Each month, illustrator Leo Greenfield sketches and profiles an Adelaide character who makes this city tick. This month: Eliza Camac, the watchmaker.
Eliza Camac is a horologist, a master of a rare craft known more commonly as watchmaking. Camac works off Rundle Mall at JJ Brown Watchmakers, an establishment that’s been keeping Adelaide on time since 1974.
Camac began working with timepieces in 2008 and by 2012 was SA Apprentice of the Year, an impressive achievement considering she was the first watchmaking apprentice in the state for nearly 10 years
. Today the team at JJ Brown includes Aaron Lawrence, Gavin Camac and Tee Gun Chew. Watchmaking wasn’t a specialist trade that Camac imagined for herself; but this changed during a gap year before university when she began working in an administrative position at JJ Brown.
Camac quickly fell in love with the intricate world of watches and an apprenticeship soon followed. To complete her training, Camac split her time between Adelaide and studies at Ultimo TAFE in Sydney.
In a workshop stocked with the elaborate paraphernalia to adjust and rebuild clocks, Camac and her colleagues describe their work as focusing on repairs and reconstructions. “It’s similar to working as a mechanic, these pieces are like a puzzle that you take apart and put back together, and they work,” Camac says. When asked about the key tools of the trade, tweezers were the first to come to mind, eyeglasses a close second and then the universal screwdriver. “It’s important to remember”, says Camac, holding a fine hammer in her hand, “our tools are all tiny”.
The JJ Brown workshop could be compared to a jewellery salon, but the watchmakers’ stress that these crafts are independent from each other. Camac describes watchmaking as a practice of logical problem solving.
The historical work of John Harrison (1693-1776) exemplifies this for her. Harrison, originally an English carpenter, engineered the marine chronometer, a device that solved the great problem of maritime travel – how to measure longitude. The sea also captures Camac’s imagination; when she is not working on precise timepieces, her passion shifts to the intricate pastime of sailing.
Camac volunteers on the crew of the historical replica ship the One and All and for the SA Coast Guard. As tall ships still spike our interest so does the tradition and grace of mechanical watches.
Camac says that more recent technology, such as battery-operated watches, can be quickly superseded. Today’s prestige watches are still traditionally mechanical. When asked about the effect of mobile phones on the watchmaker’s craft, Camac points out that, “we all grew up with mobile phones, but we still work here, with watches”.
Whether a timepiece is prestigious, romantic or attached to your phone, Camac says that when it comes to what makes these objects most desirable for the client, it is the one that simply fits them best, as if tailor-made. Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator leogreenfield.com