CWE will hear plans to reverse the decrease in U.S. watchmakers

Proposals to attract more American youth to watchmaking through improved training programs will be presented at the meeting of the ”Coalition for Watchmaker Education” (CWE) Wednesday, Feb. 22, in New York City.

The meeting, scheduled for the offices of Piaget USA, also will hear the initial results of a survey sent to thousands of U.S. jewelers, watchmakers, and major watch firms to gather hard facts on U.S. watchmakers. The survey will gather information on a number of items, including the total number, education, salaries, and experience of watchmakers. The CWE will use the data for government lobbying and designing its efforts.

The CWE was formed last November during a meeting of leaders of the U.S. watch and jewelry industries. It was organized by Toby Collado, the American Watch Association’s (AWA) executive director, to address the alarming shortage of qualified U.S. watchmakers and technicians, after a story about the issue appeared in JCK. (See ‘Where Have All the Watchmakers Gone,’ JCK, October 2000). There are only a few thousand watchmakers left, many near retirement. Experts say at least 450 new ones are needed annually, but few are graduated from the 11 full-time U.S watchmaking schools.

Goals. CWE’s goals include collecting definitive data on U.S. watchmakers, developing professional education requirements, and devising ways to attract qualified students. The organization comprises the AWA, whose members include the most important U.S. suppliers; the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWI), the world’s largest horological organization; the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FSWI), representing that industry in America; Jewelers of America (JA), the largest association of U.S. jewelers; and leading watch brands, such as Rolex, Piaget, and the Swatch Group.

A specific proposal on how U.S. watchmaker training can be made more attractive to potential students will be offered by CWE’s education committee, chaired by Peter Laetsch, president of the FSWI (US). While details won’t be released before the Feb. 22 meeting, Laetsch said the recommendation is based on a review of the 11 watch schools’ training programs by CWE’s education committee, composed of FSWI, AWI, and JA experts. ”Not every school is at the same level,” he said, ”and what we will propose will provide a base” for all schools and students to start with.

Standards & surveys. Later this year, the education committee will propose industrywide certification standards for watchmakers, technicians and repairers, says James Lubic, AWI executive director. Those will be based on AWI’s own standards and recommendations to the CWE’s certification committee by an advisory board of ”technical persons of the big [watch] brands,” he says.

Ways to inform high school counselors and students about careers in watchmaking also are being developed by CWE’s public relations committee, chaired by Dennis Phillips, president of Ebel USA.

Meanwhile, several hundred of the more than 18,000 surveys sent in January to AWI’s 5,500 members, JA’s 13,000 members, and AWA’s 30+ supplier-members were returned by mid-February. (There was some overlap of jewelers who are members of JA and AWI.) While data are still being compiled and studied, results of AWA’s own survey of major suppliers confirms fears. It found most of the 230 U.S. watchmakers and technicians employed by major watch firms are between 45 and 50 years old. They average 25 years’ experience and earn good pay. The starting salary is around $37,000. The average pay is about $55,000 a year, with senior professionals making as much as $125,000 a year.