One of the first things anyone who wants to be a watchmaker should do is start gathering information on all of their options for school. I’m assuming two things here:
- You have decided that you want to be a full-time watchmaker as opposed to a hobbyist. If you are interested in being a hobbyist, Timezone.com has an online watchmaking course that you can go through (you pay for each level (3) and tools and parts).
- You are American. I know that there are schools in other countries (some even offering distance learning), but since I have only investigated the schools in the United States, I can only speak from that perspective.
With those two points out of the way, if you are living in the US, you have quite a few options for school. There are six schools that you can apply at. They are as follows
- Lititz Watch Technicum (Lititz, Pennsylvania) ROLEX
- North American Institute of Swiss Watchmaking (Dallas, Texas) RICHEMONT
- Nicolas G. Hayek Watchmaking School (Miami, Florida) SWATCH GROUP
- Paris Junior College (Paris, Texas)
- Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (Okmulgee, Oklahoma)
- North Seattle Community College (Seattle, Washington)
As you can see, there are six schools in the US to choose from. I have divided them into two groups. The first grouping of schools is comprised of schools that receive funding from then brands listed next to them. What this means is the cost of tuition at these schools are subsidized by the brands. Usually the cost of books, and sometimes tools are included. Because the cost of tuition at these schools are subsidized, the number of students is limited and the application process is very thorough. The NAIOSW limits their class to size to 6 students, Rolex, last I read accepts 12 students, and Swatch school 10. The NAIOSW and Lititz school starts in September, the Miami school starts in January. The NAIOSW and the Hayek school are designed to prepare watchmakers to work in a service center. The Lititz school claims to walk the line between service center work and other forms of watchmaking.
The second grouping of schools are schools that you are responsible for all the costs-tuition, books, tools, etc. They are limited in class size by their facilities and certifying organizations. They tend to run on a typical college schedule (usually starting in September, though there can be some exceptions). All of them offer you the opportunity to receive your AAS in Watch Technology/Horology. Some offer the ability to get a secondary certification from SAWATA or the AWCI.
Besides applying to as many schools as possible, I would definitely recommend that you contact all the schools prior to applying to them. If you have a chance to visit any of the schools, I would recommend that as well. Do your best to narrow down to your top two or three schools and visit those for sure.
The application process can be lengthy (as was my experience) and usually has multiple components to it. For me, I applied to one school initially (NAIOSW). The application process consisted of four phases:
- General Application filled out online
- Questionnaire and Essay
- Phone Interview
- Computer testing and face-to-face interview
My experience with applying to school wasn’t the smartest possible one. I researched some of the schools, got frustrated that I would have to move my wife and myself if I got accepted to any school other than the Dallas one (wasn’t aware of the Paris School at that point). I decided to throw all my eggs in one basket and apply only with them. I contacted them a year before I wanted to apply, met with the instructors and my wife and got busy on paying off our debt while waiting until I wanted to apply.
NAIOSW has a high volume of candidates (about 200 the year I applied). If you make it to the 4th phase, you will be in the top 10% of applicants. If you are comfortable with physics and mechanics, you should score well on the computer test (I did not) and that should help your chances. If you aren’t good with physics and mechanics, I suggest you pick up some intro to physics books, or spend some time at the Kahn Academy. When I did apply, I made it through to the fourth phase. That was definitely the best part of the application process. For the second half of the day, we got to take apart and put back together an ETA 6497. That solidified in my mind my desire to be a watchmaker.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get accepted, but was asked to apply again. This time, I also contacted the instructor at the Paris Junior College program and got all the information about their school. They don’t have an application process like what NAIOSW has. From talking with the instructor and a former student, the first semester serves as the application process (apparently, if you can make it through the first semester, you will make it through the program. While the two schools offer similar programs, the school in Paris offers additional courses in tuning fork watches, and also teaches the differences between working in a jewelry shop and working in a service center.
School starts for me May 12 at Paris.