Watchmaking school opens at new Rolex site in Pennsylvania

The first new U.S. watchmaking school in several years opens this month in Lititz, Pa., 60 miles west of Philadelphia. The "Lititz Watch Technicum" (based on a European word for technical school) covers 10,000 square feet on the first floor of a new 40,000 square-foot Rolex Watch USA service and training center. The state-of-the-art-Rolex service facilities on the second floor, also opening this month, will employ 150 local people.

Though the non-profit school is entirely subsidized by Rolex, "This is an independent school to train watchmakers to service any watches, not a Rolex school," said Jean-Claude Vollenweider, Rolex Watch USA executive vice president for administration. The building has separate facilities for training Rolex’s own watchmakers or those of its clients.

The intent, says Vollenweider, is to "create a model school, with top-notch instructors, state-of-the-art equipment and the best environment for students, and produce graduates whose expertise is second to none."

The school’s three-person instructional staff will use the highly regarded two-year curriculum of the Watchmakers of Switzerland Train and Education Program (WOSTEP).

Earlier this year, the Technicum began advertising for students within a 50-mile radius of the school, using direct mail, radio and TV ads, and brochures. "We were overwhelmed by the unexpectedly high response," says Vollenweider. Potential enrollees were interviewed, tested, and narrowed to 12 per class. (Beginning in 2002, when the second class enrolls, the school will have 24 students annually.) The first semester began after Labor Day. The first students are local residents who commute to and from the school. There is no dormitory. However, anyone with housing and transportation may apply.

Rolex officials first suggested a new industry-supported school for watchmakers after the demise of The Bulova School in New York a few years ago. Lagging industry support and the sharp decrease in U.S. watchmakers in the past 15 years led Rolex to go ahead itself with the project.

Lititz was a logical site for the school because of the area’s watchmaking traditions. Hamilton, one of America’s best-known brands, was started-and for decades headquartered-in nearby Lancaster. Rolex has long had a service center in the area. The Swatch Group and Bulova have facilities in Lancaster County.

The school continues Rolex’s support of horological instruction. Walter Fischer, president of Rolex Watch USA, has said it is "imperative [to] protect the future of this time-honored craft by ensuring the quality education of the watchmakers of tomorrow." Rolex is part of the U.S. watch and jewelry industries’ Watchmaker Education Coalition, as well as a member of advisory committees for watch training programs at Oklahoma State University; the Texas Institute of Jewelry Technology in Paris, Texas; and Kilcore College, Kilgore, Texas. Last year, Rolex donated $1 million to North Seattle Community College, in Seattle, Wash., to continue its watch-training program through 2005, increase enrollment, and hire two more instructors. NSCC was the first U.S. school to use the WOSTEP program.

For more information, contact the Lititz Watch Technicum admissions office at 1 Winfield Drive, Lititz, PA 17543, (717) 625-3787; or contact Rolex Watch USA at (212) 758-7700 or www.rolex.com.