29 November 2012

Watchmakers make and repair watches, clocks and other timepieces.

Watchmaking requires patience and discipline, as watches are precision-built on a small scale. Photo: Holts Academy
Watchmaking requires patience and discipline, as watches are precision-built on a small scale. Photo: Holts Academy

What do watchmakers do?

People who make watches and clocks are also called horologists. They work on all types and sizes of watch and clock, from tiny wristwatches to large clocks (including public clocks).

Some horologists can also be involved in making scientific timepieces, such as atomic clocks and those controlled by radio signals.

Watchmakers may work on very old clocks and watches, repairing and restoring them. They may work on any part of the clock or watch - either the mechanism inside, or the outer casing.

They may be involved in:

  • opening watch cases and examining mechanisms
  • repairing or replacing broken or defective parts, including making parts where necessary
  • reassembling watches
  • cleaning parts and watch cases
  • designing new watch cases and mechanisms.

What is the job like?

Watchmakers use a range of specialist equipment, such as lathes, drill presses, ultrasonic cleaning machines and hand tools (tweezers, pliers, screwdrivers). They may also use chemicals for cleaning watches and parts.

Some watchmakers work for large watch or jewellery companies or nationwide chains.

Many watchmakers are self-employed. They usually work in their own workshop, which might be at home or in other premises. This might be a high street shop where customers can visit. Customers who can’t visit the shop send their watches to the watchmaker.

You need to have a good eye for detail. The inside of a watch is precision-built on a very small scale.

A watchmaker who designs and makes new watches is likely to meet customers to discuss the design. This could be at the customer’s home, in the workshop or at an agreed meeting place.

Watchmakers often go to clock and watch fairs in the UK and overseas. Here they can meet other watchmakers and suppliers and display their goods to visitors, including members of the public.

Many watchmakers now have websites to advertise and display their designs.

How do I become a watchmaker?

To be a watchmaker, you need to have a good eye for detail. The inside of a watch is precision-built on a very small scale.

You need to be good with your hands and able to work very carefully and methodically. If you are a watch repairer, you need to be good at problem-solving.

You also need to be patient, as the work can be very time-consuming. Good eyesight helps, as well as good hand-eye coordination.

If you are repairing and restoring antique watches and clocks, it helps to have an interest in them and their history.

To design watches, you need to have creative flair and an eye for attractive objects and good craftsmanship.

If you are dealing with the public, you need to have customer service skills and be able to explain technical terms simply. As a watch designer, you need to be able to explain your creative ideas to customers.

If you are self-employed, you need business skills so you can market your goods and services, deal with finances and develop your business.

What training and qualifications do I need?

There are several courses in watchmaking and horology, offering different ways to study.

The British Horological Institute has distance learning courses leading to:

The British School of Watchmaking was set up by leading watch companies. Its two-year course, near Manchester, covers modern Swiss mechanical and electronic watches.  The course includes making and using tools. Some students work for one of the watch companies, and the company pays their course fees.

The school has links with WOSTEP (Watches of Switzerland Training and Education Programme) and is internationally recognised. There are 14 WOSTEP schools around the world (including the British School of Watchmaking).

The Horology Department at Birmingham City University School of Jewellery offers

  • the British Horological Institute Certificate in the Repair, Restoration and Conservation of Clocks/Watches
  • a two-year HND in Horology
  • a three-year BA in Horology.

Some of these courses have entry requirements. GCSE Design and Technology (resistant materials) may be useful, along with GCSEs in English, Maths and Science. It is important to check before you apply.

Business studies or enterprise are useful if you want to run your own business.

Once you are qualified, you can become a member of the British Horological Institute or the British Watch and Clockmakers Guild. The Worshipful Company of Watchmakers also supports watchmakers. You can attend short courses to increase your skills.

What can I earn?

A fully qualified, experienced watchmaker could earn £30,000 - £45,000 per year working for a watch repair company.

Working for one of the top design houses, your pay could be £60,000 per year.

Earnings as a self-employed watchmaker vary widely, depending on the type and location of business.

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