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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

11 Comments

  1. wnkt
    Posted April 12, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    I was a watchmaking student way back in 1984 and there were only 4 students that graduated. Not that there were a lot of failures, there just weren’t that many in the class.
    The school I attended was actually a technical college, which no longer offers the course because the teacher retired several years after I left.
    I was lucky, I got a job before I left school because a jewelry store owner was looking for a watchmaker and the teacher steered the offer toward me. There was one catch, this job was over 500 miles away from home, I was in South Carolina and the job was in Alabama. So what you were saying that you may have to move to get a job is very true. I was only a year out of high school and on my own away from home and working.
    I ended up staying there for 8 years and it was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything!

  2. J.Peter
    Posted April 12, 2009 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely agree that you need to be willing to move. Wanting to work in the west I feel like I was pretty lucky ending up within a days drive of my ideal location, but you can believe I set up interviews with many jewelers all over the country. Flexibility on everything but quality is key if you want to be successful.

  3. Posted April 13, 2009 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    Gentlemen, Watchmakers need to be more resourceful than ever, and be savvy for various options. Before I set foot into Canada, or the U.S. I did my homework, I even had a job offer in the U.S. whilst at work in the U.K. I found this particular listing very resourceful as in the quality of the watchmaker jobs keep appearing interestingly- obviously they are getting filled…lol!
    http://www.indeed.com/jobs?q=%22Watchmaker%22
    Anyway, back to the economics. I personally think that with so many problems associated with the training and education of watchmakers, little wonder that what is out there is less of qualified. It is a very well researched and documented fact! Swiss houses in economic downturn moments literally export even their repairs back to base ie: Switzerland. I know of several companies in the U.S. sending back repairs of any and every model, quartz even, and mechanical watches back to their respective factories- why you might ask? Logistically it is better for them to send back to the company in Switzerland rather than face the possibility of sub-standard work, or of equally distressing the fact that watchmakers simply do not want to move around! Ok, granted that if you are somewhat past the prime of your life, it is indeed difficult to accept such changes like locations or typically job profile changes- they do cause a lot of stress. I would like more flexibility, in say a watchmaker that has been working from home to move to an office type atmosphere, and vice versa, yet that doesn’t always happen! When you come to a certain age, it just isn’t worth it..and that attitude, will eventually dictate the future trends to come. Given the fact that there are more watchmakers in their early 60′s than ever. In my very honest opinion, there are millions of watches, automatic or mechanical, in North America alone, and there are too few watchmakers to do them. Postal services are great, and so is the possibility of cheap and safe communications like e-mail, telephones, fax etc. Organising heavy duty repair centres will be the next turnkey element in SAV technologies, only will the Swiss watch companies comply with spare parts policies being governed mafia style? That dear fellow watchmakers is the million dollar question! Cheers and Happy Easter Jp and Jon!
    Prem

  4. Posted April 13, 2009 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I am glad to hear that you wouldn’t trade your experience in Alabama, Wnkt. I have heard similar recollections from a number of watchmakers. I too, was fortunate to have several jobs steered towards me by my professors before I graduated – the furthest away being all the way over in England! I thoughtfully considered each and every one and ultimately, like J.Peter, ended up within a day’s drive of my ideal location.

    I agree with you 100%, J.Peter, that flexibility on everything but quality is the key to being successful.

    It is going to be very interesting to see where the future of SAV is headed, Prem. There is unquestionably a need for more qualified watchmakers in North America. I believe that another point of concern, too, is educating the public to recognize quality (or at least correct) workmanship and to demand professional service.

  5. Philip
    Posted April 13, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the detailed response to my inquiry. The advice is very helpful. As I indicated may have before, I have applied to LWT and I’m still very excited about the prospect of studying/practicing watchmaking.
    I realize that finding my ideal job in my ideal location may be difficult but that can apply to any profession. If I’m lucky enough to study at Lititz and receive the education I need to be successful, I’ve decided to let the chips fall where they may. Finding the profession that you love is the key and the rest (for the most part) is just details.
    It’s encouraging to hear that the economic downturn hasn’t had a tremendous effect on your business. Continued success to you and thank you again for the always informative posts.

  6. Posted April 16, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Hi Philip,

    You’re welcome. Finding a job that you love truly is key, and I can’t say it any better than a passage I recently read in Ecclesiates. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.

    Best of success as you prepare to head to Lititz for your entrance exams!

  7. Logginz
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    This is a great site everyone seems to be very helpful and informative. I am 24 and have recently became an unemployed carpenter. My grandfather was a watchmaker, and it is something that i have loved for many years. At one point it was a dream, but now im wondering if i should use this time, and some up the funding availiable, to go to watchmaking school. Im just looking for some comments. thanks

  8. toran szewczyk
    Posted June 1, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Any update to the current state of watchmaking as a career? I’m going in to interview at LWT on Friday but I still question how the economy has effected the luxury market and the viability of watchmaking as a stable career.

  9. Posted June 2, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Pursuing just about any skilled trade today will land you a stable career, especially in North America. The US is still in short supply of talented watchmakers and watch technicians. East of the Atlantic, the latest reports from Switzerland, just this past month, are that Swatch Group and Richemont are vying to fill some 2500 skilled jobs in the watchmaking sector over the next year or so and qualified workers are in short supply.

  10. toran szewczyk
    Posted June 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the info. Just got accepted into LWT today!

  11. Posted December 2, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    As Bulova school graduate of watchmaking in 75.I was glad I took the watchmaking class and not just the repair class,as making parts and reconditioning parts seems to pay better than just repairing watches where people will only pay so much as there is time keeping on every cell phone.But the people who need parts made, usually have a rare or expensive watch and I find cost is not so much a factor.

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