Originally published on UnfinishedMan.com
What is as effective as a Swiss clock, but takes years to be born? It’s a watchmaker. This may be a bit of timely watch repair humor, but in all earnestness, people have a multitude of questions related to watchmakers and watch repair.
You’re probably thinking, “Why do we call them watchmakers if they only fix watches? They don’t really make them.” One answer lies in the interesting history of creating and fixing timepieces.
What’s in a Word?
Watchmakers are those who produce and fix watches. The term has evolved through the years, starting in the 1700’s in the small shops and watch manufacturers. One reason they were in such high demand was because individual watch parts were unique, and they had to hand-fit them. The name stuck despite the addition of a number of parties in the industry, including manufacturers, replacement affiliates and small shop owners.
Tools of the Trade
Most watch repairers use the same basic tools, including tweezers and small screwdrivers. Because there are so many different styles of watches, they need a variety of tools, from pin removers to work on metal link watchbands, to combo closers, for snap-back cases. Most watchmakers have a bracelet holder and bracelet screw remover, too. Above all, patience and dedication to the craft are a professionals most used and integral tools.
Jewelry Stores are for Jewelry
Not to take business away from local to national jewelers, but, if you’re searching for someone to fix your antique watch, the jeweler isn’t a good place to find a watchmaker or repairer. Most people choose to replace a broken or worn watch nowadays, but you don’t have to accept a replacement suggestion as a final answer. Use the AWCI (American Watchmaker Clock Institute) website to locate a watchmaker.
The Price of Time
The proper maintenance of any watch requires a bit of time. Watchmaking and repair is not simple, so it requires experience, skill and patience. How much is your time worth? Most repair people charge at least $50 per hour for their highly specialized services. Watch repair takes time. Doing something as simple as cleaning a watch can take several hours, because the watch repairer has to remove, inspect, cleanse and oil each part before they reassemble the watch. Before you raise your eyebrows at the cost of a watch repair specialist, think about what the desired service requires.
Dials to Digits
Watch repair specialists must have a vast knowledge regarding grinds and gears, especially if someone needs an antique watch repaired. However, digital watches flourish in the modern age, requiring a different skill set. With newer watches, repairers must learn to work with wires and sensors, rather than winds and gears. Repairers double as electrical engineers in this capacity, so, consumers should feel confident about utilizing their professional services.
There are several big watchmaking schools, including the Lititz Watch Technicum in Lititz, Pennsylvania, which the Rolex Company founded in 2001 to encourage more people to become watchmakers in the U.S. Their curriculum consists of more than 3,000 hours using the Swiss American Watchmaker’s Training Alliance curriculum (SAWTA). Only 14 students make it into the program each year.
Another well-known watchmaking school is the OSU Institute of Technology, founded in 1946. They also have a SAWTA-based curriculum, and provide Certified Watchmaker for the 21st Century (CW21) certification through the American Watchmaker-Clockmaker Institute (AWCI).
With a lot of dedication, time, study and practice, anyone can learn how to repair watches. Watch repair apprenticeships can last anywhere between six months and several years; however, the length of time depends on the individual.
There are many popular cable television shows featuring antiques, and you may even have a family heirloom watch collecting dust in your attic. You probably wonder how old it is, or how much it’s worth. Start by determining the origin of your watch. If it’s American, you can locate a chart on the Web with serial numbers and other information. You can also consult http://www.watchrepairny.com. However, understand there’s a difference between the numbers on the watch case, which is the case maker’s reference number, and the numbers on the movement inside, which relates to the age of the timepiece.
For Rolex watches, check for an engraved registered design number between the lugs at the 12 o’clock position, as well as the serial number of the case between the lugs and the 6 o’clock position.
Stop, Drop and Call
One of the worst things you can do is play watchmaker with your watch. If your watch stops working, wind it. If winding the watch does not help, something internal is wrong and it warrants the attention of a professional watch repairer. Watch parts and pieces are quite fragile and the watchmaker usually has to place them perfectly. An inexperienced eye and hand can easily damage or misplace a multitude of parts. When your watch stops, drop the pursuit of self-reliance and call a repair specialist instead.
Like automobiles and other machinery, watches need ongoing maintenance in order to prolong their lives. Additionally, normal wear and tear can lead to damage, requiring the necessary repairs. Those who don’t know how to navigate under the hood of a watch should consult a watch repair professional. Although wisdom comes with age, you don’t have to wait to get wise about watch maintenance.
Thomas Lodowski is a 2nd generation watchmaker and self-confessed clock and watch fanatic. An avid blogger, you can find his fascinating articles on various blog sites.