Demand For Watchmakers Reaches A New High

To a growing number of forward-thinking jewelers, experienced watchmakers are an integral part of the service offered to every customer. Better service, particularly on-site, can add higher value to any watch purchase.

But the clock is ticking when it comes to finding qualified craftsmen. “Half of all watchmakers worldwide are over 50 years old,” says Josiane Simonin of the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP). When the rising demand for mechanical watch repair skyrocketed several years ago, a big gap started to appear between the demand for good watchmakers and the supply in the U.S.

Several manufacturers have worked diligently to establish or bolster training at the retail and repair shop levels. But they’re still running to catch up with demand as jewelers sell more fine watches and realize that an on-site watch repair service is a major consumer traffic builder.

“After years of waiting, the strong demand is now back for watchmakers,” says Warren McKenzie, director of the National Institute of Watchmaking at the Joseph Bulova School, Woodside, N.Y. According to his board of directors, which consists of the executives of many large watch companies, the market could absorb 100 new watchmakers each year.

“During the early 1980s, we lost many people who otherwise would have been interested in watchmaking to computers and electronics,” says

Anthony D’Ambrosio, executive vice president of Tourneau, New York City. “Now we are seeing the next generation being interested in the age-old tradition.”

To help meet the demand for watchmakers, the Swiss watch industry is assisting WOSTEP as it looks to teach in the U.S. Antoine Simonin, WOSTEP’s chief instructor, visited Rolex’s New York City facilities last year to train nine instructors from watchmaking schools in the U.S. and Canada. Simonin also gave a course to nine watchmakers from Rolex’s four North American service centers.

Two watchmaking schools in the U.S. – North Seattle Community College in Seattle and Oklahoma State

University at Okmulgee – have implemented the full WOSTEP 3,000-hour watchmaking course, says Josiane Simonin. WOSTEP also has approved the Joseph Bulova School’s application for the course, which McKenzie says the school will begin to teach after moving to Manhattan later this year.

Seattle and Okmulgee

At North Seattle Community College’s watchmaking school, chief instructor Tony Knorr says he has 150 requests from retailers, service centers and manufacturers to hire his graduates. However, he can only accept 20 new students each fall for the two-year program. “We have a waiting list for the courses,” he says. “This fall’s classes are already filled.”

North Seattle alum Jeff Grieff, head watchmaker for Ben Bridge Jewelers, the 50-store chain based in Seattle, says his company has helped the program through scholarships and apprenticeships and has hired many of its graduates. he has 24 watchmakers, including 10 at his Seattle headquarters.

At Oklahoma State, head instructor Wit Jarochowski says the university offered the WOSTEP program in Fall ’95 and 10 students are enrolled in the two-year program. “There is room for several more, but word is just getting out about our program,” he says. He has requests for graduates from about 70 watch retailers and manufacturers.

With any luck, the ticking demand will soon be in balance with renewed supply.

SOURCES

WOSTEP, Rue des Saars 99, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland; (41-32) 729 00 30.

North Seattle Community College, 9600 College Way North, Seattle, WA; (206) 526-0173.

Oklahoma State University, 1801 E. Fourth St., Okmulgee, OK 74447; (918) 756-6211.

National Institute of Watchmaking, The Joseph Bulova School, 40-24 62nd St., Woodside, NY 11377; (718) 424-2929.