The popularity of mechanical watches is great news for the industry but these carefully constructed, finely tuned instruments won’t service themselves. As production figures increase, so too does the need for skilled watchmakers for repairs and servicing, ensuring the industry continues to thrive.
In 2006, the British School of Watchmaking (BSoW) was established to guarantee a constant influx of home-grown talent. A combination of passionate young students, dedicated tutors and the backing of key industry individuals and companies has seen the school go from strength to strength, with a strategy for growth in the pipeline.
“The school started with the identification of a problem, which was that more and more mechanical watches and high-end Swiss watches were being sold in the UK on the one hand but, on the other hand, there were fewer and fewer watchmakers because the older breed of watchmaker was dying out or retiring,” says Mark Hearn, a director of the BSoW and Patek Philippe UK MD.
The BSoW was set up to stem what could have been a crisis for the industry by offsetting the growth of mechanical watches with the nurturing of new talent.
An impressive calibre of watch companies stepped up to entirely fund the independent institution. Breitling, Patek Philippe, the Richemont Group, Rolex and the Swatch Group, as well as retail groups Aurum, the Houlden Group, MW Group, Signet Group and independent FA Buck, all put their support behind the school and became its original founders. Since then, other financial partners have also come on board.
Key to the prestige of the BSoW is its affiliation with the Watches of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP), the internationally recognised Swiss watchmaking course. “It was vital that watchmakers who came out had a qualification that was recognised by everybody,” says Hearn.
Students who attend the school are a mix of private students and watch company-sponsored students. Each studies full time for two years, covering a wide range of skills from micro-mechanics to a focus on mechanical movements, including escapements, hairspring regulating and the assembling of basic movements.
Initial success has seen the school develop from taking on six students per year to eight and there are plans in the pipeline for expansion, an essential part of which will be the introduction of a general manager.
“We have a very important strategic move, which is to take on the general manager who can basically run the school,” says Hearn. “They will facilitate the school going to the next level.”
He adds: “Our ultimate goal is to increase student numbers to well beyond eight each year. We need to be bringing more and more youngsters into the trade because there is a huge demand for watchmakers. It is a trade that is very well paid, it’s very well respected and effectively is a job for life.”
The school’s board of directors is focusing on spreading the word about the school and a career in watchmaking to a wider audience of young people, to which end, retailers play an essential role. “One of the objectives of the board of directors and the principals in the school is to try and grow our offer to include different courses, making them more relevant to the retail industry – for instance, maybe polishing courses and specific quick service courses,” says Hearn. “We need to get the message out to retailers throughout the UK that they can be involved in the school.”
There is a reason why leading brands such as Patek Philippe are committed to supporting the BSoW. They recognise its importance to the wider industry, something that Hearn is keen to impress across the board. “This is vital,” says Hearn.” It’s great being able to sell all these watches but ultimately they have to be looked after and if we don’t all pull together towards a common goal then we are going to have a big problem in years to come. We are addressing it now. We are creating the environment where we are now starting to close that gap again and we will continue to do it.”
This article first appeared in the October issue of WatchPro magazine. To see the full digital version, click here.