Watch School Aid Considered by Coalition for Watchmaker Education

An advisory committee for the watch and jewelry industries’ Coalition for Watchmaker Education (CWE) has prepared recommendations on the type of industry support needed by the nation’s watchmaker training programs. The report was to be presented to officials of the CWE in September and the American Watch Association (AWA) this month.

The CWE was formed to deal with the shortage of U.S. watchmakers. (See “Where Have All the Watchmakers Gone?” JCK, October 2000, p. 156.) Only a few thousand remain, and many are near retirement. Unofficial CWE data indicate that 150 to 200 new watchmakers are needed annually to stem the decline. But the nation’s 12 watch training schools and programs (down from 44 just a generation ago) graduate less than half that number, making it difficult for jewelers, repair shops, and watch suppliers to find qualified watchmakers. (Note: A new school that opened in September brings the number to 13. See following story.)

The CWE advisory committee, formed July 16, includes officials and technicians from Rolex Watch USA; the watch conglomerates of The Swatch Group, the Richemont Group (which includes Cartier), and LVMH (North America); the American Watch Institute (AWI), the world’s largest professional horological organization; and—representing the schools—the head of the watch training program at Oklahoma State University, Okmulgee, Okla.

According to AWA executive director Emilio Collado, the committee reviewed the schools’ programs and made “recommendations on how each could benefit from industry support, be that financial aid, equipment like workbenches, faculty assistance, industry people to monitor testing, scholarships, advertising help, or whatever else. [The schools] know what they each need, but no one has yet put that together into a final plan.”

The support won’t be the same for each, notes Collado: “We must ensure money is well spent, identify those schools with the best potential, and develop public relations and advertising packages that any one of them can use.”

The end-goal, says Collado, is to “get more people interested in watchmaking as a career and more students enrolled [in U.S. watch training programs].”

CWE was created in November 2000 at Piaget’s New York City office during a meeting organized by Collado to address the urgent need for more U.S. watchmakers. Since then, it has gathered data about U.S. watchmakers, studied the idea of industrywide certification for watchmakers, and looked at ways to attract young people to watchmaking using public relations or advertising.

Another CWE project is on hold indefinitely. The two-year course of the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program (WOSTEP) in Neuchatel, Switzerland—the training center of the Swiss watch industry—is the universal standard for training watchmakers. It provides course materials to partner schools around the globe, including some in the United States.

CWE suggested early this year that WOSTEP modify that 3,000-hour course into two programs—basic and advanced—for U.S. students. Peter Latch, then-president of WOSIC and chairman of CWE’s education committee, championed that plan. He presented it to WOSTEP’s board in Switzerland in February and said afterward that they had agreed to “work with us in doing this.” Information from an April meeting between officials of U.S. watchmaking schools and CWE was sent to WOSTEP to use in “creating a program that conforms to the U.S. market,” Latch said at the time.

In late June, however, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry permanently closed WOSIC, and Latch is no longer involved with the Coalition. Though the Federation said it would “work more closely” with AWA, its involvement with CWE projects was uncertain at press time. There has been no comment or follow-up by WOSTEP on the proposal to modify its program for the U.S. market.