Page 56 - Sharp September 2021
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   “The work we do at HSNY is important to me because it allows me to further pursue my purpose with horology, and to expand opportunities for underprivileged communities in any way possible”
B ENJAMIN BANNEKER AND OSCAR WALDAN never met, but they would surely have gotten along had their paths ever crossed. The son of a freed slave, Banneker was born in Baltimore in 1731. His options for formal education were limited, but he would nonetheless become a respected astronomer, author, and horologist, hand-carving one of the first mechanical wooden clocks in the United States when he was just 21 years old. Waldan, meanwhile, grew up in Poland, and learned watchmaking while imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp as a young man. Watchmaking literally saved Waldan’s life — repairing guards’ watches spared him the same fate as his family — and he would go on to work with some of the biggest names in the industry, from Rolex to Tiffany & Co., before eventually launching his own
brand, Waldan Watches.
In addition to their passion for horology, Banneker
and Waldan’s lives shared another common thread: they were both outsiders in a field that hasn’t always been welcoming. In 2021, however, in a small office in Midtown Manhattan, the Horological Society of New York is honouring both men’s legacies with a pair of scholarships. Open to any Black student studying at a full-time watchmaking school in the U.S., the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship was awarded for the first time in 2021. The Oscar Waldan Scholarship, likewise available to any Jewish student studying watchmaking, also saw its first recipient this year. Both are part of an effort to make horology more accessible.
“I believe HSNY has always had an eye towards progressive change,” says Aldis Hodge, the star of Show- time cop drama City on a Hill and an HSNY trustee. Inclusivity, Hodge says, has been part of the society’s DNA since it was established in 1866 by a group of German émigrés. Providing a library, regular lectures, and, most
Watches for All
The Horological Society of New York is making the art and science of watches more inclusive, one scholarship
at a time
importantly, a place for like-minded people to share ideas, the society has been in operation ever since, making it one of the oldest continuously operating horological associations in the world. As an avid watch collector and a watch designer himself, Hodge has found a home at HSNY and has become one of its most vocal supporters. “The work we do at HSNY is important to me because it allows me to further pursue my purpose with horology, and to expand opportunities for underprivileged com- munities in any way possible,” he says.
In recent years, and in large part thanks to social media, enthusiasm for watches and watch collecting has spread far beyond its traditional quarters to become a hobby that transcends age, race, and culture. As the kinds of people who covet and collect watches change, the HSNY has evolved its programs to become more inclusive. “The mission of HSNY is to advance the art and science of horology. [And] the more we expand our awareness, acknowledgment, and support of those who are interested in horology, the more we are able to fulfill our mission,” says Hodge.
Benjamin Banneker died in 1806 (and his wooden clock — still running after more than 50 years — was destroyed in a fire not long after). Oscar Waldan, meanwhile, died in 2018. While these men lived more than two centuries apart, one gets the sense they would have had plenty to talk about had they ever met. Both men had successful careers in watchmaking despite having to overcome unimaginable adversity. It’s a fair bet that it wouldn’t have taken them long to start discussing mainsprings, oscillating weights, and escapements. They were both watch guys, after all, and regardless of where they come from — or indeed what century they live in — the passion for horology is a powerful thing.

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