Watch and clock repairers clean, adjust, repair, and regulate watches, clocks, chronometers, electronic timepieces, and related instruments. Watch and clock repairers work in department and jewelry stores, at home, or in repair shops. Currently there are approximately 3,080 watch and clock repairers in the United States.
History of Watch and Clock Repairer Career
Keeping track of time has always been important to people. Ancient devices for measuring the passage of time included sundials and hourglasses. People also measured time through watching water drip at a steady pace until it filled a fixed container or by burning candles with regularly spaced marks on the side. The earliest mechanical clocks were built in Europe in the 1300s. Made of iron and driven by the energy of slowly dropping weights, they were so large and heavy that they had to be fitted into towers, and could indicate the hours only approximately. Improvements in clock mechanisms made them smaller, and a few household versions of weight-driven clocks began to appear by the end of the 1300s.
Portable clocks and watches became possible in the early 1500s, when a coiled mainspring replaced weights as a means for driving the mechanism. Early watches were about four to five inches in diameter, three inches deep, and so heavy that they had to be carried in the hand. A long series of advances refined the size of watches and clocks and improved their performance. By 1809, a watch belonging to the Empress Josephine of France was small enough to be made into the first wristwatch, although wristwatches were not very successful for nearly another century. Among the many changes that improved clocks and watches were parts made of brass and steel, then later of special metal alloys, the introduction of the pendulum in clocks, and the invention of the hairspring to regulate the motion of the balance wheel in watches. More recently, electric and electronic devices have brought further miniaturization and helped increase timekeeping accuracy.
Until the 1800s, timepieces were made by hand, one by one, by skilled artisans. In the early United States, a few clockmakers copied European clocks of the era, and clock towers were built in city public places. Not many people owned watches prior to the 1800s. In that century, however, large numbers of clocks and pocket watches were made using factory methods. Prices became more reasonable, and watches and clocks became popular as people led more active lives and traveled more. Today’s watches and clocks are almost always mass-produced in factories, but workers skilled in adjusting and repairing precision parts are still needed to work on electric and mechanical timepieces.
The Job of Watch and Clock Repairers
Watches and clocks are complex machines with many small parts, and repairing them requires precision and delicacy. The ability to locate and correct defects is an important and necessary skill for watch and clock repairers. They employ a standard, systematic procedure to track down defects, sometimes using information from customers about the history and previous repairs of the timepiece. Some problems arise from incorrect replacement or improper fitting of parts. Careless pushing, pulling, or turning the winding device can also cause problems by making parts too tight or too loose, or permitting dust to enter the mechanism.
The first step is usually opening the case to examine the mechanism. Often with the aid of a magnifying eyeglass, or loupe, repairers check for defective parts and dirt and inspect the springs for rust and incorrect alignment. They may repair or replace such parts as the mainspring, hairspring, jewels or pivots, and escapements. With older timepieces, they may have to make parts in order for the device to function properly. They may clean the mechanism with a cleaning solution or ultrasonic sound waves. Timepieces that must be oiled need a delicate touch, for excessive amounts of oil, or oil placed in the wrong spots, can cause the mechanism to operate improperly. When the work is complete, the timepiece must be reassembled so that parts fit properly.
Repairers use a number of specialized tools and devices in their work. A timing machine is used to check the accuracy of timepieces. Watches and clocks that show erratic timekeeping are checked for magnetism and may be demagnetized. When diagnosing problems in electric and electronic timepieces, watch and clock repairers may use various meters and other testing equipment. They may also use hand tools, such as pliers, files, pin vises, tweezers, turns, and lathes in their work.
Many watch and clock repairers, especially those who are self-employed or work in a retail store, also repair jewelry and sell items such as clocks, watches, jewelry, china, and silverware. Those working in large stores and shops may have managerial or supervisory duties as well. Repairers who have their own shops often must order parts and merchandise, keep accounts, arrange for advertising, and perform other tasks required to maintain an efficient and profitable business.
Watch and Clock Repairer Career Requirements
A high school diploma is desirable for prospective watch and clock repairers. High school classes that would be good preparation for this career include shop courses that introduce the use of various tools and electronics classes to learn about circuits and electrical test equipment. Mathematics or accounting classes that teach business math and courses that help develop verbal communication skills are also beneficial.
Few people learn this trade on the job. Instead, the best way to learn watch and clock repairing skills is to attend one of 10 schools of horology (the art of making and repairing timepieces) located throughout the United States. Training programs typically take one to three years and include instruction in disassembling and reassembling, cleaning and oiling, and replacing or repairing parts in various kinds of timepieces. Students learn to use such devices as demagnetizers, lathes, and electronic timing equipment. Additional training may be obtained in servicing electronic watches, calendars, chronometers, and timers. Once employed, watch and clock repairers usually take refresher courses to learn about new products that come on the market.
Certification or Licensing
The American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute offers certification to watch and clock repairers based on a written examination and a practical test of repairing skill. Six designations are available: certified watchmaker (CW), certified master watchmaker (CMW), certified electronic watch technician (CEWT), certified master electronic watchmaker (CMEW), certified clockmaker (CC), and certified master clockmaker (CMC).
Watch and clock repairers need a combination of personal characteristics. They must have the ability to work independently with a high degree of precision. They need to be able to perceive tiny details in objects and make fine visual discriminations. They must have good manual dexterity, the finger sensitivity to feel small shapes, and steady hands so they can deftly place and work with small parts. They need orderly work habits and the ability to make judgments using set standards. Repairers who are in charge of their own shops need to be tactful, courteous, and able to communicate well with the public and employees. They also need at least a basic understanding of operating a business.
Exploring Watch and Clock Repairer Careers
While in high school, you can begin to learn about this field by getting a part-time job in a shop where watches and clocks are repaired and sold. Even a basic job, such as helping with cleaning and stock deliveries, can provide a good opportunity to observe a skilled watchmaker or clockmaker at work. Jewelry shops often hire high school or college students to work part-time during the holiday seasons.
Hobbies and shop courses that require dexterity and patience in using hand tools can provide another way of exploring similar activities and developing manual skills. Some students explore their interest in detailed crafts by learning to repair precision instruments while serving in the military.
The American Watchmakers Institute and your local library are good sources of information about watch repair history and the profession.
Approximately 3,080 watch and clock repairers are employed throughout the country. Jewelry and department stores and service outlets employ watch and clock repairers. Watch and clock manufacturers may also hire repairers to work in their service departments. Many people with these skills operate their own repair businesses either in a storefront or in their own homes.
Job seekers might check the listings for “jewelers” or “watch repair” in their local Yellow Pages and apply directly to any establishments that seem likely. Watch manufacturers can be contacted directly regarding job openings. Graduates of watch and clock repair training programs may get help finding a job from their school’s placement office. Local newspaper classified ads also post job openings in the field.
The associations listed at the end of this article post job openings or offer referral networks on their Web sites. Explore the sites and consider joining a local chapter to better access job leads, make contacts in the industry, and learn about developments in horology.
Watch repairers who work in stores and shops may be promoted to positions as supervisors or service managers. Experienced repairers can go into business for themselves by opening their own repair shop and perhaps eventually expanding it into a retail store selling items such as jewelry and silver in addition to clocks and watches. Some repairers get further training in engraving, jewelry repair, design, or stone setting. Such additional skills may open new avenues for advancement.
Another possibility for some workers is to apply their precision skills in another field. For example, past experience as a watch or clock repairer may be marketable to a company that manufactures aircraft components with small parts (See “Aircraft Mechanics”). Such job changes, however, are likely to require additional training.
According the U.S. Department of Labor, the median annual salary for watch and clock repairers was $31,640 in 2005. Salaries ranged from less than $17,310 to more than $51,250. In some stores, part of watch and clock repairers’ earnings is commissions on the items they service. Someone working 40 hours a week for a company or business can usually expect general benefits. Repairers who operate their own businesses often earn considerably more than those who are employed by other businesses.
Watch and clock repairers work in a variety of settings, including home businesses, department stores, shopping centers, jewelry stores, or repair shops. Work areas are typically clean, well lighted, and comfortable. Repairers often work individually and sit at a workbench much of the time. Because repairs consist of close work with fine tools and delicate instruments, some people experience eyestrain, especially at the start of their training or career. By using the right equipment and following proper procedures, however, they can minimize this factor.
Some repairers work a standard 40-hour workweek, while others work as much as 45 to 48 hours a week. Self-employed people may work longer hours, depending on the amount of business.
Watch and Clock Repairer Career Outlook
The employment of watch and clock repairers is expected to grow at a slower than average rate through 2014. According to the Chicago Tribune, a shortage of trained watchmakers and repairers has resulted from the growing popularity of electronic quartz timepieces, which are less expensive then mechanical clocks and watches and generally require fewer repairs. Since many watches and clocks produced today cost as much or more to repair as to replace, owners tend to discard their old or broken items. However, sales of high-grade watches (such as Rolex) have made a comeback.
In addition, the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute reports that the average age of a watch/clockmaker is over 60 years old. In the coming decade, many openings will result from the need to replace these retiring workers. This trend, coupled with the fact that there are few people entering this field, means that watch and clock repairers with precision skills should find ample employment opportunities.