Your Omega Seamaster took a tumble onto the hardwood floor, and now it has stopped working. Or maybe you’ve noticed that your favorite Cartier Tank Louis, the one your grandma gave you, has been losing time lately. You contemplate diagnosing the problem and fixing it yourself. But swapping out a strap or replacing the crystal isn’t quite the same as straightening a bent hairspring or disassembling hundreds of tiny parts to repair one faulty gear.
Depending on what complications the watch employs, mechanical timepieces may contain anywhere from 180 to 400 different pieces. A Swiss movement represents painstakingly delicate work, so watch repair tends to be quite a daunting task for those not professionally trained. Going the DIY way can spell disaster for your watch if you’re not careful.
At this point, we usually recognize our deficiencies and decide to send our timepiece to trained watch repair professionals. However, if you’re an enthusiast ready to dive headlong into your luxury watch for a closer look, it’s crucial to have the right skills. What does it take to learn the art of watchmaking and watch repair? Our Swiss-trained technicians sum up the necessary qualifications with four P’s: Passion, Precision, Patience, and Perseverance.
Every master watchmaker should begin their journey with passion – a passion for the fine finished product and the artistry and genius that goes into creating it. Suppose the inner workings of a mechanical timepiece fascinate you, or you find yourself dreaming of chronographs, perpetual calendars, and other complications. In that case, horology could be an excellent path for you.
People don’t go into teaching for the pay, just like firefighters don’t risk their lives every day to have a steady job. They are passionate about what they do. The same goes for a horology expert, whether they’re a Swiss-trained Rolex watch repair person or movement maker at Tag Heuer.
A horologist is nothing if not precise. Precision requires specialized education and training. “To get a new watchmaker for us – we have our own school – takes about five years,” said Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, during a Watches and Wonders 2022 panel discussion this past spring. According to Schmid, that amounts to three years of education and another two years of training.
Only a handful of schools in the United States offer horology training programs that meet Swiss watchmaking standards. The Swiss American Watchmakers Training Alliance (SAWTA), the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI), and the Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program (WOSTEP) represent the three guiding accreditation bodies here.
The Lititz Watch Technicum in Lititz, Pennsylvania, and the North Seattle College Watch Technology Institute in Washington use the SAWTA curriculum. Swatch Group’s Nicolas G. Hayek Watchmaking Institute in Miami and the IOSW – North American Swiss Watchmaking Institute in Ft. Worth, Texas, on the other hand, are accredited by WOSTEP.
The AWCI continuing education program offers bench courses for beginners to expert-level watch repair practitioners at its educational facility in Harrison, Ohio, online, or through the organization’s Archie Perkins Mobile Horology Classroom.
Apprenticeships illustrate another popular way to become a trained horologist, although treading this path may be a bit more difficult. It’s hard to find a veteran watchmaker with the time, energy, and willingness to teach you, and when you do find that person, you’ll most likely do the job for free. You’ll definitely need a separate income stream to support yourself while apprenticing. The upside? You have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a master.
When servicing mechanical watches, an important thing to remember is not to rush. We don’t think the customer would be very pleased if you fixed her Patek Philippe’s balance wheel but accidentally scratched the crown in your haste to get the timepiece back to her. And while we don’t advocate keeping a person’s watch for months on end, you do need to take your time and do the job right.
Think of a trained high-end horologist like a surgeon. Watch repair takes excellent hand-eye coordination, and a careless nick here or bumble there can mess things up in a hurry.
Training takes time and effort. Servicing watches takes extreme patience and superior skill. Becoming a watchmaker isn’t for everybody, or else there wouldn’t be a worldwide shortage of them right now. But if you were one of those kids who first had to take something apart and put it back together to enjoy it properly, you’ll find that successfully repairing a complex mechanical watch is totally worth the effort.
Consider this quote from famous American crime writer Karin Slaughter, “If I wasn’t a writer, I would probably be a watchmaker. I like putting puzzles together, and that is what a watch is, figuring out how all the gears and everything else works together.”