rchives are to the historian what pottery fragments are to the archaeologist. They are proof that something actually existed. Archives don’t just reveal dates and facts. They also tell us how people experienced a given historical event. They reflect the customs and habits of the time. And they bear witness to how people used to talk, behave, and live. Browsing through dusty archive shelves is akin to travelling to a different era and bringing it back to life.
The act of digitising archives not only dusts them off and freshens them up; by cataloguing them digitally, with the help of artificial intelligence, it becomes possible to browse any part, dive instantaneously into the farthest corner, and bring information to light that can then be broadcast and shared liberally.
This would be pointless if our archives didn’t also teach us a great deal about ourselves. History repeats itself; it sometimes loops back, falters and stutters, alternating drama and comedy. The mirror it holds up may be distorted, but it’s a mirror nevertheless, and we can see our own reflection in its altered image. But archives also lie. They can pretend to tell the truth. They can be misused. Governments and businesses alike are experts in revising history. They spruce it up, hide the darker episodes, play up the successes and keep quiet about the failures.
Archives don’t just reveal dates and facts. They also tell us how people experienced a given historical event.
To identify the reality of what actually happened, you have to cross-reference your sources, check one archive against another. If you insist on getting all your information from Google there’s a strong risk you’ll be led astray, or that you’ll have no idea what to think. We’ve learned a huge amount from digitising our own archives – 95 years and a variety of publications, all connected with watchmaking. Nevertheless, despite the hundreds of thousands of pages available to browse, they all come from a single source: our own. But there are hundreds of other sources, thousands, perhaps.
It was this experience, and this realisation, that birthed a new ambition: The Watch Library. The stakes are high. The aim is to bring together on a single platform the greatest possible volume (in the millions of pages) of documents, correspondence, still and moving images, testimonials, reports and figures – a virtually endless mine of data through which we can search, sift and dig. And bring to light the precious nuggets we are sure to find there. The Watch Library (TWL), a public interest foundation, has just been granted official recognition. After three years of reflection, research and outreach, it now has the support of several major actors.
Europa Star may have initiated the project, but TWL does not belong to us. This fully independent non-profit organisation belongs to all of you, who are heading into the future of watchmaking, and for whom, therefore, its past holds many valuable lessons.
Europa Star may have initiated the project, but The Watch Library does not belong to us. This fully independent non-profit organisation belongs to all of you.