Rolex-Led Alliance Unveils New Watchmaking Curriculum

A Rolex USA–led alliance of U.S. watch training organizations and schools has unveiled a new curriculum that strengthens the quality of U.S. training in watchmaking.

The curriculum expands the 3,000-hour international Watchmakers of Switzerland training program (WOSTEP) with elements specific to U.S. needs. It also incorporates expertise required for tests and certification of the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute.

“This consolidation sets a new standard in professional watchmaking education in the United States,” says Charles Berthiaume, Rolex USA senior vice president for technical operations.

The Swiss American Watchmakers Training Alliance, owned and led by Rolex, oversees the new curriculum, examinations, and certification process. It receives guidance from representatives of Rolex USA; Watchmakers of Switzerland; American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute, Harrison, Ohio; and four U.S. watch schools. The schools, which use WOSTEP and are supported by Rolex, are Rolex’s Watch Technicum, Lititz, Pa.; the watchmaking programs at North Seattle Community College, Seattle, and Saint Paul College, St. Paul, Minn.; and the Watchmaking and Microtechnology program at Oklahoma State University-Okmulgee, Okmulgee, Okla. The schools are implementing the new curriculum through 2009.

Herman Meyer, the principal and head instructor at Rolex’s Technicum and SAWTA’s co-director, led development of the curriculum, which, says Berthiaume, is designed to expand the after-sales service capabilities of U.S. watchmakers employed by fine-watch retailers.

It also consolidates instruction of all proficiencies required for certifications by AWCI and WOSTEP. All SAWTA schools now use the same single comprehensive final exam, based on AWCI’s test, providing a national benchmark for professional U.S. watchmaker education, says James Lubic, AWCI’s executive director. Those who pass it automatically receive the professional certifications of WOSTEP and AWCI and the diplomas of their respective watch schools.

The new curriculum caps almost a decade of tweaking WOSTEP training for the U.S. watch market. That isn’t a criticism of the 3,000-hour training program developed by the Swiss watch industry and used worldwide, says Berthiaume.

“The WOSTEP program is definitive, concise, and clear,” he told JCK. “But we found in interviewing graduates and their employers [in the United States] that there were some elements missing related to everyday use. Since 2004, especially, our focus has been [to include them] to help watchmakers and the retailers [who employ them]. So, we haven’t altered anything in WOSTEP training; we’ve just expanded it with practical applications better suited to the U.S. market.

“The needs of the retailer are much greater than those of [individual] brands, because of the skills and expertise needed to address the many watch brands in today’s retail stores,” Berthiaume adds. “That’s what our drove our focus in developing this curriculum.”

At the same time, Rolex USA and AWCI were working on redefining and strengthening the training requirements for AWCI certification, such as updating the watch technology skills and knowledge required for a watchmaker today, says Lubic. The certification process itself, including testing, also was improved and streamlined.

“We decided to share ideas and expertise and pull together what we learned into a single curriculum of what a modern watchmaker should study,” says Berthiaume.

The new curriculum comes at a critical time. “The U.S. watch market is on fire, with millions of watches sold in recent years, and many retailers needing watchmakers [to service them],” says Berthiaume. That makes watchmaking a well-paying career, with job security and starting pay averaging $45,000. Yet the number of professional U.S. watchmakers continues to decline. There are now less than 5,000, says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and their median age is 61.

Rolex has supported U.S. watchmaking education for more than a decade, beginning with sponsorship of the watchmaking program at North Seattle Community College in 1996. In 2001, it established the Lititz Watch Technicum, and in 2003 and 2008, it provided substantial funding to the watchmaking programs at Saint Paul College and Oklahoma State University-Okmulgee, respectively.