What does a watchmaker do?
Watchmakers make and repair watches, clocks and other timepieces.
People who make watches and clocks are also called horologists. They work on all types and sizes of watch and clock, from tiny wristwatches to large clocks (including public clocks).
Some horologists can also be involved in making scientific timepieces, such as atomic clocks and those controlled by radio signals.
Watchmakers may work on very old clocks and watches, repairing and restoring them. They may work on any part of the clock or watch - either the mechanism inside, or the outer casing.
They may be involved in:
- opening watch cases and examining mechanisms
- repairing or replacing broken or defective parts, including making parts where necessary
- reassembling watches
- cleaning parts and watch cases
- designing new watch cases and mechanisms.
Watchmakers use a range of specialist equipment, such as lathes, drill presses, ultrasonic cleaning machines and hand tools (tweezers, pliers, screwdrivers). They may also use chemicals for cleaning watches and parts.
Some watchmakers work for large watch or jewellery companies or nationwide chains.
Many watchmakers are self-employed. They usually work in their own workshop, which might be at home or in other premises. This might be a high street shop where customers can visit. Customers who can’t visit the shop send their watches to the watchmaker.
A watchmaker who designs and makes new watches is likely to meet customers to discuss the design.
Watchmakers often go to clock and watch fairs in the UK and overseas. Here they can meet other watchmakers, suppliers and potential clients.
Many watchmakers have websites and use social media platforms to promote their work.
To be a watchmaker, you need to have a good eye for detail. The inside of a watch is precision-built on a very small scale.
You need to be good with your hands and able to work very carefully and methodically. If you are a watch repairer, you need to be good at problem-solving.
You also need to be patient, as the work can be very time-consuming. Good eyesight helps, as well as good hand-eye coordination.
If you are repairing and restoring antique watches and clocks, it helps to have an interest in them and their history.
To design watches, you need to have creative flair and an eye for attractive objects and good craftsmanship.
If you are dealing with the public, you need to have customer service skills and be able to explain technical terms simply. As a watch designer, you need to be able to explain your creative ideas to customers.
If you are self-employed, you need business skills so you can market your goods and services, deal with finances and develop your business.
There are several courses in watchmaking and horology, offering different ways to study.
- Diploma in Clock and Watch Servicing (Technician grade)
- Diploma in the Repair, Restoration and Conservation of Clocks/Watches, which is in two parts - Intermediate grade and Final grade
The British School of Watchmaking was set up by leading watch companies. Its two-year course, near Manchester, covers modern Swiss mechanical and electronic watches. The course includes making and using tools. Some students work for one of the watch companies, and the company pays their course fees.
The school has links with WOSTEP (Watches of Switzerland Training and Education Programme) and is internationally recognised.
The Horology Department at Birmingham City University School of Jewellery offers
- the British Horological Institute Certificate in the Repair, Restoration and Conservation of Clocks/Watches
- a two-year HND in Horology
- a three-year BA in Horology.
Some of these courses have entry requirements. GCSE Design and Technology may be useful, along with GCSEs in English, Maths and Science.
Business studies or enterprise are useful if you want to run your own business.
Once you are qualified, you can become a member of the British Horological Institute or the British Watch and Clockmakers Guild. The Worshipful Company of Watchmakers also supports watchmakers. You can attend short courses to increase your skills.
What can I earn?
A fully qualified, experienced watchmaker could earn £30,000 - £45,000 per year working for a watch repair company.
Working for one of the top design houses, your pay could be £60,000 per year.
Earnings as a self-employed watchmaker vary widely, depending on the type and location of business.
Paul Parry is a clockmaker specialising in Nixie Clocks. These uses a 1950s technology to indicate the numbers representing the time. A Nixie tube is a glass cylinder that contains all the digits from 0-9 stacked up inside, along with Neon gas which causes the orange glow. They are no longer used in industry or manufactured, as the invention of the LED and then LCD display made them obsolete. Paul use original old tubes, and combines them with vintage items to make one-of-a-kind clocks.