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What to Expect as a Watchmaker

by Jordan Ficklin

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While in watchmaking school we worked on a handful of “common” calibers. Our main repertoire included:

  • Unitas 6497
  • Rolex 1570
  • ETA 2824
  • ETA 2892
  • Valjoux 7750
  • ETA 955.xxx
  • ETA 926.xxx
  • Lemania 1873

We also got limited exposure to some other modern movements and were responsible for providing other watches in an effort to increase our exposure to different calibers while we had constant supervision.

I found this method of instruction extremely beneficial. The skills I developed while working on these few calibers are transferable to the majority of watches on the market today. In fact most of what is sold today has one of the above listed movements in it.

When I left watchmaking school I was under the impression that it was these movements that I would see more than anything. Funny thing is I see very few of the above.

Today I worked on a 7750, but it has probably been a year since I last worked on one. I just don’t see them. The balance in my shop seems to be different.

Here is an idea of my last 30 repairs (excluding the little stuff like band repairs, power cells, etc. as pulled from my repair database:

  • Rolex Datejust Service
  • Full Service Lds Movado
  • Full Service Ladies Bulova
  • Full Service Elgin Wristwatch
  • Full Service Baume & Mercier Quartz
  • Full Service Lds Rolex Datejust
  • Full Service Vintage Rolex
  • Replace Xtal & PC Ladies Movado
  • Replace Qtz Movt Eterna
  • Full Service Rolex 69178 Gold Datejust
  • Full Service Rolex Submariner
  • Replace Qtz Movement Skagen
  • Service Auto & H2O
  • Full Service Breguet Pocket Watch
  • Rolex Regulation
  • Full Service Eljin 0size Pocket Watch
  • Full Service Ladies Rolex Datejust
  • Full Service Movado
  • Full Service Croton Lds w/ xtal, crown & parts
  • Full Service Brixon watch
  • Full Service Quartz
  • Full Service Rolex op
  • Full Service ladies Rolex datejust
  • Full Service Rolex Submariner
  • Full Service Hampden 3/0 size pw
  • Full Service Rolex Ladies datejust
  • Dial Repair & H2O w/ crown & tube
  • Full Service Rolex Oyster Perpetual
  • Full Service Rolex Datejust

Of the above repairs 10 were Rolex services, 5 were quartz and the remaining 15 were vintage mechanical wrist and pocket watches. Excluding Rolex none of these watches contained the calibers in the list from my schooling. Where do people get their modern watches serviced? Not at my shop. How different it could be, somebody somewhere in town must be running a shop where they primarily service the modern stuff. I think I would like some of that work.

11 Comments

  1. Philip
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Any high complications (repeaters, tourbillons, perp. calendars) ever come across your bench? Do customers normally just send these high end watches to Switzerland for service?
    By the way, I’m heading to LWT next Friday for my testing and interviews. I know everybody asks, but is the math anything to scoff at? I’m assuming I just need to brush up on ratios and basic geometry.

  2. J.Peter
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I think the general trend is for people to return to where they purchased a watch for service. We don’t sell any brands with complications. In general I would most likely not be able to get parts for any modern watch with complications because of the restrictive parts policies of these companies. I did see a vintage 5 minute repeater pocket watch but unfortunately the customer declined to have the work done when they received my estimate. I would love to see some of this stuff but in the environment I work, it just doesn’t come across my bench.

    I hope to be able to attend WOSTEP’s complications course at some time at which point I could begin advertising this service and perhaps attract some of the work, but even if I worked for a company like JLC or Patek or VC that produces these watches it would probably take 15 or 20 years to work up to a position where I could service these watches. There are some very skilled watchmakers at PP that have been there for 5 years or more that still only service quartz and basic mechanicals.

    If there are other watchmakers who have a much different workload than myself, I would love to hear what kind of stuff you work on.

  3. wnkt
    Posted April 16, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I believe that people just throw watches away (or in a drawer)when they dont work any more and get a new one. Except for the expensive ones then they think they have to go back to the factory to get fixed.
    I actually worked on Timex watches back a couple years after I first started. I got to go to the factory in Little Rock Arkansas and went through a class for several days. All it was was swapping out the movements for a new one.
    This was back in 1984-85 or so.
    I never got to get my hands on a Rolex.
    I was mostly mid to lower end cleaning of watches, Seiko, Bulova’s and the like.

    I did a LOT of battery changes ( about 100 a week) and watchband work.

  4. Mike
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Philip,

    The math is nothing really. I was there last year and it was all good.

    You are going to have a life changing experience at LWT and the folks are just top notch all the way around.

    You won’t be the same even if you don’t make the cut. Good luck and the most important thing is to make sure that you take everything in.

    I remember every second when I was there with perfect detail. It changed my life for the better, even though I did not make it.

  5. J.Peter
    Posted April 17, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, I didn’t address the interview question before. Math is simple algebra with ratios.

  6. Philip
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Thanks fellas. Really excited about seeing the facility. I appreciate the encouragement.

  7. Posted April 18, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Did you document your repair of the Breguet pocket watch with any pictures? I have only ever had the pleasure of working on a single Breguet, to date, and it was just a simple chronograph, from the Brown family era, running on a vintage Valjoux calibre. I’m sure that pocket watch must have been a beauty.

  8. Lee
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    With the introduction of the Parachrom Blue hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers, will independent watchmakers be able to obtain these spare parts to service future Rolex calibers?

    This should be a consideration for persons contemplating purchasing a Rolex today. Should the person buy a present day stainless steel Sub date, with its KIF and Nivarox, parts which presumably in 10 years time are easily obtainable and still available to independent watchmakers; or should the person purchase the new Day Date II with the improved technology of the Paraflex and Parachrom Blue, and where future servicing would be have to be done almost exclusively by Rolex.

    Please enlighten me. Thanks!

  9. J.Peter
    Posted April 18, 2009 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    In my opinion Rolex is among the most accommodating brands when it comes to spare parts. If you have the skills and a quality workshop you can get Rolex parts. I have it on good authority that this will continue to be the case for many years ahead. I wouldn’t be too worried about the ability to get your Rolex serviced but it is a very good question to ask. Everyone should ask when they purchase their watch what the spare parts and service policies are on the watch they are considering buying.

  10. Mirko
    Posted May 3, 2009 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    What math skills and formulas do you need to know and use as a wathcmaker?
    Can I get some examples?

  11. J.Peter
    Posted May 7, 2009 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Mirko, look for a post this afternoon on exactly that topic.

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