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Canada’s National School of Horology

by J.Edwards

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Canadian SchoolIf there’s one thing I’ve learnt about this industry since stepping behind the red curtain, it’s that it’s not all that the glossed horological PR front makes it out to be. I have had a number of disappointing revelations about my trade since I first set out to become a watchmaker, and my school was not the least among these. That said, I still love my work and I treasure the time that I am fortunate enough to have spent learning my profession.

I undertook two diplomas of study at Canada’s last remaining horological school in Trois-Rivières, Québèc, and graduated with honours among my class of seven. While the program certainly has its weak points, its fallibilities can also prove to be of great advantage to the self-driven student who recognizes them.

The curriculum at Canada’s National School of Horology (École Nationale d’Horlogerie) consists of a 27 module standard diploma program and an optional 10 module diploma specializing in horological complications. While the course descriptions mandate an 1800 hour duration and 600 hour duration respectively for each diploma, there is no true set timeline to either program. Some students have finished in as little time as just a few months, while others have taken in excess of four years to complete their standard diploma.

The standard diploma offers a well-rounded approach to horology, starting with spring-driven alarm clocks and progressing through larger clocks, manual wind watches, automatic watches, and quartz watches. A good deal of time is spent on hairspring manipulation and escapement adjustment, as well as on lathe work and heat treatment. One full module is even spent on soldering and minor jewelry repair that a watchmaker may come into contact with in his or her day to day operations.

The diploma in horological complications is well balanced between large complications for clocks and complications for both quartz and mechanical watches. Some of the complications covered include: multiple strike trains for grandfather clocks, automatons, moon dials, various methods of date indication, perpetual calendars, and chronographs.

I endeavoured to complete both diplomas in the expected 2400 hour time frame and was afforded plenty of time within those confines to undertake my own horologically related projects. One of my favourite such projects being the creation of a titanium loupe, which I hope to write more on later. Other personal pursuits included the fabrication of a number of tools and watch components not outlined in the curriculum; experiments with balance wheels, hairsprings, and lubricants, including the extremes to which a number of modern day watch lubricants can be pushed; casemaking; knurling; and I was able to arrange to work on complications, which were not part of the curriculum, including a mechanical alarm, vertical clutch chrono, and split-seconds chronograph.

Canada’s National School of Horology is not a school that I would recommend to everyone.  If you are interested in both clocks and watches and are comfortable learning independently in an open environment, then it may be exactly what you are looking for. For more information on the National School of Horology in Canada, check out this article on Alliance Horlogère (aussi disponsible en français).

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  1. Posted August 6, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Interesting, thanks. I wasn’t aware of any of that.

  2. Prem
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Hi J.Edwards,
    Welcome to Tick Talk, JP’s an excellent and articulate watchmaker indeed, and hopefully we can have some great posts from yourself as well.
    I hadn’t been aware of ‘The Canadian school of Horology’ and thank you for drawing attention to this fact. I see that you haven’t had a great experience there, however, as mundane as watchmaking is- it can get exciting with the same objectives and lessons with an experienced and gifted teacher of Horology.
    In my knowledge, hairspring work is absulutely the norm. Even as much as tedious it may be, when dealing with companies like Rolex, that totally rely on breguet type hairsprings, what you learnt in watch school is really essential.
    So far, I have come across only 2 gifted watchmakers in B.C.!! I haven’t attempted to go further east, but I am sure, there is a huge gap between right and wrong watchmakers in Canada. Whereas I do not attempt at making ANY comments and relevant appraisals of them, I do know whom to approach (in B.C.), and whom to leave to their own devices!!
    SAV- in my opinion, is of a great importance to the watch industry, and many a time overlooked…cheers mate! Regards, Prem

  3. Posted August 7, 2008 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the warm welcome Prem.

    Judging by your response, I get the impression that I did not articulate myself very well. I enjoyed my time at watchmaking school – very much so! I tried not to nitpick and focus on the school’s weak points. I certainly made no attempt to paint hairspring manipulations in a bad light if I gave you that impression. I included that as one of the program’s better traights.

    To be more forthright – though without getting into too much detail – the school lacks standardization. I would not trust my watch in the hands of an unfortunately large number of its graduates. That said, it’s lack of standardization an be made good of if the student is aware of it. A great example in my experience actually involved the hairspring module. I was able to push myself very hard and spent a great deal more time on hairsprings than the course outline mandated. I was able to fly through the pin lever unit, by choice, and spent upwards of 180 hours of my coursework time solely on hairspring work – which has paid dividends since, as I’m sure you know.

    Hope that clarifies things a bit.

  4. Prem
    Posted August 7, 2008 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Hi Jon…LOL..
    I didn’t mean to sound that way either!! Standardization is a very big word, and encompasses within it the entirety of the watch Industry. Very little is known to the watchmaking world outside of Switzerland (production techniques), for it is the inherent ways of the Swiss, to be secretive.

    To a large degree, watchmakers are hermits, and tend to be engrossed in theory and in practice, in their own little worlds. Hence, upgrading yourself, every few years even if graduates from fine universities, is pre-requisite to understanding newer Swiss developments.
    The problem is acute, when confronted by several age groups of watchmakers, teachers, trainers, and the whole institution surrounding the watch industry. So how can standardization really help, when your trainer or management refuses to believe in it? (NIHS- Normes Industrielles Horlogeres Suisses)

    Knowledge, practice, and a thirst for novelties is the key. Knowing more by practice, and a stage comes when you say to yourself, ahh I am learning new things everyday! Which is the challenge of a watchmaker in the 21st century, for it is never enough…..


  5. R. Phillips
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Hello! Further to this discussion, I am very interested in going to the school in Trois Rivieres. I have some basic questions regarding the studies-number one being I’m basically an Anglophone, do I need to learn French to attend the school? Because if so, I will! I don’t have the money to study abroad, and this is something I’ve always wanted to do, I wasn’t even aware we had a school in Canada until recently. Any info you could share on the school regarding things like costs, etc. would be extremely appreciated!


  6. J.Peter
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    R. Phillips,

    I’m glad to hear of your interest in watchmaking. It is a great profession. I hope one of our Canadian authors will chime in here and let you know if you need to learn French or not, as I don’t know. Putting that aside. Watchmaking is great! Best of luck!

  7. Posted October 31, 2008 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi R. Phillips,

    You can get by in the course as an anglophone, but to gain anything truly valuable from the program beyond the first six modules of the basic diploma, you really need to learn French. My French wasn’t stellar going into the program, but I was able to pick it up fairly quickly as Trois-Rivières is a very francophonic city. The professors and other students were also very accommodating and helpful.

    If you are a resident of Québèc, you can expect to pay about $300 per year for your studies. These fees include the basic tools you will need as a watchmaker, a loupe, a school pocket watch, and a copy of WOSTEP’s The Theory of Horology. All of which would cost you about the same amount that you pay for the course, so the training is essentially free.

    If you are Canadian, but not a resident of Québèc, you can expect to pay around $3000 per year for the course. You can also expect to be treated like a foreigner by the school board. I had to apply to have my transcripts processed through the immigration office in order to enroll in the school.

    If you are a foreigner, the price of tuition is steep, weighing in close to $30,000.

    There are no residences at the school, so you will have to make living arrangements on your own.

    I would recommend learning as much French as you can beforehand and, if possible, taking up residency in Québèc before enrolling.

  8. R. Phillips
    Posted October 31, 2008 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks very much for the info. I guess the trouble would be, as always, the student’s cost of living while at school, it’s hellish to try and work and go to school at the same time, but Quebec is fairly cheap to live in, judging by the time I spent in Montreal. If anyone reading this blog feels philanthropic and wishes to donate to my education……..!
    Again, thanks


  9. Posted November 2, 2008 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    My cost of living in Trois-Rivières was the cheapest I’ve paid anywhere I’ve lived in Canada.

  10. Posted June 1, 2009 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Recently I came to this craft after doing research on a related endeavour. Make a long story short, I need to learn the craft. The discipline, focus and imagination are a marvel to me. I have no intention of doing this as a profession. I’m 39 years old and perfectly happy as a writer/entrepreneur.

    Please contact me and share your knowledge. Also, where can I find the book The Theory of Horology in Montreal, my current home.

    I’m grateful for this site and look forward to hearing from all of you.

  11. carlos jimenez
    Posted June 17, 2009 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    could to help me in the following way: I am a man of 50 years, that for a long time I have wanted to be watchmaker, my work is the jewelry, where i can to learn a good one watchmaker and at the same time that had facilities to learn it, by my work I cannot abandon the city to edge florida USA for a long time.. thanks by its informacion.

  12. Posted July 22, 2009 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Hi Peter, The Theory of Horology is available on You may also be interested in joining one of the local NAWCC chapters in Montreal. There is one that meets on Tuesdays, once a month, that is very technically oriented and would definitely be able to get you pointed in the right direction. There is no substitute for hands on practice in this profession, though. The Theory of Horology is a great starting point, but it won’t teach you the profession.

    Carlos, I would recommend taking some of the short courses offered through the AWCI to get started. Each one is only about a week long and will give you a grasp of the fundamentals, with plenty of room to expand your learning down the road with further courses once you’ve built up some experience.

  13. david pollard
    Posted October 28, 2009 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Hi, I have been a watchmaker, or as i like to be called a watch repairer since 1986, i usually just work on pocketwatches from the 1700s to the 1900s, i can work on wristwatches and clocks as well, have not had much experience on quartz watches, i was trained by an old watchmaker in york england, i am from england, have been in canada for 6 years, i now live in newfoundland, i buy old non working pocketwatches, repair them and sell them worldwide, last year i was selling a pocketwatch online with 4 dials, a guy who owns the largest high qaulity watch store in st. peterburgh offered me a job, with serious money, but i could not get a green card in time, but it was good to know i was needed, i love working with watches, i would like to take the course in quebec, my canadian wife and me are seriously thinking of moving there to be residents of quebec, i do not speak french, i am 53 years old, anybody thinking of taking up watchmaking, do it, opening up any pocketwatch from hundreds of years ago is a real thrill, i know the need of pocketwatches is very low, but in the states it is still very high, if it was 80 years ago, i would not think of going to the school in quebec, but i have to move with the times,

    many thanks dave pollard

  14. Posted October 28, 2009 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like you have been quite successful as a watchmaker already, David. I wish you the best of success as you pursue further studies!

  15. david pollard
    Posted October 30, 2009 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Thanks for your kind words, can you tell me when i would be able to enrol in the course, it is to late for this year,
    cheers dave

  16. Posted October 30, 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Hi David,

    As the course is module based, you can start at any time. The school opens each year in August and is closed only in July.

  17. R. Phillips
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Dave Pollard: There are now five of us Anglos at the school, and they are taking pains to see we don’t get lost, and we are doing our best to learn French. It makes the whole thing challenging, and I like that. The course is more expensive than I thought, just under five grand, because I am not a Quebec resident. I’m only on week two, and as Jon pointed out, you can start pretty much anytime, although I think it would be fairly pointless to start in June. It is really cheap to live here, rent, insurance, everything. The town is beautiful and historic, and the people are extremely friendly. Hope to see you at the school.

  18. Greg Robbins
    Posted November 28, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    How can it be a ” National” school if it only offers the course in french?

  19. Posted November 29, 2010 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    It became the ‘National’ school when all of the other horological schools in Canada closed down and conglomerated there. The courses are taught in both French and English, but there is definitely an advantage in being able to speak or understand French.

  20. Terry Easlick
    Posted November 21, 2011 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the article J. Edwards. How often do they have entry? I haven’t been able to find that. Also, How did you go about enrolling? I do not speak french but plan to learn some. I am a permanent resident and currently reside in Ontario.

  21. Posted November 24, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Hi Terry,

    Because the program is module based you can start anytime during the school year. The official school year starts in August.

    You can get in touch with the school staff through

  22. Posted January 15, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Dear sir/madam

    i am zubair khan from pakisan actually
    i want to join watch making course kindky send
    your admission

    Thank you so much
    zubair khan

  23. J.Peter
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m afraid you’ll need to contact the school itself. I have no affiliation with any watchmaking school.

  24. Mohammed Ashraf
    Posted February 14, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I want study in watch making course.I am living in Dubai what the procedure please give the suggestion

  25. Posted February 14, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Check out

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