Coalition Moves Quickly On Watchmaker Shortage

The watch and jewelry industries’ “Coalition for Watchmaker Education” (CWE), formed in late 2000, is moving quickly to deal with the alarming shortage of qualified watchmakers and repairers in America. It is gathering defining data on U.S. watchmakers, developing professional education requirements, and devising ways to attract qualified high school students. Further action will be taken at CWE’s February meeting.

The CWE includes representatives from the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWI), the world’s largest horological organization; the American Watch Association (AWA), whose members include the most important U.S. suppliers; 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 such leading watch names as Rolex, Piaget, and the Swatch Group. The coalition was formed Nov. 14, 2000, at Piaget’s New York City office in a meeting organized by AWA executive director Toby Collado to address the urgent need for qualified U.S. watchmakers and repairers. (See “Where Have All the Watchmakers Gone,” JCK, October 2000, p. 156.)

There are only a few thousand U.S. 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 (down from 44 three decades ago). That makes it increasingly difficult for jewelers, repair shops, and watch suppliers to find qualified watchmakers.

AWI spotlighted the problem at its July Industry Advisory Board meeting. Last fall, AWA decided to coordinate an effort to “channel [watch and jewelry industry] resources in the most effective way to assure more and better training of watchmakers in the years ahead,” says Robert Filotei, AWA chairman and president of Piaget/Officine Panerai USA.

The Nov. 14 CWE meeting launched several initiatives.

  • This month, thousands of watchmakers, jewelers, and watch suppliers are being surveyed by CWE to gather hard facts on U.S. watchmakers (i.e., total number, education, salaries, and experience) for use in government lobbying and for directing CWE’s efforts. The questionnaires will go to AWI’s 5,500 members, JA’s 13,000 members, and all AWA members. Results will be compiled by the end of January.

  • A committee of FSWI, AWI, JA, and technical experts-led by chairman and FSWI (U.S.) president Peter Laetsch-is examining existing watchmaker training programs and developing uniform standards for them. According to JA chairman Ed Bridge, the requirements of JA’s Bench Jewelers Certificate program is one model that may be used.

  • A consistent industry-wide certification process for watchmakers and watch repairers, based on AWI standards, is being considered by the education committee. As AWI executive director James Lubic noted, “The industry needs a reliable standard of certification to assure quality services.”

  • A public relations committee is “designing a campaign to inform high school placement counselors and get our story out to potential, qualified students,” says committee chairman Dennis Phillips, president of Ebel USA.