On his 150-acre farm under the shadow of Mt Greenoch, between Dunach and the tiny town of Talbot, Bill Wood plies what seems an unlikely trade for a third-generation farmer.
In a small workshop off the brick farmhouse his grandparents purchased over 100 years ago are the tools and machinery of a qualified watchmaker - a horologist.
From Echuca to Maryborough through to Bendigo, Ballarat and Castlemaine, watches and clocks needing repair are sent from jewellers and private owners to this tiny room perched on a windy rise in central Victoria.
It's an incongruous job for a fellow raised on a farm, with a shearer for a father. But in 1976, it was one of the few trades available in Maryborough, where Bill was studying at the Technical College.
The Swiss made a lot (of good watches), of course, but when the Japanese came in and started making them, well the Japanese were just as good as the Swiss
"I only had about three choices after I finished school," Bill says.
"You could go shearing; you could go to P&N (Patience & Nicholson toolmakers, still based in Maryborough); you could go on the dole. I wanted to be an electrician for a start, but you had to get someone to put you on for an apprenticeship. And this job came up at the jewellers."
Tipped into the position at the long-established JM Leech Jewellers by one of the tech teachers, Bill found he liked the fine work of repairing watches. After a three-month trial period, he was given a four-year apprenticeship. Another apprentice at the jewellers moved on - "back then there was plenty of work; he was after more money and he's still in Bendigo now" - and Bill found he was now the resident watchmaker.
It was steady, reliable work, Bill says, until about 20 to 30 years ago.
"When quartz watches came in, the battery watches, that put a lot of watchmakers out of work," he says.
"I just sort of kept going on, but you get half the amount of old watches in from the '70s and '80s."
It's hard to analyse the seachange of the rise of the cheap quartz watch movement. Perhaps comparing it to the end of the manual typewriter and the advent of word processors goes closest.
A whole world of precision skills were ended, almost at a stroke. The gears and pivots, staffs and wheels of watches were once hand-tooled, cut on tiny lathes by people with decades of patient experience in making the infinitely tiny, infinitely accurate pieces.
You could go shearing; you could go to P&N; you could go on the dole.
"When my boss was working," Bill says, "he used to cut the staffs, make little staffs for the watches (the staff is a shaft for the watch's balance wheel, to make it run smoothly. They usually have an error tolerance of less than .005mm).
"Nowadays you can't get the parts for them. It's getting very hard to get parts."
Bill explains briefly the complexity of a mechanical watch, and how it differs from a quartz movement.
"A mechanical watch, it's got a main spring and it's all mechanical. The mainspring drives another four wheels which are geared for the hands to turn. It's all worked out. It's engineered to keep time like that.
"The quartz ones came in and they rely on a little piece of quartz which vibrates (via a battery) And that is far more accurate than the old mechanical watches, and it's just put all the old watchmakers out of work."
The phrase 'runs like a Swiss watch' still holds a lot of cachet, but in reality even in earlier times there were categories of different quality for watch movements. Names like 'Landeron 39', 'Valjoux 188', 'Lemania', 'Angelus' and 'Pierce' signified different styles and qualities of movement to those who understood what each meant.
More saleable was the prestige brand: Rolex, Omega, Jaeger Le Couture, Patek Philippe, TAG Heuer - names made strong suggestions of quality. There was a reason Rolex and Omega battled to get their products into the James Bond films - their on-screen use and allure gave them a notion of exclusivity - and a huge sales boost.
Bill says these perceptions are for the most part just that, in modern times.
"The Swiss made a lot (of good watches), of course, but when the Japanese came in and started making them, well the Japanese were just as good as the Swiss ones really," he says.
"Seiko and Citizen, brands like that. Most countries made their own watches but (the best) were Swiss and Japanese. Now China has come in and a lot of cheaper ones come from China.
"You can be paying for the name of the watch now, really. There's not much difference between an Omega and a Seiko, but the Omega has still got the name. Timing-wise, a Seiko is probably better to work on than the Omega. It's in the history of the name, you're paying for that name. But you can't get parts for them now.
"Rolexes? They're nothing special. And not many people have got the money to buy big watch names like that - not around here anyway. Maybe in Melbourne, with your high-paid executives," Bill laughs.
The watchmaker's art requires a steady hand, a good memory and yes, a watchful eye. It's a precision mechanism, and it takes a toll. Bill says his eyes have started to weaken as he's aged, although he's grateful his hands are still unshaking.
"The eyeglass helps a lot," he says.
"You can do a lot of stuff you couldn't do with normal eyesight. My hands are still pretty good. When you're working on a mechanical watch, you've got to be very careful - one slight move and you could break a pivot or something: that's the end of the watch.
"Back in the old days, we had about three or four different places you could get parts from, but now there's one and you can't always get parts from there. You used to be able to get parts if you broke something; a long time ago, when you were an apprentice, you broke a few things, but now you try not to.
Rolexes? They're nothing special. And not many people have got the money to buy big watch names like that - not around here anyway.
"The machining of them I mean, I don't know how they do it. Everything fits perfectly and meshes perfectly, even before machines came out, like back in the 1920s and even earlier, they used to get them going fairly accurate back then. And made by hand. That has changed a lot. Not many watchmakers will make things by hand now."
What's the best timepiece Bill has worked on?
"Look I've done a few Omegas, back when you could get parts... probably Omegas are the best I've seen."
He says fashions have changed in recent times, and watches have fallen as phones have replaced them. But that is not a new phenomenon. Once the wristwatch was thought vulgar compared to pocket watches.
"You still get the odd pocket watch too. I mean, there's not much you can do with them if they've got broken parts, but you can overhaul them and clean them. Sadly, a lot of the value is in the case.
"You get a 9k or 18k case... I know a bloke; he used to take a bit of gold down to Melbourne, take it to the traders for money. He said he walked in there one day and these two, brothers I think they were, were pushing the movements out the pocket watches and throwing the watch movements in the bin, and taking the gold, because it was worth more than the watches."
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