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Watchmaking and the State of the Current Economy

by J.Edwards

J.Peter has already done a comprehensive job of answering a common question we get here on Tick Talk, regarding how to become a watchmaker, in his post before Valentine’s Day aptly titled So you want to be a watchmaker. In a comment written by one of our readers,  just prior to that post, Philip also asked how the current state of the economy is affecting our trade.

Now, I’m no economist, so I certainly can’t speak for the industry on a macro scale, but I will offer some insight on a micro scale, and I have gathered together a few articles that I believe address the issue on a larger scale, which I will include at the end of this blog post.

How I feel about the current state of the economy and its effect on watchmaking and repair changes almost daily, but the actual work that is coming in every day still remains steady. The volume of work may not be at record setting highs, but there is still plenty of work to go around and there is no worry (yet) about our jobs being in jeopardy. I should note however, that the two most recent issues of the Horological Times, mark the first I’ve noticed in a while where there are no job postings for watchmakers in the classified section. While the job market is not as hot for watchmakers as it was four or five years ago, there is still work to be had and I believe that there will continue to be a need for new watchmakers in the years ahead. Fresh graduates from North America’s watchmaking schools may not be able to get the kind of jobs they dreamed of having and are very likely going to have to be willing to relocate to find quality work, but the work is definitely out there. Start small, gain experience, and focus on building your skill-set in whatever position you may find yourself in starting out.

swatchstock1Unquestionably, sales of new watches are down, but what concerns those of us who make our living repairing watches is not how many are currently being sold, but rather how many watches presently need fixing. For us, the sales figures from three to five years ago for mechanical watches offer a much better indication of what we can expect to see in the coming year, as these watches will soon be due for service. The great news is, the number of mechanical watches sold in this timeframe were seeing double digit growth year after year. Of course, this means that we may see a slump in repairs three to five years from now, however, we also have to keep in mind the number of watches previously serviced – and not just sold – that will also be coming in for cleaning and fresh lubrication to keep them running strong for another half decade.

As already alluded to, presently, where I work, we still have a steady influx of repairs coming in daily. The number of watches coming in through jewelry stores has dipped slightly from last year, but the number of walk-in clients has remained roughly the same. The number of clients who decide not to have their watches serviced by us after bringing their timepiece in for an estimate is, however, up slightly. I would judge that it is for this same reason that we have seen the number of watches coming in for repair from jewelry stores dip slightly. Many jewelry stores outsource their watch repairs to a mix of professional service centers as well as individuals who take on trade-work, repairing watches from home. Although not always the case, often a watchmaker (or someone calling themselves a watchmaker) who works from home, is not properly equipped to provide the best quality service and charges significantly less than a professionally certified watchmaker to compensate for this difference. In the most unfortunate cases, these “watchmakers” are simply out to make a quick buck and will do the bare minimum to simply get the watch ticking again. Some jewelry stores will automatically revert to offering the less expensive service during leaner times, others will offer their clients the option of which type of service to use, while the finest jewelry stores will continue to employ the services of only the highest quality watchmakers. The latter will see a small increase in the number of clients who decline their services during lean times.

The good news is, that it is generally far less expensive to repair a watch than it is to replace a watch of the same quality with a new one, so there is yet another point in favor of watch repairers.

The wisest customers also know that it costs less to have their watch serviced professionally once, than it does to have their watch serviced repeatedly at a lower price. It may cost more in the short term to have a watch serviced professionally than it would to have the work done by an inadequately trained watchmaker, but it is a far more prudent long-term investment. Unfortunately, when the work is not done correctly, the client will ultimately end up paying significantly more than the initial service price, either for repeatedly shoddy service or to have a professional remedy the damage incurred by poor service. One out of every six or seven watches that cross my bench, come in as a result of having been incorrectly serviced by a previous “watchmaker”.

With all of the above in mind, yes, the current state of the economy has affected our numbers slightly, but I would be hard pressed to say that it has adversely affected our bottom line yet. The past few months mark the first time in years that we haven’t needed to work longer than normal hours, or extra days, simply to keep up with the demand for our services.  So we may be getting slightly less work, but for once, the company isn’t paying out time-and-a-half for overtime and the watchmakers are getting some much needed rest. If anything, I would have to say that the current dip has been a good thing. How long it may keep up is hard to say. There is still room to sink before we hit rock bottom. My hope, is that things simply keep steady – and to date, they have.

For insight on a more global scale, check out these news stories from around the web:

Swiss Economy Enters First Recession in Six Years – Bloomberg

Haute Horlogerie in these times of crisis – Europastar

Rolex chief foresees tough times for Swiss watch makers – ChannelNews Asia

Richemont Prepares Contingency Job Cut Plan – Bloomberg

Swiss watchmaker Chopard cuts jobs – Forbes

You Never Stop Paying for a Luxury Watch – Bloomberg

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