AWA promotes watchmaker education with new Web site

The Internet has been recruited by the American Watch Association (AWA) to combat a serious problem in the U.S. watch and jewelry trades—the sharp decline in trained watchmakers.

The AWA has created a website to promote watchmaker education in North America and to link prospective students to schools that provide such training.

There are estimated to be 5,000 to 6,000 trained U.S. watchmakers, half of which are expected to retire in the next 10 to 20 years. Yet, North America’s 11 watch training schools only graduate about 80 people annually, little more half their enrollment capacity. Watch industry experts say four to six times that many graduates are needed yearly for the foreseeable future to replace watchmakers who retire or die, and to meet demand to service the rising volume of fine watches bought by U.S. consumers.

That’s why AWA—the lobbying group for America’s watch brands—is promoting watchmaking training, says Emilio Collado, AWA’s executive director. “It’s essential that our member companies and their authorized retailers have access to the highest possible level of trained watchmakers and repairers, to provide quality maintenance and service,” he told JCK. “But with the loss of 50% or more of existing watchmakers in the next several years, we’ll need a much greater-than-average infusion of new watchmakers, and therefore greater enrollment of qualified students.

“So, we’re trying with this new website—coupled with our individual member companies’ efforts to provide funding, technical expertise and equipment to watchmaker schools—to play a part in meeting this demand.”

The “Watchmaker Education in North America” website has several sections. They include a mini-course on watch and watchmaking basics (written by respected watch industry journalist Norma Buchanan); a detailed overview of the serious shortage of qualified watchmakers; information on watchmaker certification and on the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program (WOSTEP) curriculum, the international standard for watchmaker training, and a list of watch schools in the United States and Canada, including geographic location, address and links to their Web pages, designed says Collado to “help students and high school guidance counselors locate qualified schools that offer a curriculum to become good quality watchmakers.”

The site, created and paid for by AWA, has been up since September and with almost no publicity, is already getting about 100 ‘hits’ per month.

AWA is doing several things to make both the industry and potential watchmaking students aware of the site. The major online search engines, Google and Overture, have been paid to put it the at the top of the response list for people seeking online information on “watchmakers” or “watchmaking.” AWA has asked its 65 member companies as well as the American Watch Institute (AWI) to link their websites with it. And AWA has asked Jewelers of America to put information about its watchmaker education website in JA’s new outreach program to attract young people careers in the jewelry industry, and to provide a link to it on the JA Web site.

While AWA itself isn’t involved with watchmaker training or any watch schools, some of its 65 member watch companies are. Rolex, for example, recently opened its own watchmaking school in Lititz, Pa., and two years ago gave a multi-year $1 million grant to North Seattle College’s watchmaking program. This year, Audemars Piguet, Breitling, and the Richemont Group (whose brands include a number of prestigious watches) gave a $500,000 five-year grant to the watchmaking program of Oklahoma State University-Okmulgee. Some schools also have various watch brands represented on their advisory boards.