There are about 3,000 watch repairers working in the United States. Job growth projections indicate that watch repairing is a dying industry. Over the next decade, it is expected to decline by 14 percent, far faster than most other types of work. This is in part due to world markets flooded with inexpensive time pieces that are attractive and sturdy, as well as watches with many built-in features designed for particular interests. For example, there are popular specialized watches for runners, deep-sea divers, and those involved in other types of sports that are built to function under conditions in which other watches would fail. A third reason for the failing industry is the fact that young people are growing into adults less familiar with reading time from a round clock face. They prefer the digitalized clocks and watches that visually state the time to the minute or second over those that must be interpreted.
While the business of watch repairing is in a rapid decline, there will be plenty of opportunities for future employment in the next ten years. This is because many current watch makers are preparing to retire. In addition, fewer and fewer people are entering the business, which makes those who are trained more valuable.
Other names for watch repairers are horologists or watchmakers. They work primarily on antique watches and clocks, as well as timepieces that are expensive, complex, or unique. In addition to determining the reason a watch or clock is not working correctly and then repairing the problem, they clean and adjust watches. If a part is worn or damaged, they replace it. Among the maintenance tasks watch repairers perform are lubricating moving parts so they don’t become worn down, repairing malfunctioning parts if possible, and replacing from their stock if repair isn’t possible. In the event the part is not available or no longer made, a watch repairer will create a new part using a drill press, a lathe, and a variety of hand tools. Watch repairers also clean timepiece components, often using ultrasonic methods to minimize damage. Some use watch cleaning machines designed to do this delicate work without damaging the time piece. Watchmakers also replace scratched or cracked glass faces. One of the primary reasons a customer will bring a watch to a watchmaker is because it no longer keeps accurate time. In this case, after cleaning the watch or clock and checking for worn or defective parts, the watchmaker will use electronic instruments that accurately measure the passage of time. If necessary, the time regulator will require adjustment. This work is done with precision instruments capable of extremely delicate work, including tweezers, truing calipers, and watch-rate recorders.
Learning to clean and repair watches and clocks is time consuming. It can take a number of years of practice and study to reach a level of competency. While it is not required to be certified, some watch repairers pursue training on an advanced level to become a certified watchmaker. The American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute and the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors both offer certification programs. Certifications range in time commitment from a few months to 3,000 classroom hours that must be completed over a two-year span of time in a technical school. Watch repairers require more training and experience than clock repairers. This is due to the fact that the works inside of clocks are larger and easier to access and repair. For many, watch repairing is a calling as well as a vocation. The best watch repairers attend seminars, conferences, and workshops to learn the newest techniques and tools and are constantly improving their performance and rate of success.
In addition to having the necessary knowledge required to repair a variety of watches and clocks, watch repairers need several other traits. Attention to close detail is very important; it is easy to overlook a clue that is the key to the solution on a repair. Patience is required, as well. This type of work does not lend itself to hasty decisions or inaccurate work. Good watch repairers are creative thinkers, both when diagnosing a problem and when determining how it can be fixed, especially if a part is not available. In addition, competent watch repairers must have excellent close-up vision, as some of the parts or functions are extremely small and difficult to see. A steady arm and steady hand are both important. Equally important is how well the arm and hand work in tandem to remain steady, sometimes for extended periods of time. Finger dexterity is also important. A watch maker needs both hands to take hold of, move, manipulate, and assemble parts or tools.
The median yearly salary for watch repairers is about $35,000.