The art of waiting: why our love for artisanal crafts is rising

In an age of instant gratification, are we losing the ability to savour the treasures that take that little bit longer? A growing interest in the intricacy of artisanship suggests not

How long would you wait for something you wanted? Today, watching a webpage load for more than two seconds seems like hours. There are few phrases more frustrating than “Can you hold the line?”. And if you make an offer on something – a house, a car, or even an invite to dinner – you expect a response within 24 hours. In the age of ordering from your fingertip, waiting is positively retro.

“You switch on the TV and everyone is rebuilding their homes in three days, their gardens in two days… It’s very superficial and life isn’t superficial. Things of quality aren’t produced in a flash,” says Roger Smith, an independent watchmaker. At 5pm on a Friday, he finally has time to talk after giving visitors a tour of his seven-person studio on the Isle of Man, a tiny island in the middle of the northern Irish Sea. “The desire for cheap things is big. We live in a throwaway society – we all enjoy it. We all have cheap washing machines and dishwashers.”

As the world is becoming more globalised, it’s evident whenever you travel you have the same brands. People are now realising that there is a world outside of the big brands

Roger Smith, Independent watchmaker

However, while desirable, speed is not everything. Though increased connectivity, induced by digital innovation and the soaring rate of travel, has had a homogenising effect, it has also sparked a rush towards creativity and individualism. People are, in greater numbers, both seeking and producing works of craftsmanship.

“As the world is becoming more globalised, it’s evident whenever you travel you have the same brands. People are now realising that there is a world outside of the big brands. Venturing into those worlds is different. More is on offer in the independent world – there is an opportunity for exploration,” says Smith, who has declared a revival in British watch-making.

His watches take at least 10 months to make, cost six figures, and there is currently a three-year waiting list for standard pieces. Clients who want a completely bespoke timepiece would have to wait eight years. They are, Smith says, usually collectors or entrepreneurs and mostly come from the US, UK and China, with one customer based in the Middle East.

Roger Smith, independent watchmaker in the Isle of Man: More is on offer in the independent world – there is an opportunity for exploration
Roger Smith: More is on offer in the independent world – there is an opportunity for exploration

As we speak, he is sporting a 1967 Omega Chronograph and jokes that he’s too busy making watches for other people to be able to wear one of his own creations. “I’m not so keen on the heavy, clumsy watches that are around now,” he says, adding that the Omega was, while mass-produced, one of the last greats.

The art of intricacy comes at a price, which raises the question–  is vanity its foundation? 

Smith says that his motivation is more about “a challenge to do something that nobody else is doing”. Consumers, meanwhile, are, “intrigued by why somebody would spend so much time making watches in such a labour-intensive way”.

For others, there is a spiritual impulse. Bukhoor, a popular incense across the Arabian Peninsula, has been used for thousands of years in religious and social ceremonies, and is highly valued in north and east Africa, and the Middle East. It is mainly made of natural ingredients, including Boswellia sacra resin, fragrant woods, spices and natural oils.

Dubai, bukhoor, incense
The quality of bukhoor is seen in the colour of the smoke as it is burned

Small pieces of wood are scented with oils and mixed with other components such as ambergris, musk and sandalwood and then lit in special burners, where it emits an exotic, richly scented smoke. It can either keep the form of wood chips or be compressed into tightly packed balls resembling chocolate truffles.

“Bukhoor became a business in the Middle East when the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) prohibited Muslims to offend others by their odour,” says Nasif Kayed, Managing Director of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai. 

“Today we burn bukhoor in our homes, usually twice a day after meals, to keep our homes smelling fresh and also in our closets to scent our clothes.”

Bukhoor makers have been refining the process since the seventh century, and each one has his own method; the best recipes for perfumes are kept secret and handed down generations.

You can tell a good quality bukhoor by the colour of the smoke, how long the scent lasts and how slowly the wood burns

Nasif Kayed, Managing Director of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

“People who make the best bukhoor are famous for it within their own circles,” says Kayed. “You can tell a good quality bukhoor by the colour of the smoke, how long the scent lasts and how slowly the wood burns.”

It is a process, a ritual almost, that requires time. Perhaps our growing appetite for objects of intricacy lies in our longing for time, a commodity that today seems in short supply. Will it last?

“I think naturally a lot of these crafts are coming back,” says Roger Smith. “I’m actually very hopeful now. I don’t think I was before.”