Dec 2021 Archie McQuater Hon MBHI Award
In 1946 Archie was conscripted into the army, serving for three years with the Royal Engineers. Working in bomb disposal he learned a great deal about small mechanisms, to say nothing of the need for a very steady hand. This focussed his thoughts on becoming a watch and clock repairer and on completing his military service he became an apprentice watchmaker with Williamson Jewellers in Bruntsfield Place in Edinburgh.
Archie has few fond memories of his apprenticeship, describing the owner of the shop as being something of a slave driver. He recalls that there were five apprentices sitting side by side at a long bench. Every year each apprentice moved up a space, the top apprentice having to leave. Archie spent six years with Williamson’s. His earnings at the time were not enough to pay for his digs so he took on a second job as a window cleaner, working early mornings and evenings.
On completing his apprenticeship Archie moved to the Edinburgh Watch Company, also in Bruntsfield Place, where he worked for three years before moving to James Ness Jewellers in Queensferry Street. Working mainly on top-end watches he was now earning a good wage, eventually becoming the foreman.
In 1959 a friend of Archie’s persuaded him to join Ferranti where the pay and conditions were very much better than those of a foreman watchmaker and the plentiful overtime came in handy to support his young family. Archie remembers the year well as it coincided with the worst smog Edinburgh had ever experienced. Initially working in the potentiometer section Archie worked his way up to be a charge hand. He then had the opportunity to become a staff member in the inspection department.
Throughout his time at Ferranti Archie continued to repair watches and clocks in his spare time, making a lot of his own tools and even a watch cleaning machine.
Archie retired from Ferranti in 1987 and immediately started working again as a watch and clock repairer for James Walker Jewellers in Edinburgh. After a year he moved to become the watch and clock repairer for Keith Walter Jewellers in Peebles where he worked until his second retirement 11 years later. Archie recollects that he would work one week on watches and then the next week on clocks, never mixing the two so that he could maintain his ‘feel’ when undertaking delicate watch work.
However, Archie’s second retirement didn’t last long and in 2000 he found himself working at Craiglea Clocks in Comiston Road in Edinburgh, his only concession to advancing years being that he now restricted his work almost entirely to clocks. Archie retired, for the third time, from Craiglea Clocks in the summer of 2021, and then only because of deteriorating eyesight.
Archie was persuaded to join the BHI by the late Nick Sanders in the early 1980s and has been an active member ever since. He has given several talks to the Scotland Branch over the years and provided generous help to other Branch members, both amateur and professional alike. He has made several clocks, a Ptolemaic planetarium, featured in the June 2014 edition of the HJ, and is currently finishing a complex automaton clock featuring a family of robins. What is truly remarkable is that these projects were completed without drawings or sketches, just relying on Archie’s quite amazing memory.
Archie is delighted to have been awarded his Honorary MBHI, a richly deserved accolade for a very wonderful man.
Dr Zen Chowaniec