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Isra Arif

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Hilal Her

Isra Arif: An Aspiring Pakistani Watchmaker

March 2024

In an era where technology is rapidly advancing and automation is becoming the norm, a woman in Pakistan made the bold decision to embrace the art of horology or watchmaking. Embracing her family’s legacy in watchmaking, she has made the bold decision to enter uncharted territory as Pakistan’s first female watchmaker. Isra Arif has fearlessly ventured into uncharted territories, becoming the first in Pakistan to do so.
Isra’s upbringing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as the only child of her parents was filled with unique experiences that set her apart. Every year, when she visited Pakistan from the UAE, it was always surprising for those around her to learn that she started playing sports at the age of ten. While other girls were more interested in badminton or other less intense activities, she was drawn to the fast-paced nature of field hockey. She had a remarkable sixteen-year career in hockey, during which she had the opportunity to compete at both national and international levels. 
Isra, a talented center-forward on her school’s field hockey team, encountered her first challenge at the age of thirteen. She was chosen to travel to Stuttgart, Germany with her school’s team to participate in a series of friendly matches against the local under-16 field hockey team. The rest of the girls on her team returned home and promptly brought back their consent forms with their parents' signatures the next day. However, Isra’s consent form remained uncertain, wavering between ‘perhaps’ and ‘perhaps not’. It seemed like a challenging decision for her family, as no girl from their family had ever traveled without her parents, let alone to play field hockey. Isra’s days and nights were consumed with prayers, hopes, and wishes, as the fate of her future rested solely in the hands of her Dadi (grandmother). Two weeks later, just one day before the submission deadline, Isra received news from her father that her Dadi had given her consent. Since then, Isra has become the trailblazer in her family, embarking on solo travels, skydiving, etc. And now, she sets her sights on yet another goal to conquer. Isra’s field hockey journey led her to play at a national level in the UAE, with the likes of teams such as Dubai Hockey Club and Lusitanian’s Club. Her achievements on the field played a crucial role in earning her a sports scholarship at the university level as she pursued her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at the University of Wollongong in Dubai. 
After Isra finished her undergraduate degree, her family moved to Pakistan from the UAE. She had a deep connection with her family’s business, both in terms of physical presence and intellectual engagement. She comes from a long line of watchmakers and has closely observed the intricacies of their craft, and passionate enthusiasts who have been part of the global network of official retailers since 1948. Her father and uncle were fortunate enough to receive formal watchmaking training from Rolex in the 1980s, making them the last ones in the family to do so. Now, Isra has taken on the responsibility of continuing that legacy.
Isra has chosen a remarkable path in the art of watchmaking, demonstrating her unwavering commitment to shattering gender barriers and upholding the rich heritage of this craft. However, all of these ambitions remained unfulfilled until the October of 2023. 
In the world of watchmaking, a prominent institute that stands out for its significant contributions in producing highly skilled watchmakers is the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP). When Isra initially submitted her application for admission into WOSTEP’s one year, Customer Service Watchmaking Program, she was simply testing the waters. The news of her selection for a watchmaking bench test in Switzerland brought immense joy and excitement to her entire family. 
Isra, together with her husband, made the decision to accept the invitation and participate in the two-day watchmaker bench test. She traveled to Neuchatel, Switzerland for a week. During her stay, Isra was chosen as one of the eighteen individuals to participate in the test. Among the five overseas applicants who were also taking the test, she was the only Pakistani female in the group. She engaged in the tasks of sawing and filing brass, completed mechanical reasoning exams, participated in an interview, and experimented with mechanical watch movements. Throughout the entire experience, she reflected upon the possibility that this might be her final opportunity to be in this situation. Two days passed swiftly, and Isra, returned to Pakistan. She was satisfied with her efforts, but harbored no certainty regarding her selection, as she perceived her fellow candidates to possess superior skills and suitability for the program. 
Several months later, when Isra received a call from a Swiss number, she was mentally prepared to hear the disappointing news of, “Regrettably, you did not succeed.” However, the sound that reached her ears made her ecstatic: “You have been chosen!” The euphoria transformed into shock, subsequently evolving into utter delight as she realized that her hazy dreams were suddenly materializing into a vivid reality. However, the events of the past were recurring. Isra stood on the verge of yet another pinnacle moment, this time not only for her own family but for the entire nation. The sole distinction resided in the fact that her consent document was no longer hanging loosely; rather, it was replete with endorsements in favor of her aspiration, ranging from her parents’ to even her in-laws’ signatures.
Nevertheless, she encountered periods of worry and concerns that came from her loved one’s: “What about her children and husband? How do you plan to accomplish this? they inquired, underestimating my capabilities just due to my gender.” However, her husband showed remarkable resilience and stood firmly by her side, offering unwavering and wholehearted support in the pursuit of her goal.
At the moment, Isra is eagerly preparing to embark on her year-long course in Neuchatel, Switzerland, which will commence in August 2024. Although the selection is a significant achievement for a Pakistani woman, the journey ahead will be challenging. Isra’s pursuit in a field traditionally dominated by men reflects the increasing presence of women in different areas. Nevertheless, her ambitions extend far beyond her own accomplishments. Isra has a vision of creating a training institute in Pakistan, with the aim of preserving and passing on this rare and fading craft to future generations. She aim to empower Pakistani women to contribute meaningfully towards society through practical skills development. Her dedication to breaking gender barriers in the craft of horology is evident in her long-term goal. She is determined to create a future where gender does not hinder anyone, regardless of their potential. She has a clear vision of creating a prosperous and well-organized watchmaking industry in her country, recognizing the exceptional manual dexterity of the Pakistani people.


 

Isra Arif

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