The Clock is Ticking
June 21, 2004 9:12 AM   Subscribe

The Watchmaker Crisis - While mechanical and high-end quartz watches are becoming more and more popular in the U.S., over half of its watchmakers are nearing retirement age. The nation's 10 watchmaking schools just cannot attract enough apprentices, even though tuition is cheap or free.
posted by falconred (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I meant to say "nearly half" not "over half", but you get the idea.
posted by falconred at 9:22 AM on June 21, 2004


Why are the toolkits so expensive? (and why are they not provided by the schools?)
posted by shoepal at 9:29 AM on June 21, 2004


shoepal: I was wondering that myself. I think that they are probably quite good tools and the kind you keep for a long long time. There is a lot of money to be made working with expensive watches, so I'd imagine that the graduates will recoup that expense rather quickly.

I'd be more tempted to consider it if I weren't so clumsy. I can't count the number of screws I've dropped inside computer shells.
posted by shotsy at 9:38 AM on June 21, 2004


so how much can I make?
posted by PigAlien at 9:56 AM on June 21, 2004


Between $42000 and $50000.
posted by kenko at 9:58 AM on June 21, 2004


shoepal: I was wondering that myself. I think that they are probably quite good tools and the kind you keep for a long long time.

I'd imagine it also has something to do with the Economics of manufacturing the tools. There aren't a lot of people buying these things (the schools both had quoted enrollments of 12/year), they last a long time, and they're probably not used for anything *but* watch repair. Add all of those up and the economies of scale are quite limited, but in order to stay in business, the manufacturers have to make a profit. Hence, price gets upped.

/armchair economics.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:06 AM on June 21, 2004


Well according to this link, I wouldn't want to be a watchmaker in New Zealand! They don't seem to make much at all. So much for supply vs. demand, huh?

Now, according to this link, they seem to be somewhat better paid in the states, but I'm still not too impressed.
posted by PigAlien at 10:08 AM on June 21, 2004


Who watches the watchmakers?
posted by bingo at 10:27 AM on June 21, 2004


Just put a Casio chip in a fancy analogue-style case, no-one will notice.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:49 AM on June 21, 2004


Depending on the tools, they don't seem to be terribly expensive on the Bay. It looks like the purchase of tools might be subsidizing education at these schools.
While lurking on some of the watch collector / enthusiast websites, I've discovered that the majority of mainstream watch movements come from China today. It's difficult for a watchmaker to compete in a market where it's cheaper to chuck it and buy a new one rather than get it fixed. As a result, the services of a watchmaker are generally reserved for an heirloom or high-end piece.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:02 AM on June 21, 2004


I'd do it, but I've got big ol' Iowa farmboy hands and I'm too jittery from all the coffee.
posted by keswick at 11:27 AM on June 21, 2004


Sadly, a well-made watch can easily last a lifetime with regular maintenance from a watchmaker. Instead, cheapo Chinese $20 watches are sitting in landfills 1 year after purchase because they broke down.
posted by falconred at 11:28 AM on June 21, 2004


Cheap tuition? It's $1K a quarter for a two year program, or $8K, for those in Washington. It's triple that for international students. Maybe compared to university tuition that's cheaper, but I'd hardly classify it as cheap.

I was actually thinking of taking this up as a hobby. Good to know what it takes.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:49 AM on June 21, 2004


big ol' Iowa farmboy hands, keswick? I have a piece you can put them on, but it's not a timepiece, I'm afraid! If they're jittery, all the better...

love them cornfed midwestern boys...
posted by PigAlien at 12:00 PM on June 21, 2004


falconred: make that "a well-made watch can easily last many lifetimes with regular maintenance from a watchmaker."

Fortunately, you can still get a reasonably priced mechanical watch, and it will still last forever. One of my favorite wristwatches has a Swiss-made Unitas movement originally made for a pocket watch. The case also has a clear back so you can admire the beauty of the works.

It's possible to find the bits to make your own watch, if you so desire. Textbooks are available so you can bypass the classroom part.
posted by SteveInMaine at 12:03 PM on June 21, 2004


Am I the only one who thought this was a warning about the Star Fraction?
posted by straight at 1:15 PM on June 21, 2004


PigAlien,

It's ever refreshing to see sexual innuendoes amidst the levity of horology.
posted by lometogo at 1:29 PM on June 21, 2004


/me high fives bingo for the Watchmen reference.

Good show!
posted by Stynxno at 1:37 PM on June 21, 2004


So, can the schools really not attract enough students for their humongous class sizes of twelve people? If they're really running low, why not admit more students?
posted by kenko at 2:22 PM on June 21, 2004


Am I the only one who thought this was a warning about the Star Fraction? - straight

I thought exactly the same thing.
I tell you, this is how it will happen. One day we'll log on to mefi and the front page will be all "Singularity achieved: Watchmaker now online!", "Entire Slashdot readership uploaded to insane silicon-based hive mind!".
And the associated threads will be full of bitching about single link posts to newsfilter items.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:34 PM on June 21, 2004


kenko - There's 10 schools in the U.S., which graduate under 100 students a year. You do the math.
posted by falconred at 3:12 PM on June 21, 2004


I would've become a watchmaker, but I'm planning instead to go into science until I get into a freak accident and become omnipotent. Or, um, what bingo said.
posted by u.n. owen at 3:19 PM on June 21, 2004


One day we'll log on to mefi and the front page will be all "Singularity achieved: Watchmaker now online!"

Naw, it'll just display a fractal basilisk that reaches deep into the neural structures of your mind, takes control of your sensorium, and says in a deep booming voice from everywhere and nowhere, "JRUN ERROR."

It'll be much better than Cats.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:23 PM on June 21, 2004


class sizes of twelve people?
Kept thinking "twelve" was an odd ball number for yearly enrollment. Then realized it's even while looking at a watch's face, twelve numbers.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:27 PM on June 21, 2004


There's basically no fine mechanical watch making left in the US. There are a couple of oddballs, but all serious watches are being made in Germany or Switzerland now. The European industry almost died out in the 60s-80s. Honestly, a quartz watch keeps better time. But Swatch and others stepped in to save the industry and now we have a new luxury product.

If you want to hang with watch geeks, TimeZone.com is your place.
posted by Nelson at 5:42 PM on June 21, 2004


I love fine watches. A few years ago, when it was a realistic, not utterly fantastical, idea, there was a stunning Patek Phillipe watch I seriously considered buying. I now regret that I didn't. It was ultra-thin, with a sapphire transparent case showing the exquisite workings. About 30K, but would only appreciate in value over time. If anyone knows what model that watch is, I'd be grateful. Googling and PP's site didn't help.

As it is, and as vulgar as it is, I'm utterly in love with the NIST RF-set clocks and, especially, watches. Sadly, it seems the techno-geek and elegance aesthetics are largely incompatible, except in my case apparently, and most of these so-called "atomic watches" (argh) appeal to the digital-watch-with-lots-of-buttons demographic. But I had one of these that was a very elegant analog black-on-white face, with little to indicate its techno-geekiness. Ah, just right. I loved that watch. I have an accurate time fetish (why, yes, I do run an NTP client on all my computers, why do you ask?) and the idea that it was always (nearly) exactly correct without intervention made me very happy. Someday, all timekeeping devices will work this way. Anyway, it was a relatively cheap watch, and cheaply made, and one morning last year I had a spill in the bathroom and broke one of the thingies on which the band hinge attaches. The case isn't metal, it's probably some plastic crap or something, and it's apparently not fixable. I am so very sad. Very, very sad.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:49 PM on June 21, 2004


EB: My favourite "magically sets itself from an accurate source" is my Casio GPS watch.
posted by krisjohn at 11:01 PM on June 21, 2004


Hey, if you can repair watches You can become the PREZident.
posted by drezdn at 11:20 PM on June 21, 2004


Yeah, all watches should have GPS, too. W00t! That's very cool. I want one.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:31 PM on June 21, 2004


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