Swatch Group to open new U.S. watchmaking school

The Swatch Group (U.S.) Inc. will open a watchmaking school this fall at its Secaucus, N.J., headquarters, to help stem the decline in professionally trained U.S. watchmakers. There is no tuition and enrollment is limited. Applicants must pay for their own food and housing; there are no dormitory facilities.

In the past 20 years, say recent reports by the American Watch Association, the U.S. Department of Labor, and Jewelers’ Circular Keystone, the number of trained U.S. watchmakers has steadily declined. Aggravating the shortage is that up to half of current watchmakers (between 5,000 and 6,000) are at or near retirement age.

During this same time, though, Swiss watch exports to the United States, including fine automatic and hand-wound watches, have risen. “Millions of fine-quality Swiss timepieces have been sold with fewer and fewer qualified technicians able to service those watches,” notes The Swatch Group report announcing the school.

It is to address this growing gap The Swatch Group (U.S.) Inc., the American subsidiary of the world’s largest watch company, will open the Nicholas G. Hayek Watchmaking School, named for the group’s chairman.

Joe Mella, chief operating officer of The Swatch Group (U.S.) and dean of the new school, explained that, “As the world’s largest watch company, we share the responsibility to ensure that the profession of watchmaking continues to grow in the United States. With the increase in sales of complicated Swiss watches, the need to service these timepieces grows as well. The school is a great way to offer training for a lucrative livelihood and to ensure that these Swiss watches are properly cared for.” The school will be housed in the watch company’s Secaucus, N.J., service facility, and led by instructor Paul Madden, a Swatch Group employee.

It will use the WOSTEP (Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program) curriculum, a two-year 3,000-hour training program recognized internationally as the watch industry’s best training and certification program. (There are only 12 watchmaking schools today in North America—including one in Canada—just five are WOSTEP-certified.)

Enrollment in the new school will be highly selective to ensure students get what the company calls “a focused and individualized classroom experience.” Classes will be limited to six students each. A new class of students will start each fall.

The program isn’t just for would-be Swatch Group employees. Any graduate of the school can work for any company, jeweler, or watch retailer anywhere. “Our goal isn’t to simply fill our watchmaking benches, but to fill them across the United States,” says Joseph Panetta, a Swatch Group (U.S.) spokesman.

He declined to say how much the Group is investing in the project, but called the cost is “significant.”

“However, it’s an investment we willingly make to ensure that watchmaking know-how continues and thrives in the United States, as well as to ensure that we can always service our product,” said Swatch’s Panetta.