CWE Begins Efforts to Increase Number of U.S. Watchmakers

A proposal to attract young Americans to a career in watchmaking was considered earlier this year by the Coalition for Watchmaker Education (CWE). The idea—modifying the widely used Swiss training program—was discussed at the CWE’s Feb. 22 meeting in New York City. The new plan would divide the two-year, 3,000-hour course of the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program (WOSTEP) into two parts—basic and advanced—for U.S. students. WOSTEP is the international training center of the Swiss watch industry.

Implementation of the proposal, however, was contingent upon approval by WOSTEP. Its board was expected to consider the suggestion—submitted to it by the U.S. office of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry—at its Feb. 28 meeting.

Also at its Feb. 22 meeting, the CWE gave the go-ahead to a position paper profiling the U.S. watchmaking profession, which will be used in government lobbying and public relations efforts to attract more people to the industry. That report, using data from a massive national CWE survey of jewelers and watch companies, will be ready before June.

The CWE was formed in November by U.S. watch and jewelry leaders, following a JCK report on the alarming shortage of qualified U.S. watchmakers. (See “Where Have All the Watchmakers Gone?” JCK, October 2000, p. 156.) Only a few thousand watchmakers remain, many near retirement. Experts say 450 new ones are needed annually, but only a few graduate each year from the 11 U.S. watchmaking schools.

The CWE includes the American Watch Association (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 firms such as Rolex, Piaget, Patek Philippe, and the Swatch Group.

Training. CWE’s training proposal was intended to make watchmaking more attractive to potential students and was based on reviews by its education committee of the U.S. watch schools’ training programs. The plan called for dividing the WOSTEP curriculum—the worldwide standard of training in servicing and repairing mechanical and quartz watches—into two 1,500-hour blocks; modifying it for the United States, which doesn’t have the same vocational training traditions as Europe; and having it adopted by all U.S. watch schools. If approved by WOSTEP, Level I would teach quartz watch repair as well as some simple mechanical watch repairs; Level II would offer advanced training in more complicated timepieces.

This approach, said supporters, would make watch training more attractive to students who don’t want to take the entire 3,000-hour course and would provide U.S. jewelers, repair shops, and others with a standard for judging the skills of job applicants. At press time, the CWE was waiting for WOSTEP’s decision before proceeding further.

Meanwhile, a meeting between officials of U.S. watchmaking schools and the CWE was tentatively set for April in New Orleans, where they will discuss issues such as how to attract more students, how to promote watchmaking, and the elements of successful watch training.

The CWE education committee is also working on certification standards, based on AWI’s standards as well as recommendations from an advisory board composed of watch technicians from major watch brands.

Position paper. The CWE report profiling the U.S. watch repair sector is being prepared by Toby Collado, AWA executive director. It is expected to include information on the number of watch repairs performed annually in the United States; data on U.S. watchmakers; and, based on this information, the number of trained watchmakers and watch school graduates needed annually in the years ahead. The report will also include data on current watchmakers’ salaries, ages, and other demographics.

Some of the data come from a CWE survey completed in January. CWE sent more than 18,000 questionnaires to AWI’s 5,500 members, JA’s 13,000 members, and AWA’s 30-plus supplier members. By late February, almost 1,500 had been returned, and still more are expected. The survey of AWA members alone found that most U.S. watchmakers employed by major watch firms are 45 to 50 years old, with 25 years’ experience, and earn—on average—about $55,000. Salaries start at about $35,000 and go to $125,000 for senior professionals.

The report will be used to lobby the U.S. government—which in recent years has deemed watchmaking a disappearing profession—on the need for more U.S. watchmakers. It will also provide the factual basis for public relations materials to inform young people, schools, and guidance counselors within a 100-mile radius of the country’s 11 watchmaker schools of the advantages of a watchmaking career.