The Horological Society of New York (HSNY), a 155-year-old New York City-based organization that supports the watchmaking community as well as enthusiasts and collectors, has just announced a new effort to support much needed diversity in the industry. Two new scholarships for watchmakers, the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship for Black Watchmaking Students and the Oscar Waldan Scholarship for Jewish Watchmaking Students, have been introduced this year. Those awarded with the financial aid will receive up to $5,000 each. That may not sound like much, but you might be surprised to learn that most watchmaking schools in the U.S. are free for students; tuition is typically covered by a sponsoring brand. The funds will instead help students with the cost of tools and living expenses.
It’s no secret that the watch industry, not just in the U.S. but globally, is overwhelmingly white. A quick Google search of executives at major watch brands easily proves the point. But the problem extends even further down the ladder. Take a tour of any Swiss manufacture and you’d be hard-pressed to find people of color behind the bench. How many Black-owned watch brands are there? Less than you can count on one hand: Talley & Twine, The Benson Watch Company, Verdure Watches and A. Hodge Atelier (owned by actor Aldis Hodge, who was appointed a member of HSNY’s board of trustees last year). And while Nicholas Manousos, executive director of HSNY, says they don’t have an exact number of Black watchmakers in the U.S., he says it is fair to say they are in the minority.
“The goal of the Benjamin Banneker Scholarship is to introduce greater diversity in the workplace, encourage Black men and women to pursue a career in horology, and advance the art and science of horology through education,” Manousos told Robb Report. Just 3 percent of HSNY’s own membership identifies as Black, but the recent appointment of Hodge to its board of trustees suggests its actively trying to bring more diversity into its fold, not just in membership but with its public-facing representation. “HSNY is committed to continuing to diversify its membership demographics which begin from the top down,” says Manousos. “Currently, there are Black men and women serving on our board of trustees, as full-time employees, and as volunteers.”
The Benjamin Banneker Scholarship is named after a self-taught mathematician, astronomer and horologist, who built one of the first wooden mechanical clocks in North America in 1753. The clock remained in operation for 50 years until it was destroyed by a fire just before Banneker’s death in 1806. He was also known for his active involvement in the effort to abolish slavery and corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on the issue.
Meanwhile, the Oscar Waldan Scholarship is named after a Polish-born, Jewish watchmaker who learned watchmaking while imprisoned in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp during WWII—a skill that ultimately saved his life. He eventually pursued a watchmaking career in Switzerland and Germany, working for prestigious brands such as Universal Genève, IWC and Rolex. Waldan went on to produce private-label watch collections for Tiffany & Co., Tourneau and Neiman Marcus and launched his own brand, Waldan Watches.
“It brings me great pride to launch this scholarship with the Horological Society of New York, in honor of my late father, Oscar Waldan,” said Andrew L. Waldan, CEO and president of Waldan International in a press statement. “Education was one of my father’s greatest passions in life, he worked to enrich his own life with knowledge, and by offering this opportunity supporting talent where merited, we will contribute to the current and next generations of this great art form that connects so many around the world.”
While the Jewish community has significantly more representation as a whole in the international watch industry, Manousos says that of the approximately 25 students that graduate from watchmaking schools in the United States each year, Jewish men and women still make up a small percentage. “We want to do our part to ensure a diverse watchmaking industry,” he says.
But the aim is further reaching. Currently, 70 percent of the roughly 50 students that are enrolled in a full-time watchmaking school in the U.S. apply to scholarships through HSNY. “We hope to expand both the number of applications and the scholarships awarded,” says Manousos. “Our long-term goal is to one day offer financial aid to every watchmaking student in the U.S.”
The Benjamin Banneker and Oscar Waldan scholarships are accepting applications now through March 1. The financial aid is open to Black or Jewish students who have been accepted or are currently studying at a full-time watchmaking school in the U.S. Prospective students may also apply, but funding is contingent on being accepted for full-time enrollment. Recipients will be announced in April. To apply, students should email a letter in PDF format to the Trustees of HSNY along with a biography, an explanation of their motivation to study watchmaking, and how the scholarship would benefit. A resume and reference letters are also recommended.