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This Swiss Watchmaker is Teaching Apprentices For Free

The U.S. desperately needs new watchmakers. Will a new generation save the industry?

(Steve Prezant/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Ever dream of being a watchmaker? The Swiss watch company Patek Phillipe is offering a free, two-year course in New York to train a new generation of apprentices, reports Stephen Pulvirent in Bloomberg.  The luxury watch manufacturer has already begun teaching at its new school in New York City — the first class consists of six people, who were chosen from a pool of 300 applicants.

Despite fears that the rise of the smartwatch might hurt the mechanical watch industry, the market still exists for everything from simple quartz to high-end luxury timepieces. However, Pulvirent reports, the number of American watchmakers who can handle intricate repairs has plummeted. Patek Phillipe hopes to attract new watchmakers with its training program, which offers free tuition as well as a guaranteed job at the company.

While watches may seem like simple devices, they can be intricate, finely-tuned and highly engineered. To repair a luxury watch, such as the $815,000 Greubel Forsey Quadruple Tourbillon, a watchmaker needs a tremendous knowledge of every gear, spring and jewel within the case.

"If you look at the piece one foot away, without any magnifying glass, then you would not be able to discern the level of hand finish versus a machine-made watch," Stephen Forsey, a world-renowned watchmaker, tells The New York Times' Alex Williams. "Even a specialist would have difficulty."

At the moment, Patek Phillipe's New York-based repair center relies on just 19 watchmakers to handle roughly 10,000 watches each year, which creates quite a backlog, as Forbes' Roberta Naas explains. While the first class of apprentices is small, they'll lighten that workload. The school doesn’t plan to take on any new students until 2017, though, so any aspiring watchmakers out there have plenty of time to work on their applications.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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