Griffin Sendek | Multimedia Editor
It’s said when you meet the one you love, time comes to a stop. However, for Jacob Schwab and Olivia Babyok, it’s the passage of time that brought them together.
Together, the Duquesne seniors have found an immense passion for watchmaking, and through it fell deeper in love with one another.
The story of Jacob and Olivia’s growth as watchmakers follows closely to that of their relationship.
Watchmaking began as a mere fascination of Jacob’s spurned by a life of tinkering. The catalyst was when he received an old broken watch of his grandfather’s, an Accutron. After taking it to be fixed, he realized how interested he was in the art of watchmaking. It was then the sophomore computer science major became committed to becoming a part of the watchmaking world.
Ever since he was a child, Jacob has always held a fascination for the mechanics of how things worked, constantly ripping stuff apart just to figure out how it all fit back together.
Traditionally, the craft of watchmaking is only mastered through either an apprenticeship or attending watchmaking school. Olivia and Jacob didn’t have either of those luxuries, but filled with an immense curiosity for timepieces and a heart for mechanics, they did everything they could to teach themselves.
“I’m very mechanically inclined. I like how things are predictable that way — engines, cars, watches. I like to take things apart,” Jacob said.
This day and age there is seemingly nothing out there YouTube can’t teach — including vintage watch assembly and repairs. Though not in any way formally trained, they became apprentices of the YouTube watchmaker community.
“He was able to watch YouTube videos of someone taking apart this specific watch and then do it himself,” Olivia said.
No other time in history could someone like Jacob take a mild fascination for what truly makes a watch tick, and with no formal training turn it into a passion and business.
The learning process was never something he underwent alone; from the very beginning, Olivia has been by his side.
“I didn’t know anything about watches really, but I loved that he was passionate about it. And I love stories and I love history, and I was like screw it, why don’t you do it,” Olivia, a biology major, said.
Jacob’s passion was infectious. Learning the ins and outs of watchmaking took over their time together as they spent hours combing through antique store display cases and stayed up late into the night watching YouTube tutorials. Before long, Olivia became just as obsessed with the craft as Jacob.
“It would become a normal thing that he would invite me up and we would watch some YouTube guy talk about watchmaking or a new watch that he made that was historically significant,” Olivia said.
Jacob and Olivia are a team; he focuses on the fine-tuning and mechanical assembly while she takes on the important job of cleaning and has a much better eye for picking the pieces.
Their watchmaking efforts began in a small fashion with basic tools all within the cozy comfort of Duquesne dorm rooms.
“Since I’m a scientist I had pretty good knowledge of how to do intricate work,” Olivia said, “so we started with a toothpick, a Q-tip, a toothbrush, water and a little bit of alcohol wipes. I would wrap the alcohol wipe around the toothpick and would take hours to clean these watches out.”
As they improved and their love for the craft grew, more and more of their time became engulfed by watches.
“We used to do it all the time. That used to be date night for us: We’d pick up a vintage watch and I’d spend two hours cleaning it and he’d spend two hours fixing it,” Olivia said.
Not a single moment of that time spent together slaving over a massive collection of the minutest gears, knobs and screws ever felt wasted.
“It’s always good when you love someone to watch them be really passionate about something,” Olivia said. “It’s so cheesy,” she said to Jacob, “but it makes me love you even more when you get excited about fixing something, or finding something.”
As he would talk about the small intricacies of reassembling watches piece by piece and share tidbits of knowledge only someone immersed so far in the watch world would know, Olivia would watch him speak with a wonderful grin on her face, looking on as if just for a moment, he was the only person in the world.
It was clear that their love for the history and craft of watchmaking is intertwined with their love for each other.
Watchmaking in many ways is more than a hobby — what they do is incredibly important. In a small but crucial way, they are taking the necessary steps to help preserve history and keep the industry, which quite literally is nearing its deathbed, alive.
“The fact of the matter is it’s a dying industry. Your independent watchmakers are all overloaded with work and they’re all old,” Jacob said. “I feel I preserve a piece of history, a piece of art. So if I can make something live longer, instead of just throwing it away or have it be disposable, I’m all for it.”
The wrist and pocket watches they operate on are time capsules of bygone eras. Unlike clothing and other personal effects that have been withered, lost and worn, watches have been able to survive throughout the year, and with a few minor tweaks from students like Jacob and Olivia, they keep on ticking to this day.
Olivia and Jacob, through their joint nerdiness for mechanics and history and incessant need to learn, have created something truly unique and seldom seen.
They will forever and always be partners in time.