Henry R. Playtner

Masterpiece Watches


Class Pictures


The Book



Students came from all over the world to attend the CHI and they came from as many diverse backgrounds as they did geographical locations. Some came directly out of school like 15 � year old Harold Burns who moved from Hampton, New Brunswick to sign up, while others such as 36-year-old Willis Deagle worked for years before attending. While a great number of students were already active in the jewellery business before enrolling, there were also others who came from totally unrelated lines of work. I have found examples of school teachers, farmers, blacksmiths, and a dental student.

All the students were male with one exception - 16-year-old Eleanor Taylor. Eleanor enrolled out of high school and unlike so many of her male counterparts, actually created a masterpiece watch.

In honour of this accomplishment, CHI alum William Heise presented her with a gold case for her watch engraved with the words "Presented to the Canadian Horological Institute by W.H. Heise for the first lady student to finish up a watch. Won by Eleanor Taylor, 1911". After graduation she worked as a jeweller but gave up her career when she married Dr. James Brown. Following her divorce ten years later, she returned to the watch repair industry and worked with her father and brother for a number of years in Toronto.

Like Eleanor, several students had fathers who were in the jewellery business and many went to work for them following graduation. Still others went on to build businesses of their own and most did extremely well. One student, Olver Steadman even hired classmate Roy Turner to work in his shop.

For students who were employed by others, moving seemed to be second nature. Almost all moved at least once in their life and in some cases it was not only across a province or across Canada, but also into the United States. Of the great number who did emigrate, only one, August Schierholtz returned home to Canada to retire. The rest remained, and died, on American soil. Oddly enough, no cases were found where an American student came to Canada and settled here.

While it appears that quite a few watchmakers chose to incorporate optometry services into their businesses, a few such as Arnold Jansen, George Gilpin and Albert D. Savage chose to make this the sole focus of their work. Arnold Jansen set up shop in Berlin, Ontario in 1899 and became so successful that forty years later he was honoured by the Optometrists' Association for his dedication to the field. George Gilpin moved to Vancouver, set up an optometry office on Cordova Street and became credited as that city's first optometrist. A few years later his was one of the signatures that granted CHI alum Joseph Orila Patenaude a grandfathered license for his optometry practice. And although Albert D. Savage's father was a renowned jeweller in Guelph, his son chose to specialize in optometry and served the citizens of that city for well over thirty years, his motto being "If made right preserve sight".

One student who chose not to pursue either optometry or the jewellery business was Francis Bentley. Bentley was the British-born student who came to America to study with Playtner. Bentley's first love had always been writing and after graduation from the CHI, went on to become a successful writer/editor for the American Jeweler magazine in Chicago.

Some students stayed in the field of watchmaking but pursued other interests as well.
Adam Zilliax, Joseph Patenaude, Albert Skinner and Lorne Askin all became very
active in municipal politics and Albert Skinner went on to become mayor of Sherbrooke.

Bentley wasn't the only student who branched out. From various Census readings, it was learned that Ward Switzer eventually became an insurance salesman, Clarence Kiest went into farming, Martin Poth gravitated towards photography and graphic artistry and Julius Bullock worked as a druggist, then tried his hand at running a furniture store. Bullock seems to have had the most notable family lineage found to date. His father, Dr. James O. Bullock, a prominent physician and surgeon, was a distant cousin of Ethan Allen, the American Revolution hero and his mother, the former Alice Carpenter, could trace her lineage back to John and Priscilla Alden of colonial New England.

Some students stayed in the field of watchmaking but pursued other interests as well. Adam Zilliax, Joseph Patenaude, Albert Skinner and Lorne Askin all became very active in municipal politics and Albert Skinner went on to become mayor of Sherbrooke.

Another field of interest was sports. Walter Eileers, Albert Liphardt and William Heise all became as well known for their support of sports teams as they did for being prominent jewellers. Eileers sponsored dozens of basketball, softball and bowling teams and even personally picked up the expense of the Canadian Champion basketball team to attend the Pan Am Games in Chile in the mid-1950's. Liphart donated several trophies to Crowsnest Hockey Association in Fernie, BC and Heise will always be remembered by Preston, Ontario natives as a man who was synonymous with fine sports leadership and promotion. On the opposite side of the coin, student Harry Pickering became a prominent athlete, playing defence for the Vancouver Greenshirts of the British Columbia Lacrosse Association. His cousin, John Skales, a student in the 1908 and 1909 class, was also a renowned athlete, preferring baseball but picking up bowling, curling and golf in later years.

Research found to date indicates that only one student, George Murdock of Binscarth, Manitoba, lost his life in World War 1 but three others succumbed to wounds a year or two later. As well, at least two students lost limbs from injuries sustained while fighting and Norman Welsh, who lost an arm, was forced to give up watchmaking and make a living as a public garage owner.

Four students, William Dallling, George Busby, W. Douglas Smith and Harold Caven died of natural causes shortly after graduating, two others were killed in tragic fires and a third died in an automobile accident. The student who survived the longest was Elmira native August Schierholtz who died quietly in bed at the ripe old age of 96.

A list of students I have found to date can be found here.

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