But I’ve never made a watch… nor do I plan on making one any time soon; so how does that make me a watchmaker?
The term watchmaker has been around for some time and used by virtually anyone that wants to call themselves one. In Australia, there are no regulations for calling yourself a watchmaker and I believe this is also the case in many other countries.
So what do I do? I fix watches!
So am I a watch technician, or someone that just services watches? Well no, I’m a bit more than that.
The name has a very traditional origin. 100+ years ago many watches were produced on a mass scale but many components where individually made and adjusted for each watch. As such, one can understand how the people behind the production were labelled watchmakers.
The same people that made these watches also partook in ‘servicing’ watches. If for whatever reason parts were damaged or worn, that watchmaker was able to produce new parts from more or less raw stock.
So returning to modern times, the term essentially refers to someone that repairs watches and is able to, when needed, fabricate components for older watches he or she cannot obtain spare parts for. (I will discuss what I refer to when I say ‘servicing’ a watch in a separate post, as the term itself can be confusing and misleading.)
However, here is where the term tends to be loosely used and adopted by anyone that desires to spray some lubricant into a watch and make it tick temporarily. Repairing a watch is not a simple task and unfortunately it is usually assumed to be, which leads to a diminished appreciation of this fine art.
A watch is a fine mechanical instrument. It is scientific. It has specific parameters that it must adhere to. I’m talking about hundredths of a millimetre – microscopic distances that must be met to ensure optimum performance. A watch is mechanical but also has an essence to it that supersedes a mere collection of gears, metals and shapes. Some would call it character or personality, and some would call it a soul. Regardless of the terminology, any half-decent and in-tune watchmaker will tell you there is more to a watch than what meets the loupe.
A watchmaker should have an ethical obligation to improve him or herself on a constant basis. This could be through training, reading, attending virtual or physical seminars, consulting peers, taking technical advice from manufacturers, and generally seeking to improve their technique. A watchmaker with no formal training should raise brows and be approached with caution. They could have 30 years experience and have had mentors along the way, but lets face it, a bad habit or incorrect technique is still incorrect whether you have been doing it for 3 or 30 years. There is a reason there are watchmaking schools and colleges that dedicate entire degrees to the basis of becoming a watchmaker. If it was something that could be self taught, would these places even exist?
This is not to say that one should completely doubt self-taught people or those without much formal training, but chances are that their method would not be up to standard. This also shouldn’t send the message that only graduate watchmaker are good, not at all. There are some great watchmakers that have never done formal training, but they are indeed rare and I am yet to come across one.
This industry is constantly evolving, and true watchmakers evolve with it. They question their methods, are open to change and criticism, and will always seek to become better in one way or another. (This is on top of the large amounts of money they need to invest on an ongoing basis to obtain and upkeep specialised equipment.)
This is part of the reason I am proud to call myself a watchmaker. Not proud in an arrogant or patronising manner, but proud in a manner of self-respect, appreciation and desire to do more for the watches that cross my bench. I want to push my standards to new levels, I want to absorb every bit of horological knowledge I can, I want to repair, restore and adjust to a professional level.
I started my journey as self-taught and got pretty far in terms of skill and repair, but I didn’t stop there. I wanted more. As such, I have taken up Australia’s last watchmaking course that is running at Ultimo TAFE in Sydney with teacher Trenton Firth. I am also completing my apprenticeship under a fully trained Master Watchmaker in Sydney city (I will not disclose any names to avoid any conflict of interest). I have the privilege to work with some of Australia’s most trained and ethical watchmakers I have come across; there may only be another 3 or 4 teams with this level of quality left in Australia!
It is very easy for me to sit here and type, so unfortunately you will have to take my word for it until I have the privilege to work on your watch. However, you may take some comfort in my reputation that has been building for the last 5 years in which I have acquired a large local, medium interstate, and small international customer base. To have someone send me a watch from overseas says to me that I worked to a certain standard that has harnessed trust and satisfaction.
I don’t expect you, nor want you to bring me your watch without questioning me or by blindly trusting what I say. Which ever watchmaker you come across you should ask what training they’ve done, how certified they are, how they maintain up-to-date and what they will be doing to your watch. And remember, an answer purely based on experience or anecdotal prestige should not suffice – demand to know more!