot of his lifetime into his time piece to finish it. He is doing this although some parts of the watch nobody will ever see. All the parts under the dial are invisible for the owner of the piece. Only the next watchmaker sees it and enjoys it, when he takes the mechanism apart for servicing. Why the maker put so much effort and so much time into his creation? Probably because he just enjoys it. And because he knew: I have enough time. Why not spending it to create something very beautiful and precious, that will definitly last for generations. And quality cannot be achieved quickly. It takes time.

As a watchmaker I learn from our forefathers and realize every day more and more how much time it takes to create a beautiful time piece. To make my first precision pendulum clock it took me 4 years. I would never have started when I would have known, it takes me so long. But once you ride the tiger, it’s hard to get off. I finished it in the year 2001.


Nowadays I ‘m working more on wrist watches. Creating and finishing them by hand. This takes even more time. But it is a great joy to create something with your own hands, behold it and see: It is all good!


You can take part! Take some of your time to enjoy the beauty of the creation and to see the world through the eyes of the creator. May it be a watchmaker or any other artist.

Steffen Cornehl



²Variously attributed to Woody Allen, Albert Einstein, John Archibald Wheeler, and Anonymous