A comment that I hear a lot, after the customer has expressed delight in finding a brick and mortar watch repair place, is that watchmaking must be a dying art.
It is a multi-billion dollar industry, and we here in North America have jumped on the throwaway bandwagon for a bit too long, so it is seen as a trade that is European in flavour, and possibly as anachronistic as a Shoemaker.
Quality goods are goods that can usually be repaired and have long lives. A good pair of shoes will last many years, and a well made clock can last hundreds of years. The average age of a vintage wristwatch, that is fully serviced and in daily use, is about 60 years or more.
Sure, there is only one watchmaking school here in Canada, (in Trois Riviéres, QC) but there are as many as 7 in the US, which still isn't that many, but the enthusiasm and dedication won't go away.
This blog is for anyone thinking of taking up the trade. You can study here in Canada, or in the US, or in Switzerland. There are many other countries that have watchmaking schools, and these all vary in the cost, as well as the qualifications offered. The course in Switzerland will run you CHF $25,000 per year, and you can expect to be there three years. They billet you in a village, and you get some of the money doled back out to you so you can pay rent and buy food and supplies.
In Trois Rivières, in the beautiful province of Quebec, Canada, you can study with a fully bilingual team of professeurs and instructors, and expect to spend two years. It is a WOSTEP based course, but because of the shorter length, the WOSTEP certification has been pulled. Additional studies are always needed, and the apprenticeship starts while you are still in school, and continues after you leave. You can expect to pay around $4700. CDN for the two years, which are comprised of a DEP and ASP section, the latter includes complicated watches and clocks.
To study in the US, you will need a visa, and you will have to pay as a foreign student, and costs are around $20,000 up front. It depends which school you attend and in what state it is located, as costs and tuitions vary. The Nicholas Hayek school is in Miami, the NSCC is in Seattle, and the Lititz Watch Technicum is in Lititz, PA. All these schools require a serious dedication to the curriculum, and do not tolerate absenteeism. Still, if you're paying the money, would you really want to cut classes?
Basically, attending a school outside your own country will always be more expensive, both in tuition and costs of living. For example, a student from Madagascar paid about $22000 to attend the École Nationale d'Horlogerie in Quebec.
Watchmakers are in high demand, and you can pretty much pick where you want to work. Students will sometimes get hired before they even finish school. One of the students in my class was scooped by an Aeronautics manufacturing firm in their first year, and went on to become a technician there.
If you are interested in the trade, I'm sure you have already done a lot of research online, and are hearing nothing new here. The figures I mention are ballpark, and may be out of date.
What hasn't changed is the Global demand for watchmakers. Far from being a quaint and anachronistic pursuit, it is a 21st century cutting edge profession, and if you like engineering you will probably feel right at home inside a watch movement.
You can end up working for a repair depot, like Swatch or Richemont or Rolex, or you can work with a jeweller or a series of jewellers. You can always start your own company, although this is more complicated, and start up costs will apply as with any new business.
Just something to think about in this increasingly IT heavy world of ours.