Five Watch Schools Proposed for ‘Focused’ Support

Five of the 13 North American watchmaker schools have been recommended for “focused” industry support by an education committee of the American Watchmaker Association (AWA). The proposal also recommends that all 13 receive more generic support such as promotional materials and inclusion on a proposed Web site for watchmaker education.

The proposal is part of a set of recommendations by AWA’s advisory committee that were to be considered by the Watchmaker Education Coalition’s steering committee by Christmas or no later than early this year. WEC also will consider how to generate the support needed to implement the recommendations, which originally were presented at AWA’s annual meeting in October.

AWA is spearheading WEC, which comprises watch firms, jewelry retailers, and associations. The group is seeking ways to promote the education of watchmakers and watch technicians and increase the declining numbers in both professions.

Direct support, suggests the committee, would include support for instructor’s salaries and instructor training; benches, tools, and testing equipment; “practice” watches for students; and scholarships.

Rather than offer direct support to all of the existing watchmaker schools in North America (including one in Quebec, Canada), said the advisory committee’s report, WEC should focus on the five schools that now teach—or can teach—the intensive 3,000-hour (two-year) curriculum of the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program (WOSTEP). This program is the universally recognized standard for teaching service and repair of mechanical and quartz (electronic) watches.

The five schools teaching the WOSTEP program are Oklahoma State University, Okmulgee, Okla.; North Seattle Community College, Seattle, Wash.; the American Watch Institute Academy, Harrison, Ohio; St. Paul Technical College, St. Paul, Minn.; and the Trois Rivieres School, Quebec.

Although the committee recommendation doesn’t say so, industry support might be even more specific. The Seattle program and a new school in Lititz, Pa.—which opened in September—are already underwritten by Rolex; the Canadian school isn’t fully WOSTEP-initiated; and at least one of the other programs is currently suspended.

However, the Okmulgee program—part of OSC’s vocational college—is up and running and has seven students and one instructor. (Most of the other programs have similar numbers.) Its advisory board includes representatives of Swatch, Richemont, and Rolex, and the college plans to expand the program to 32 students by 2005.

Most experts believe that a national enrollment of 125 to 150 students annually is needed to meet the watch and retail jewelry industries’ need for more skilled watchmakers. Currently, about 75 are enrolled, although only 42 are at WOSTEP-level schools.

The AWA advisory committee recommended that WEC provide the following support for all North American watch schools, whether WOSTEP-level or not: promotional materials; a promotional video, kits, and contacts for high school guidance counselors; a Web site (currently under development) with information about all watch schools; job fairs; and continued AWA lobbying for favorable reports by the U.S. Commerce department, which in the past has called watchmaking a dying profession.