Mastering the hands of time
In the 1970s, quartz clocks revolutionised the watchmaking industry. People predicted the death of mechanical watches, and watchmakers feared they would go out of business. But the exact opposite happened. Not only are mechanical watches still on the market, they have gained in value and skilled watchmakers are in demand across the world.
Young Post meets Manfred Weber, service manager for Asia-Pacific at A. Lange & Sohne.
Watchmakers have a passion for micro-mechanics. Weber remembers that as a child he would spend time in his uncle's jewellery and watch shop, tweaking and repairing old clocks.
In this job, you need good eyesight and be meticulous and agile with your hands. You also need to be extremely patient. There can be more than 1,000 individual parts in some watches, so you need to have logical thinking to put them in order. Being good at mathematics will certainly help, and you must enjoy problem solving.
Beginners will require at least two years of basic training. The world-renowned Institute of Swiss Watchmaking (IOSW), founded by Richemont, recently opened a branch in Hong Kong. It offers a two-year Certified Watchmaking Course, recognised internationally.
Another option is to join the government-run Higher Diploma in Horological Science and Technology programme at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education (IVE).
This three-year course is less specialised than the IOSW programme but provides knowledge in engineering, design, horological technology, marketing and management.
Attending short courses regularly is vital because there are new inventions all the time.
Watchmaking can be divided into three different categories: manufacturing, producing and servicing. As a beginner, you usually start in servicing to gain experience. After basic training, most students start working for brands, but some decide to engage in fine mechanical engineering to construct watch movements.
After a few years, watchmakers can become teachers or they may specialise in certain techniques like regulating process, chronographs and minute repeater.
A watch manufacturer has several departments, each of them essential to producing a watch. It takes an average of 10 people to produce a watch and up to 100 workers if it's complicated.
Long-term work prospects
After many years of experience, some watchmakers may start their own business. Some may produce their own brand but do not manufacture the mechanical parts.
Others work as a director of production at a watch manufacturer. It is more business-orientated but still requires a background in watchmaking.
Salaries vary greatly, depending on your experience.
Fresh graduates from the IVE programme start at around HK$10,000 per month.
Usually, you can earn a good salary after acquiring the many skills you need, but this may take time.
Where to apply
Any big brand has offices in Hong Kong, and most of them will have service centres. They are all looking for watchmakers.
It's a job with no borders; the skills are the same worldwide.
A day at work
Weber spends 25 per cent of his time working on watches; 25 per cent travelling and doing educational and PR work (seminars, events, VIP meetings); 25 per cent taking care of customer relations and answering clients' technical questions; and 25 per cent on administrative work.
After working on watch parts for hours, mostly on a bench, watchmakers have to find a way to relax.
Many take part in sports.
Weber knows a really good watchmaker who listens to black metal music after work to cope with the stress.