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Watchmaking is Monotonous

by Jordan Ficklin

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When I was preparing for graduation from watchmaking school I interviewed for an internship with Rolex. I remember one of the questions they asked me was why I wanted to be a watchmaker. I said something like, “I like the creativity involved and getting to see so many different watches and how they accomplish the same thing in so many ways.” They essentially chuckled and told me watchmaking wasn’t like that at all. Watchmaking is monotonous. It’s true.

This past week I corresponded with a young watchmaker preparing for graduation. He was looking to work in a repair center for one of the brands but had heard that for many months he would be stuck on a single caliber doing on assembly and disassembly. I had to let him know that it’s true. Some brands like JLC have nearly 100 calibers they service but the major brands have much fewer. Rolex essentially has 6 calibers in production, but most watches have one of two different calibers in them. Including older calibers Rolex service centers work on about 11 calibers. Most technicians work on only 5 of those.

In the retail world I get to see a little more variety than you would in a service center. It is still very repetitive. 50% of what I work on are one of about 5 Rolex calibers. I also see some ETA calibers and some vintage stuff. For now, however, I see manual winds, automatics, quartz watches and chronographs. I was really excited recently when a customer brought in a vintage 5 minute repeating pocket watch. He wasn’t willing to pay what it would take to service it however so I didn’t get to work on that one, but I did get to drool!

Lucky for me I enjoy the somewhat monotonous nature of my job. I hope I will be able to work on more complicated and high end pieces as my reputation spreads and my skills constantly improve.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my job! I’m good at it. I enjoy it. I work with great people, and there are often new and different problems with the watches even if it is the same caliber I have been doing every week for a couple of years. I bring this up for the benefit of anyone thinking about pursuing a career in watchmaking.

P.S. As my wife points out most jobs are some what monotonous. The point of education is to prepare us to do a specific skill set well. Your day to day operations will fall within that skill set. The wider your skill set the more variety you can have in your daily jobs. I for example know more about computers than anyone else at my work will admit. I therefore handle computer problems on almost daily basis as well as repairing watches. I also like to help customers and when the sales floor is busy I step out to help out there as well. All of this breaks up my day and provides some polytonie (variety).

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  1. alan
    Posted July 28, 2008 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Hey thanks for this! I’ve been visiting your site frequently since I found it a few weeks ago and I believe I’ve read all your archives now. This type of information is really beneficial for me. I’m flying to Seattle Thursday to take the tests and hopefully get invited. If you have any advice you can offer, it would be appreciated. You can email me if you have time. For one.. how much math was there when you took the tests? I’m quite rusty in that department. Also how hard was it going to such a strenuous school and supporting a family? How many hours did you work? I don’t have a kid but I am married and want to provide the best (or what I can) for her. Thanks for any advice and keep up the great work! I love the site!

  2. Perdita
    Posted July 28, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    Do you have any opinions on what working at Ben Bridge is like? My teacher worked there for a while and he makes it sound like a variety of watches go through a place like that.

    Also hi to Alan. It sounds like you are going to apply at NSCC. I am currently a student there and it is pretty cool. Erik and Elaine are great teachers. I won’t be there Thursday but I wish you good luck on your tests. Get plenty of rest the night before, and be prepared to concentrate on a variety of mental and dexterity tests. If coffee makes you jittery, you should avoid it. The math is not too bad, just arithmetic and algebra. You might want to review doing math by hand a little (no calculators allowed!)

    Again, good luck! Perhaps I will see you there in September. 🙂

  3. J.Peter
    Posted July 28, 2008 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Alan, good luck. Everything I have said about applying at LWT applies to NSCC as well. Like Perdita said, the math is not a big deal. It’s of the type 1/x = 3/9, solve for x. Basic algebra with emphasis on fractions and ratios.

    Perdita, I don’t have any first hand experience with Ben Bridge but I have heard third hand that they don’t pay very well and the morale is not great. You would certainly have the potential of seeing a wide variety of current production watches. I don’t expect they do much vintage or restoration work. If you want to know what it’s like there call and ask them. Ask them if you can speak with some employees, they’ll be up front with you.

  4. alan
    Posted July 29, 2008 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Thanks a ton for the input, guys! I’m nervous / excited at the same time, haha! Yes, I’m applying at NSCC. I considered Lititz, but I was concerned about the town and my wife (web designer) finding work, etc). NSCC did say they were already full for this year but that they always had a few students drop out at the last second. So we hurried up and got me in there for the test. Should an opening come available (and my fingers are really crossed, lol) then I should have my chance. Were all 12 spots taken in your class, perdita?

    Guess I will do some more work on fractions / ratios.. by hand! 😀

  5. Perdita
    Posted July 29, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    All 12 spots were taken when I started, but often people have money problems right before the quarter starts and end up withdrawing. There was one student that made it through the first week and dropped out, and was replaced by a latecomer. Another student dropped out about 1 or 2 months in, but it was too late to have a student take his place.

    It is not impossible that space will clear up by fall. In fact, it is likely. I am not sure how far down on the waiting list you would be. It doesn’t seem like we had that many people come in to test for this fall, so you may have a chance.

    The testing process will give you a good idea if the field is right for you. If you feel comfortable with the tests, you will probably be admitted for next year if not this year. If you find the tests are difficult, especially the hands-on tests, you may want to reconsider going into this field. But the teachers will explain all that to you when you get here.

    Also there are definitely more opportunities for outside work here than in Lititz. Ben Bridge hires an intern every year form the second year class, and there are small watch stores that sometimes hire students. There are many non-watch related jobs available, too. It depends on what you are willing to do. Expect to spend 40+ hours a week in class, and additional open lab hours are encouraged.

    Next year is going to be crowded! We only have 4 students in the second-year class right now and 11 in the first year. Next year it will be 23 total students (at least to start with). Crazy.

  6. alan
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks again for the insight! that information is extremely helpful. I’m really looking forward to the hands on part and finding out whether or not I will be a good fit. I like to think I would be but there’s only one way to really find out. I don’t think I would be totally upset if I had to wait until next year, and if all goes well, I’m definitely planning on at least doing that. It would be nice to get in there right away and get started but at the same time, it wouldn’t be so bad to wait as I have to make the move essentially across the country (I’m in cincinnati, oh). But I really look forward to checking out the school and getting started. Oh and that’s great news about finding work related to the field. I hadn’t even anticipated that! Thanks again for your input and good luck in there. I hear it’s not exactly easy, haha.

  7. J.Peter
    Posted July 30, 2008 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    If you don’t get in this year and you don’t want to wait a full year you might consider one of the schools that have a January Start, I believe that includes OSU.

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