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Tue August 12, 2014
This Graduation Will Be On Time: Learning To Fix The World's Priciest Watches
Yes, there’s TCU and Texas Wesleyan. But Fort Worth is also home to one school without peer: a world-class institution that teaches a handful of select students how to repair the world’s most expensive watches. Meet the Class of 2014, which graduates Wednesday.
It’s been awhile – a couple years – or 63 million, 72 thousand seconds. But everyone in this small, six-student class just finished three tough days of tests from a team of international experts in the rarified world of Swiss horology, or watch-making.
28 year-old Tyler Poso is ready for his new job. The married father of three was an emergency 9-1-1 dispatcher in Keller. He still does it part-time.
“So it was an intense, stressful job,” explains Poso.”The job itself was rewarding, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about.”
Then Poso’s brother bought him a gift. A pocket watch. A mechanical pocket watch.
“I didn’t think you could still buy mechanical pocket watches,” Poso says, “because I remember in high school my teacher said you don’t need a mechanical pocket watch, you don’t need a mechanical wristwatch. They’re all obsolete, go for quartz. It was never an interest at that time. But at that point I was like, I’ve got this cool thing, I need to find out how it works.”
That’s when he learned about the North American Institute of Swiss Watchmaking. It was established in 2008 in Fort Worth. The two-year professional program is one of a pair in the U.S. that teaches a demanding curriculum created by Swiss watchmakers. Graduates can take apart and put back together watches that routinely cost five, ten, fifty thousand dollars or more. They can make replacement parts from raw steel, all by hand.
“And I was like, this is what I want to do. I’m going to go there,” Poso said.
“It’s all hard,” remarks Russ Peddy. “The first year is primarily micro-mechanics.”
Instructor Russ Peddy’s a the teacher at the Fort Worth school. One of those early micro-mechanics lessons is filing a small, steel cylinder into a perfect cube. It has to be within 1/100th of a millimeter of the specified size. First-year student Karin Dickinson, who’s 27, can speak to the difficulty.
“It’s a lot of hand skills,” Dickinson explains, “and learning to take finite measurements and a lot of filing. It was difficult, but rewarding. You know it took me the better part of a week, but I made this.
This is a steel square block as wide as a finger nail, filed to exacting standards. Dickinson, like the others, is one of about 180 who apply each year for the six school slots. Tuition is free. It’s funded in part by Richemont, the international luxury brand business that sells several high-end Swiss watches, including Cartier and Piaget.
Graduates, also schooled in using a lathe, are offered jobs at Richemont’s North American repair facility, just down the hall from the school. Starting salary these days is $50,000. But Stanley McMahan says no one applies to the school just for the money. They want to learn skills that go back hundreds of years, which for a time in the 1980’s were almost lost when inexpensive battery - or quartz - watches nearly killed the luxury watch business.
“The skills to manufacture a quartz watch,” McMahan says, “are all in the skill of machines that make those quartz watches. In traditional mechanical watchmaking, the skill lies in the hand of every watchmaker. The ultimate watchmaking tool is the hands and the mind of the watchmaker.”
Every Swiss watch-making school student in the class of 2014 found out Tuesday afternoon they passed. Some will stay in Fort Worth. Others now head home to distant states where there’s high demand for their specialized skills. They’ll be used to restore a lot more hand-crafted watches.