Came across an article that I thought might be interesting. We don't think about why it takes so long to get our watches back from service but we get frustrated when it takes too long. Well that might be a concern of the past if watchmaker schools start popping up.
- even the simplest automatic watch has 120 moving parts, and when you start getting fancy and technical that number can rise to a couple hundred
- in the U.S. we have less than 2400 certified watchmakers to cater to the consumers who own automatic watches
- Patek Philippe is opening its second watchmaking school outside of Geneva at its New York headquarters. First one was in Shanghi
- the service center currently has only 19 watchmakers who service 10,000 watches per year
Article From Barrons
October 13, 2015, 5:25 P.M. ET
Watch-Repair Schools Rise
by Paul Boutros
Servicing is among the most unpleasant aspects of owning a mechanical watch. When your fine watch inevitably stops keeping accurate time, you might be shocked by the cost, usually north of $1,000, or the excruciatingly long turnaround time to get it back on your wrist, which can sometimes stretch to a year. The main problem: There aren’t enough trained watch repairmen to satisfy demand. But you can’t get around it – the “spa treatment” a watch undergoes during a service is an absolute must to ensure its proper functioning and longevity.
Fret not. Relief of sorts is underway, at least over the long haul, as watch firms like Patek Philippe, Swatch, Rolex and Richemont create American watchmaking schools to fill the void and create a new generation of mechanical watch repairmen.
Mechanicals are comprised of metallic parts that rely on oils for smooth operation. Once these oils dry, metal parts grind against each other, causing them to wear down and eventually fail. Without question, a proper servicing is a labor-intensive process requiring great skill. The watch must be entirely disassembled, each part – ranging from 120 for the simplest to several hundred for the most complicated watches – thoroughly cleaned. If a part is damaged or worn, it has to be replaced. Next, the watch is reassembled, re-lubricated with various types of oils depending on the part, and then hand tuned for accurate timekeeping. Finally, it’s subject to quality control and testing so that, for example, your water resistant watch won’t fill up with water during a shower.
Fortunately for us watch lovers, brands have in different ways stepped up to address this Achilles heal of watch ownership. In particular, great strides have been made to prolong service intervals, which in the 1940s to 1960s, were recommended every one to two years. Today, most manufacturers recommend a service every three to five years. The use of modern oils that take far longer to harden, advanced materials such as silicon that require no oil, and optimized gear tooth shapes that reduce friction have all contributed to the need for less frequent servicing.
It’s a good thing too, since there just aren’t enough watchmakers to go around. Following the introduction of quartz watches in the late 1960s, the number of watchmakers around the world has plummeted. Peaking in 1953, in the US for example, there were over 44,000 watchmakers. In 2014, just 2,390 remain. As recently as 1980, 40 watchmaking schools in the US were churning out over 1000 watchmakers per year. In 2014 just nine US schools were yielding a paltry 50 to 60 new watchmakers per year. Considering how few watchmakers there are, getting your watch back from service after six to 12 months begins to make sense.
Recognizing American clients’ aggravation, brands have taken matters into their own hands to increase their watchmaker ranks. Rolex, in 2001, established the Lititz Watch Technicum; it’s a 2-year, 3,000-hour program based on WOSTEP, the international training standard of the Swiss watch industry. Swatch Group opened their Miami-based Nicholas G. Hayek Watchmaking School in 2005. In 2008, Richemont, the luxury conglomerate, set up their “Institute of Swiss Watchmaking”, opening a Dallas-based branch in 2009 that, since 2012, operates in partnership with Vacheron Constantin.
This week, Patek Philippe announced the formation of their first US watchmaking training center in the form of a highly selective two-year course known as the Horology Programme of New York. It’s their second school outside Geneva following the one that opened in Shanghai in 2013. The course is held on-site at Patek’s sprawling new US headquarters and service center known as the Henri Stern Watch Agency (HSWA) at 45 Rockefeller Plaza in the heart of New York City.
Nearly 300 applicants vied for the inaugural class’s six available seats. Ranging in age from 21 through 28, two women and four men made the cut following several rounds of interviews and rigorous testing measuring their mathematical aptitude, logical thinking, and dexterity. None had prior experience in watchmaking – an explicit requirement in place so that they learn Patek’s own, high standards of watchmaking from the beginning. The interest is understandable. A good watch repairman in the U.S. can make $60,000 to $70,000 a year.
Following a curriculum developed by their Geneva headquarters, students will able to service and repair quartz and “level 2” mechanical watches – Patek-speak for watches fitted with no more than a simple date complication. According to Larry Pettinelli, President of HSWA, upon successful completion, they’ll be offered full-time watchmaker positions, with no obligation to remain with the firm. Should they decide to stay, they’ll join the current staff of just 19 watchmakers, who, astoundingly, service upwards of 10,000 watches per year.
Laurent Junod, a soft-spoken, master watchmaker with 27-years of experience with the brand, leads the course. I sat in with the students during their second week. Their desks are state-of-the-art workbenches within an immaculate clean room, lit by an expansive wall of North facing windows and an awe-inspiring view of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Junod patiently taught them how to fabricate their own tools, filing a brass rod set on top of a wooden base they each had to hand-carve. Fascinating to watch the flat and angled surfaces being formed, a quick lesson on how specialized the skill of watchmaking truly is.
In short, a new generation of young and talented individuals is turning to this noble profession. That will help sweeten the ownership experience, and, hopefully, help get your watch back from the spa in a more reasonable time-frame.