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Fewer watchmakers in the world

by Jordan Ficklin

St. Paul Technical College has announced the end of their watchmaking program: Why time has run out for Saint Paul College’s Watchmaking Program

Apparently details are murky but it seems to me it is a simple matter of economics. Rolex has pulled their funding in support of other schools. Those who wish to fault Rolex for this matter should ask themselves how much funding Swatch or Richemont have given watchmaking education in the U.S. outside of their own schools? Richemont for one, hires most of their graduates so, in my opinion, their school is more of an in-house training than altruistic support of the watchmaking profession.

There is an interesting critique in the comments from an apparently disgruntled ex-Rolex employee. It is an interesting read and can be found here: The Emperors New Watch. There is no doubt that Rolex has “Their way of doing things” and if you don’t conform you are in the wrong. Their way seems to work for them. Could they do more good? Yes. Are they doing more than their major competitors? Yes.

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  1. J. Colt
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting about this.

  2. William Thompson
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Sadly, we will see more and more of this. As long as a vast majority of people in the world are satisfied with a battery powered watch, Mechanical watches are on the way out…

  3. J.Peter
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t say that mechanical watches are on the way out. Sales of luxury mechanical watches is on the rise again. Watchmakers are on the way out. Many more are retiring than are being trained but there is still incredible demand for their services. The major brands are filling this void with technicians trained to perform very specific tasks.

  4. k. warner
    Posted December 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    As a grad of the nawcc school of horology I to agree the mechanical watch is on the rise. I see many new watches come through the service center. We do a lot of vintage work, but there is quite a bit of work in the new Mechanical. It is a shame to see the school close down.

  5. Posted December 29, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Jp thanks for posting this article. I have been warning people of times to come from away’s back. Now we are in those times, when the companies need to promote the Swiss watchmaking culture by way of schooling, and active participation in that training. Sadly, and very sadly mind, all of the employees and management of the higher end ubiquitous Swiss watch company-see only the ‘money’ side of things. Wherever you see apathy towards the SAV-or aftersales service culture, there is a ruination of the market a few years on, people are not stupid, they will not buy your products [Now in the hideous price range] where only ‘YOU’ are the sole service possibility, and where only ‘YOU’ authorize the personally hand picked watchmaking talent. Ahaa.
    Without digressing too much, I am saddened by this deep loss of institution.
    I work only on mechanical watches, this for a reason, that this is the life I prefer. The knowledge attributed to understanding, not servicing or repairing, just understanding the very basics needs a perfunctory Swiss style mechanical schooling, it needs to be regimental to the point where the student needs to be immersed in their mechanical environment. It takes years and years to be perfect, yes you can reach there, but a grand master watchmaker always has to show you those basics. So, to see a grand old school going down without a fight- for me there is more than meets the eye. It is apathy, and it will invade our societies faster than we think it possible.

  6. Babs
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    No, they were not doing more than their competitors. Of the schools they backed, they were treating the remainder of publicly funded institutions teaching watchmaking like their personal in-house training facilities. Neither was their SAWTA program as organized and developed as they promoted it to be. Furthermore, there were plenty of signs this was going to happen, if you were paying attention. The students of these programs had plenty to say in blogs and postings that were very honest, and if you paid attention to media material not solely devoted to their press releases, their was more evidence. I love Rolex watches, but it was best that they got out of the American education system before they experienced any more losses, because they were mismanaging it and didn’t have a workable approach. If it’s any consolation, the demand for placement in several traditional schools of watchmaking (as opposed to the franchises) is larger than can be accomodated. I’m not saying the watchmaking industry doesn’t still have concerns, but there’s a difference between the hype and the truth. Rolex was screwing up. They probably pulled out due to complaints as much as economic ones.

  7. Babs
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Just to be clear…revisit JCK’s article, from 2000, titled “Where have all the watchmakers gone?” You won’t read anything there you don’t already know, but it’s a good lead in to the next article, “European Commission Investigating Watchmakers”, dated August 5, 2011. I don’t think the author of “The Emperors New Watch” is ridiculous at all. The money from Rolex may be attractive, but they are far from being altruists. I can understand having a profit motiove, and wanting a return on their investment, but what’s going on behind the scenes really does matter. They’ve undermined their own efforts, and it reflects a lack of understanding of how to function in America, on their part, if they were to succeed.

  8. Babs
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Oh, and by the way…Swatch’s Nicolas Hayek school is experiencing the type of rapid student growth, expansion and interest Rolex can only dream about right now.

  9. Posted December 31, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    It is time watchmakers and consumers face the reality of the Swiss watch industry new policies, policies adopted by now by over sixty companies. The restrictions of parts to the consumers and or the consumer’s watchmakers simply place the consumers at the mercy of these companies.

    The latest from the Swatch group: The technical ability of watchmakers to keep their parts accounts open is now imposed by Omega in a course of how to oil what was designed to work without oil!!!! I must add that Omega is working very hard to have that system (co-axial) to work as invented and designed, without oil.
    In the mean time the Swatch group closed the parts account of thousand of watchmakers, regardless of their schooling or education.
    So what is the value of attending the finest watchmaking school when a bureaucrat can impose such absurdity upon the most qualified watchmakers?
    Then Richemont/Cartier group, they still finance some schools which include WOSTEP, but when graduated from that entity, parts from Richemont/Cartier will not be available to the watchmakers and or his client.
    Is there a future in the watchmaking trade, maybe?
    These companies are under investigations for law violations such as: anti-trust, anti-competitive monopoly, price fixing, fraud, deceit and allocation of customers among others violations.
    The consumers and the independent watchmakers are paying a heavy price by these Swiss companies policies, we can only hope an end to this will come sooner than later.

  10. J.Peter
    Posted December 31, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    Rolex Geneva also supports WOSTEP, but in the US there are no longer any WOSTEP schools except the one at Richemont which only takes 6 students a year and the one at Swatch which, last I checked also only takes 6 students a year. Rolex however fully funds their own school which accepts 15 students a year and contributes significantly to North Seattle (accepting 12 students a year) and OSU (accepting 15 students a year). I don’t believe any schools in the US outside of the ones owned by Swatch and Richemont are receiving any funding from either of those companies.

    The consumers should be aware, as you mention, that their ability to choose who services their watch is dwindling because there are fewer and fewer watchmakers and the brands are garnering tighter and tighter controls.

  11. Posted December 31, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    Bonjour Andre! Hello Jp, Hello Babs.
    I quite agree with Babs, this is the kind of scenario in Canada too where I live and work. Same complete and utter disregard of the society of independent watchmakers, and of the public too btw. Some of these so called ‘higher end’ watchmaking companies are indeed treating their opposition as minor fiefdoms, excepting the fact that the loser is the hapless and poor soul who bought their lovely Swiss made watch and wants it serviced as equally ambitiously correctly. Why I can recount hundreds of such ‘losers’ in our state of Beautiful British Columbia alone.
    I laud the effort of the ‘Emperors new watch’ writer. Thank you sir! I have witnessed equally distressing stories from many a watch company, albeit not confined to that one with the crown. There is now more apathy towards the SAV issue, and it is thanks to the complete and sheer disregard of someone’s property. I keenly remember the article as it is aptly titled ”Do you really own your swiss watch” Do you really understand what goes on behind those closed doors? What it makes to have that Swiss watch tick? I seriously doubt it, that hapless public is shunned and right royally booted out the door when there is an issue concerning their proper watches. Spare parts policy needs to be adhered, re-aligned, re-negotiated, and now thanks to the demise of the Swatch groups’ principles too, thousands of accounts worldwide will also face that doom. Whatever for? Because now, the Swatch group is preparing for the BIG battle between the Emperor and the REAL head of the watch industry (or so they think), it is those calibres Sir, the 8500 and the way it has transformed the attitudes of those watchmakers producing them, the transformation came about. Suddenly someone in upper management realised, oh and now we have what it takes to bully the rest of the world. Well it is time all this stopped, time that the fools in control of utopian fantasies come to earth, and it will only happen if collective strength in our Independents is seen, heard, and felt- right across the Industry.

  12. Mike B. CW21
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    Without going into a tirade, I agree with some points but disagree with others. I have two real issues, 1) What’s the point of becoming a Certified watchmaker when the companies that sell us the spare parts don’t even let the consumer know that we have a spare parts account? I mean, the guy 3 streets down advertises “Authorized/Trained” of a certain brand repair but I know for a fact he does not have a spare parts account. How is the consumer supposed to know the difference if we can not use such terminology but he can because he has nothing to lose? 2) Why do such large groups like Richemont, Breitling, and Patek support WOSTEP (of which I am a graduate) but still not sell parts to WOSTEP graduates? You know, say what you want about Rolex and Swatch Group, but at least they define “qualified watchmaker” and sell parts to such individuals… if only their web sites had a list of watchmakers with spare parts accounts.

  13. Ronnie Safreed
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I was an active watch collector from the late eighties through 2003. I had thought about going to a tech school. Reading about what happened in St Paul Minn is not encourageing to me. I read that in early twentieth century England that young boys being apprentices for the hand-made clock&watch industry at that time were treated cruelly&like slaves. The Journeyman watch&clock makers knew that the making of time-pieces by hand was rapidly dying out,they saw the writing on the wall, but they did not tell the youth sent to them. Many youth in them closing years were given little knowledge&wasted their time&young years for nothing. The same thing happened to me back in the seventies when after high-school I tried to get experience as a wood-worker, after seven years I was still only semi-skilled scratching my head wondering why. I was in business with my baby brother with a garbage&recycleing business, after ten years we had to merge with another company&things changed&we both left. The enviroment for us to thrive&grow just was not there. Everything was hostile to growth in one way or another. I would like to do some watch repairing in my elder years as a combination hobby&part-time side-work. However will there be any schools still teaching the trade? In my neck of the woods there was a watch repair course taught at one time at a public funded trade school but has long gone. It was the Lindsay-Hopkins trade&vocational school here in south Fl.

  14. J.Peter
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Ronnie, Working out in the real world is way different than working for one of the big 3 in their service centers but it can still be difficult to find the ideal situation. I am blessed to have a really great situation in which to work. They do exist, but they are hard to find.

  15. klevay
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Ronnie, there’s Nicholas Hayek School of Watchmaking in Miami, FL. It provides the WOSTEP two-year training program and currently recruiting for 2013/2014 class.

  16. R Phillips
    Posted August 9, 2013 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    It is a shame to see a school close. I managed to buy some of their equipment at the auction. Watchmaking is the epitome of the Chicken Little complex. Every time something changes, the world is ending. All the old timers tell me this, and I was told in 1980 there would be no more mechanical watches. We in North America are experiencing this because of our ‘throw away’ society. Time to get back to manufacturing, time to get back to quality. I’m certainly sick of cheap junk, aren’t you? I graduated from school in 2011. I have my own store now, after trying out the repair centre jobs. I have people tell me every day they are glad I am there, and I fix their heirlooms and their modern watches too. I am swamped.

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