ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT GETTING A WATCHMAKING PROGRAM/DEGREE?
It’s fun to be able to have this hypothetical conversation in today’s day and age. Whereas only 30, 20, and even 10 years ago, none of this could have been possible.
When I entered the workforce from my apprenticeship, I contemplated going the traditional route. Watchmaking programs are attractive for many reasons: developing new skills, networking, and most importantly- hands on experience from a well-qualified professor.
This is my personal experience with Watchmaking programs and how you can go about creating your own. In this process, it’s my hope that you take action to learn quality watchmaking in whatever shape or form it may be in (with all excuses aside).
Indirectly, this should challenge the way you see traditional schooling versus apprenticeships (whether it’s good or bad).
There is no need to spend $35,000+ if you budget, plan accordingly, and work with pig headed discipline and determination.
Getting thrown into the workforce after my apprenticeship, I was easily one of the most critiqued watchmakers in my area.
“How is this ‘watchmaker’ so young?”
“What can he work on?”
“What school did he go to?”
“How did he get into watchmaking?”
I was met with criticism (some even to this day). I was working with co-workers who had been in the field for longer than I’ve been alive. Some co-workers had easily been in the field for 50+ years. Mind you, I was only in my teens.
The great thing about watchmaking is that your skills ultimately speak for itself. You quickly learn that the price of adversity is freedom.
Working with a no bullshit professor every morning at 0530 to late at night everyday, 7 days a week, you can see how it adds up pretty quickly. Albeit I wasn’t perfect nor was I the best. I had held my ground when I was tested amongst my peers. I demonstrated that age had nothing to do with skill. I proved that I’d work and try my best on anything that came across my bench.
LACK OF CARE FOR TRADITIONAL SCHOOLING
I never really cared about the traditional schooling of watchmaking when I entered the workforce. I had a set of skills that spoke for itself and that was enough to land me a job. I was upfront about everything. I ate shit for the first few years in the workforce. I still eat some shit every now and then but the point is- I’m not afraid to do it. I’m not fancy and that's what I learned from my apprenticeship.
I was taught with a very old-school mentality. You can talk all the shit you want but when it comes time to act, can you do it? All the theoretical training and certifications in the world mean nothing if you can’t demonstrate fluency. This is coming from someone who started and finished both apprenticeships and the traditional schooling route.
This is not to say that traditional schooling is not good. It's wonderful in a macro sense. The issue is the barrier of entry. It's the relocation. It's the time. It's not a one-size-fits-all approach.
My physical skills were superb. I could overhaul the living hell out of a watch. The problem hit me like a tractor trailer when I realized I couldn't verbalize my work. Yes. You read that right. I couldn't verbalize my work.
I knew what the parts were and what they did. I knew how to create, adjust, and fix a watch. However, I did not know the terminologies and how to put what I did in a coherent sentence.
Just to give you an example of what I mean. Instead of calling a "pallet fork" a pallet fork, I called it "pilot fork" because the mentor I learned from had a thick english accent that it sounded like "pilot fork". Embarrassing.
One of limitations of apprenticeships is that you learn the bad habits of your mentor just as well as you learn the good. Be very mindful of this.
By that time, it bothered the living hell out of me that I started seeking out methods of traditional schooling to learn and understand my shortcomings.
THE SECOND PROBLEM
I attended multiple courses and programs from world-class instructors and that's when shit hit the fan. Some were great, taught by phenomenal instructors, but others -many others- were taught by "theoreticians" who used complicated words and lots of PowerPoint slides. In short, it was boring as hell. I lost several weeks (and even months) from my life (that I will never get back) to listen to boring, mundane, and monotone instructors talking about something that could've often been summarized in a couple sentences.
What really struck me was at the end of one of these boring ass courses. I turned to one of the assistant instructors and asked him how it fared against the other courses . He replied: "This is easily the most entertaining one."
I lost my shit.
HOW TO BEGIN YOUR OWN WATCHMAKING PROGRAM
The mindset of this entire segment is this: fuck your excuses. If you can't make it into watchmaking school, fuck it. Create your own real-life experience. I'm trying to stifle your bullshit excuses. Don't have enough money to go to Switzerland to learn watchmaking? Can't get into watchmaking school? No one around you that teaches watchmaking? These are all excuses. In the macro view of things, you can either accept the path you're on or you can say
"fuck this- I'm going to do what I can with what I have."
You're going to realize that mindset is everything. Starting any new endeavor is relatively the same. The concepts and principles are all there. It's the mindset that sets you apart from everyone else.
SUNK TUITION COSTS
Create a "[INSERT YOUR NAME] Fund" that would replace [INSERT WATCHMAKING SCHOOL]. Let's be extremely conservative and say a typical watchmaking program costs you $35,000 (not factoring in rent, food, living expenses, tools, etc.).
With the fund, you would aim to spend $35,000 over two years on education, training, and tools. The caveat is that you have to be ready to lose all of the $35,000.
Think of this as a sunk tuition cost. The hope is that the skills, mindset, lessons learned, and the people you meet will be worth the $35,000 investment. The two-year plan is spent on the learning experience (long term ROI) and not for short-term ROI.
Just to give you an example this is what's on WOSTEP's (Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program) website: Read more here
- "Price (WOSTEP reserves the right to modify the following prices)
- The CHF 34’470.- tuition fee includes the following (without accommodation): • Tuition, support for the administrative procedures upon arrival and administrative expenses • Toolkit and theory books of horology The purchase of this kit is mandatory. The kit will remain the property of the student after the course
- • Special courses on specific products, visits of factories • Resources (infrastructure, tools, machines, movements, spare parts)
- Additional costs: The amount of CHF 9’240.- will be required as a prepaid financial guarantee by the State of Neuchâtel to ensure a part of your domestic needs are covered. This will be refunded to you on a monthly basis minus the Swiss health insurance premium (approx. CHF 270.-/month) which is compulsory for anyone staying in Switzerland over 3 months and who is not holder of the official European health insurance card (EHIC).
- Accommodation costs in a shared students apartment equipped for 3 to 5 flatmates, for 22 months: • CHF 14’850.- for a room in category A (15/16m2 ) = CHF 675.-/month (subject to availability) • CHF 13’200.- for a room in category B (13/14m2) = CHF 600.-/month (subject to availability) • CHF 11’550.- for a room in category C (11/12m2 ) = CHF 525.-/month (subject to availability) "
DON'T DO THIS UNLESS:
- You're absolutely sure you want to learn watchmaking. This isn't for everyone. I would highly recommend you make sure that this is a rabbit hole you want to jump into. The last thing you'd want to do is to jump in head first and realize that this is not something you're interested in. Make sure you are 200% sure. This will help you when you're struggling and have lost all hope. If you're even 1% unsure, it'll find a way to seep into your rational when the going gets tough.
- You can afford to lose $35,000. Not everyone has $35,000 to kill. You should only risk with what you're comfortable losing. I would never recommend throwing $35K away especially to someone young and starting out. Please note that this may not be upfront value. It could be a negotiated loss of $10,000 from your current salary just to gain an extra day off. There are methods of attacking this incrementally in terms of "payment plans", you don't need to spend all $35K at once. However, if financial loss is something that drives you to depression, you should definitely avoid this. The number may be lower or higher but $35K is a great medium. I'm just being extremely cautious with the number so that you won't hit unexpected bumps.
- Accountable with your own time. This is a very regimented schedule. You are not to slack off. Remember, you're supposed to be getting the same amount of workload as if you were in a traditional school.
- You can handle the stress. This is a hands off approach. You won't have an instructor breathing down your neck but that also means you won't have any accountability. Many people will crumble from the amount of stress that'll be placed on them. Some will get lost and lose their way. It's quite similar to "entrepreneurship" in the sense that if you want to live a 1% lifestyle, you better be willing to put in the 1% work ethic.
- Have a watchmaker at your disposal for help. I would not recommend starting anything if you do not have a watchmaker that you can phone. Anytime you're unclear about something or if shit hits the fan, you'd want a watchmaker that can explain to you what's wrong and where you messed up. Having a watchmaker at your disposal will also jumpstart your learning curve.
THE FOUR THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO
Read this: How to Get Into Watchmaking first.
Next, here are a couple examples with hypothetical costs:
1. WORK EVERY WEEKEND
Before you even begin losing any sort of money, dedicate every day off, that you have from your job, to watchmaking. Wake up early and sleep late. Your average person has 2 days off in a work week. Let's put this into perspective: 8 hours a day (bare minimum), 2 days a week, 52 weeks. You're left with 832 hours. It's simple. The issue is that simple is not easy. If you spent 832 extra hours a year on learning a new craft, you may very well be on your way to becoming a watchmaker. This is not including the extra free time you have in your normal work week.
At least this way you can figure out if this is actually something you want to get into before you lose anything financially.
Read & internalize some of these resources (includes some Amazon affiliate referral links):
- Bulova School of Watchmaking (All the Units are noteworthy despite the age)
- Theory Of Horology Although a little bit dry, it gets the general overview across.
- The Watch Repairer's Manual It's a great book if you already KNOW watchmaking. I would highly recommend reading this even if you don't understand a single thing. At the very least, you'll have a glimpse. Some of the techniques are a little dated but that still doesn't take away from the overall message.
- Repairing Quartz Watches
- The Art of Oiling in Watchmaking - Lubrication 101
- Advice for Watchmaking Students
- Witschi Training Course Great resource for understanding timing machines and other industry standard equipments from Witschi.
2. TAKE A $15K YEAR HIT FROM YOUR CURRENT JOB:
If you've experimented with the first choice and you're sure this is something you want to get into. Take a hit from your current job so that you can gain an extra day to yourself.
Because watchmaking is often a second career choice, you can begin with taking a hit from your current job to become a watchmaker. We all have bills to pay. We can't just get up and leave our jobs. But what if you can negotiate Mondays (or Fridays) off so you can dedicate that one extra day to watchmaking in exchange for a $10-15,000 salary pay cut? What if you tell your employer you're willing to take a pay cut so that you can have one extra day to yourself?
The more you time you have, the more time you're able to dedicated to your craft.
3. VOLUNTEER & APPRENTICE FOR FREE
Use the same approach as number 1 & 2 and dedicate your free days to apprentice under a watchmaker for free. Look for a family jeweler around your neighborhood. Go in with the complete intention of giving everything you can offer. Ask to work for free. Just being close to the sun itself answers a lot of questions for many people. Perhaps in an actual real-world environment, watchmaking isn't the right job for you. Or perhaps you realize it's your calling.
Read chapter on How to Get an Apprenticeship under a Watchmaker from the book: 100+ No BS Watch Tips for Watch Enthusiasts & Salespeople
4. ATTEND SHORT INTENSIVE WATCHMAKING COURSES
You can literally commit to spending $1,095 on a course from American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (excluding airfare, hotel, car, and food) and spend 5 days immersed in the world of watchmaking. You can learn watch theory, servicing standards, quartz, manual, automatics, polishing, water resistance, estimating, and much more.
Learn it. Study it. Soak it all in. Go home after the 5 days and practice everything you learned until you know it like the back of your hand. You should study until you're able to recall, reiterate, and teach everything you just learned. You can literally attend a course a month for 12 months. That's a lot of internalization.
BONUS** 5. GET CERTIFIED BY AWCI
Most self-taught watchmakers or apprentices go through the CW21 Exam from AWCI to get accredited. This is your safest bet in transitioning to becoming accredited. They will test you on watchmaking theory, micromechanics, lathe work, manual, automatic, and quartz watches. It's a intensive for some and easy for others. Your skill level and how well you manage your time will dictate how well you do on the test.
WARNINGS IN AN APPRENTICESHIP
As much as I love apprenticeships, it can also be detrimental. I have seen many enthusiastic & eager students full of energy and bravado get the life sucked out of them from poor mentors. A couple months later, they hate the field all together and want nothing to do with it.
Here are some questions you should probably figure out to help avoid this:
1. Who is the best in the field? Figure out how you can work for them. Being close to the major players in the field will indefinitely set you up for future success. They're one of the top players in the field for a reason. It's working for them. Getting coffee for Warren Buffet or being Jeff Bezos's assistant will get you significantly closer to success than an outsider.
2. Avoid watchmakers will few or no prior apprentices. Learning from a watchmaker who has never taught another person may set you up for failure. I've met many aspiring watchmakers who have went the apprenticeship route only to have the entire plan fold because the watchmaker didn't have the teaching abilities. A bad teacher can make you hate the field all together. A good watchmaker does not necessarily mean he/she is a good teacher.
3. Understand & realize the negative early and quickly. Learning by yourself and or from another person will always create habits that are not ideal. Realize this early and nip it in the butt. This is why continual education is important. Industry standards will always change. It's your job to keep up with the industry in terms of standards.
COMMIT TO DOING
Take action rather than theorize. Learn to internalize what you learn from all angles. Practice to see the world from both lenses. As much as there is theory in watchmaking, there is equal amounts of actions necessary. Understand principles rather than techniques. Learn from those before you.
Before you get started, I would always advise to do this only if you have a qualified watchmaker at your disposal. Someone that you can always contact and or show your work to in case something goes wrong.
In watchmaking, you'll find that it's not always what you know but who you know. Going to school may be an extremely important move for A LOT of people. You can network, build relationships, and get core fundamentals and theory. But going to school is not the ONLY choice is what I'm getting at. Sometimes working with a mentor (in real-world encounters with customers) will get your foot inside the door faster than anyone coming out of watchmaking school.
SIMILAR TO COLLEGE
It's akin to business school. You can go to business school to learn about business or you can go out there and create your own business and learn from first-hand experience.
At the end of the day, it's about your skills and who you know. Remember that school is supposed to set you up with the knowledge in order to get a job. Having a degree/certificate from school does not necessarily mean you'll immediately get a job. Your diploma/certificate definitely plays a role in things but it's not always the end all be all. If your goal is to be a watchmaker, this will help you do just that. If your goal is to get higher up in the industry outside of being just a watchmaker- a diploma/certificate means a lot.
LIKE WHAT YOU READ? YOU'LL LOVE THE BOOK
I go over 31 essential watchmaking tools you'll need, 11 essential pieces of advice for aspiring watchmakers, and how I would theoretically get someone ready for a watchmaking bench test in 8 weeks.