As the sales of luxury watches continue to grow and the number of qualified watchmakers worldwide continues to decline, it is accepted by those working in the watch industry that there may be a problem on the horizon; who will repair prestigious and complex watches in the not too distant future? The realisation of a potential watchmaker ‘shortfall’, coupled with the ongoing need for highly skilled and finely specialised horologists, led to a consortium of jewellers and leading watch houses liaising and uniting to address the looming problem.
A solution was found and agreed upon; establish a British School of Watchmaking producing some of the finest watchmakers in the world through the championing and promotion of excellence in horological education.
The British School of Watchmaking (BSoW) was founded that year, in Manchester. The founding members (who continue to support BSoW) were, Aurum Group, Breitling, Houlden Group, Patek Philippe, Richemont Group, Rolex, Signet Group and The Swatch Group (UK) Limited. Today BSoW has a total of 17 financial partners, in addition to the founding members are a group of new supporters comprising of Berry’s Jewellers, Boodles Jewellers, Bremont Watch Company, David M Robinson, G Collins & Son Jewellers, LVMH, The National Association of Goldsmiths, Time Products Ltd, WEMPE Jewellers. Together, BSoW backers have succeeded in providing a highly respected, direct, training route that attracts youngsters and mature students to a rewarding and secure career for life.
BSoW teaches an intense two year training course covering all aspects of modern watchmaking, in a well equipped, purpose built training centre located in Sale (Manchester). The school was originally set up to take six students each year, for a two year, full time, course. However, due to demand, this was increased to eight students in 2011 and, if necessary, student numbers could increase further in the future should it become appropriate to do so.
The full training course starts with basic metalwork techniques but very quickly progresses to the manufacture of small watch parts by hand. After just six months students can make components with diameters of approximately 0.10mm to a tolerance of 0.005mm. This process not only teaches people how to make things, it also instils more important qualities such as dexterity and patience; skills that are vital to a successful watchmaker.
Once a firm grounding in Micromechanics is gained, students progress to the next section of the course which teaches them how a simple hand wound watch works and with that how to assemble, disassemble, clean, lubricate, regulate, repair etc. Everything is covered from the mechanical components which make up the movement to the external components such as the case, dial and hands. We also take some time to deal with electronic watches.
With the basics in horology covered, the students move on to complications such as calendars, automatics and chronographs. At every step of the way, students are vigorously assessed and subject to intermediate exams. The course culminates in a two day final exam which requires the students to repair three faulty watches, a quartz watch, an automatic watch and a chronograph, as well as sitting a theory exam. Each exam is assessed by experts from the watch industry and if deemed satisfactory the student is awarded the much sought after and prestigious WOSTEP diploma.
BSoW is proud to be part of the WOSTEP (Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program) Partnership, a worldwide network of schools all teaching the same course to the same standard. The WOSTEP diploma awarded to graduates of BSoW is internationally recognised within the watch industry.
In addition to gaining the WOSTEP diploma, students also benefit from unique opportunities during their time at BSoW. They have the chance to complete two school watches, the first one to their own design (encouraging artistry and nurturing creativity) and a second, WOSTEP’s own calibre, the W-01. If completed to a high enough standard, the student’s W-01 is sent to COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres, which is the institute responsible for certifying the accuracy and precision of wristwatches in Switzerland) for testing. Those which meet the strict criteria are awarded a chronometer certificate.
As BSoW is funded by so many major brands, it is able to offer its students the opportunity to visit Switzerland on a BSoW organised trip to tour the Swiss watch houses. Seeing a broad cross section of the Swiss (sometimes quite guarded and secretive) watch industry first hand, from the inside, is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Not many people have had the pleasure of witnessing, close up, the production processes of several different Swiss brands. This year we will be visiting Breitling, Cartier, Omega, Panerai, Patek Philippe, Rolex and WOSTEP. Previous trips have seen students enjoy handling million pound luxury timepieces and experiencing wonderful hospitality and fine dining in mountain top restaurants.
Successful Graduates of BSoW are in a unique position whereby they can expect to easily find employment. It goes without saying that this enviable employability and chance to directly utilise specialist skills learnt in education is in stark contrast to the reality for so many modern day university graduates who fail to find employment relating to their degree qualifications. To date, BSoW has a 100% retention rate within the watch industry for its graduates. The majority of jobs in UK watchmaking are in after sales service, this generally sees watchmakers working on interesting, luxury timepieces. For those few highly skilled watchmakers with the necessary experience, continued learning and development with their employer makes moves and promotions relatively straightforward and with an internationally recognised qualification, it’s not too difficult to travel abroad. For example, the market in the Far East is expanding rapidly and watchmakers are a rare commodity there. A career in watchmaking can be both challenging and rewarding. It has prestige, with good financial rewards and great opportunities.
There are two ways to secure one of the eight places at BSoW each year. You can apply directly to the school as a fee paying student, with similar costs to a place at university. The second entry route is to apply to one of the schools’ founders or supporters and secure a training contract. The training contract route sees students earning a salary while studying, as well as having their tuition fees paid and a guaranteed job at the end of the course; most of the students currently studying at BSoW have followed this route.
As a non-profit making business, receiving no government funding, BSoW rely entirely on financial input from its supporters. If you would like to support The British School of Watchmaking or seek a student place, please contact the school directly at email@example.com
For more information on The British School of Watchmaking please see the website www.bsow.co.uk