Buckingham Palace

London, United Kingdom | C.1936

Photo Credit: Oksana Skora

Buckingham Palace is the official London residence and headquarters of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. Initially built as a private residence, it was purchased by George III for Queen Charlotte in 1761, to create a comfortable home for their 15 children. However, the first royal to adopt Buckingham Palace as their official home was Queen Victoria, who moved there in 1837. 

Today, the palace contains over 830,000 square feet of floorspace. This astronomical building is not all ballrooms and banquet halls: beyond the expected luxuries, there’s also a post office, a movie theater, a police station, a surgical operating room, and an ATM reserved for the royal family.

To service all of these amenities, over 800 staff members live in the palace, including a flagman, a fendersmith, and a woman who breaks in the Queen’s shoes (yes, the Queen’s budget prevents her from getting blisters…candidates must wear a size 5 and use ankle-length beige socks). And of course, no montage of London sights would be complete without an image of the changing of the guard, which occurs daily from 11:00 to noon. Occasionally, however, the tradition is cancelled due to weather conditions—so make sure to pay attention to posted signage. 

But there is one team that can never take a day off: the “horological conservators,” or clockmakers. Royal engagements wouldn’t be quite as grand if they weren’t run on such a precise schedule—and the palace contains more than 500 clocks and watches (plus over 350 in Windsor Castle). They’re wound every week, meaning the task is a full-time job in every way. 

Being a horological conservator is not a simple task—especially during daylight saving time, when, after months of planning around the palace schedule, the clock-winders start work in the early hours on Saturday and work tirelessly, making certain that the correct time is set by midnight on Sunday evening. 

The Senior Horological Conservator explained to a magazine why this adjustment can take as long as fifty hours: “The Royal Collection contains many fascinating and extraordinary timepieces with highly complex mechanisms, so great care has to be taken with each one.” Indeed, the palace timepieces reflect centuries of tastes from various monarchs and their children—there are varieties ranging from musical clocks, to astronomical clocks, to organ clocks, to turret clocks (the latter being widely regarded as the most daunting to change). Monarchs have recognized the value of timekeeping well before they could rely on a team of horologists: the alarm on the tiny watch that Queen Elizabeth I wore as a ring purportedly made no sound, but rather notified her of royal duties by scratching her finger. 

In 2019, however, the Queen is able to outsource these reminders. In fact, the Royal Collections Trust put out a job posting for a skilled horologist to mind the Queen’s timepieces in each of her residences. Applicants needed to have top marks from the British Horological Institute, where fewer than 100 people annually achieve the required grade. The job description was daunting, explicit, and arguably a touch aggressive: 

You will be confident and experienced at working with hand and machine tools, with particular ability to strip and clean mechanisms, make new parts, solder, turn, cut screws, wheels and pinions, make hands, silver dials, pattern making, brazing and some forging. 

The description continues, appealing to the more profound responsibility of the job: 

Preserving a collection that’s on display and appreciated by thousands every year will inspire you to achieve the highest standards in all you do…Above all, your passion for conserving horological items will be evident from your meticulous approach and high standards. This is your opportunity to take your skills to the next level and deliver the exceptional.

📖 Full Story Page 158

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