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Making Time With the Watchmakers 257

PreacherTom writes "In the age of watches that have more computational power than Apollo 11's computer, one would think that the watchmaker has gone the way of the cobbler, the blacksmith and the Dodo. Quite the contrary. With the rise in interest for mechanical watches (especially luxury models), Rolex has sponsored a new school to train horologists in the arcane art. From the article: 'We were facing a situation today where we needed to foster a new generation of watchmakers,' says Charles Berthiaume, the senior vice-president for technical operations at Rolex and the Technicum's president 'Thirty to 40 years ago, there was a watchmaker at every jewelry store. That's not the case today,' he notes. Included are some remarkable examples of their training, dedication, and intricate patience as they take technology in an entirely different direction."
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Making Time With the Watchmakers

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  • Seems appropriate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 22, 2006 @09:12PM (#17344806)
    "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker."
    - Albert Einstein
  • Re:Wishful thinking (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 22, 2006 @09:15PM (#17344822)
    I've had my Rolex (a "cheap" S. S. Oyster day/date) for over thirty years and it's never missed a beat. I can get better time from a five dollar Casio but my world doesn't run on the hundredth of a second.

    I refute your vibrating crystals.
  • by Matt Perry ( 793115 ) <> on Friday December 22, 2006 @09:33PM (#17344958)
    With the rise in interest for mechanical watches...
    Do people still wear watches? I gave up watches long ago because it seems I'm surrounded by devices that tell time: cars, microwaves, computers, mobile phones, MP3 players, PDAs. Even my motorcycle has a clock on the instrument panel. Do Slashdotters still wear watches? If so, I'd be curious as to why.
  • by chucken ( 750893 ) on Friday December 22, 2006 @09:34PM (#17344966)
    With the large amounts of slashdot readers prepared to do moderation and meta-moderation etc., could some shill-detection scanning of submitted articles be in order? (I'm thinking by hand, rather than automated). It's usually not hard to spot affiliate IDs in the hyperlinks, for example.
  • by pair-a-noyd ( 594371 ) on Friday December 22, 2006 @09:39PM (#17344994)
    there was a watch repair booth at the grocery store and an old man (as I remember him) sat there all day with his loupe repairing watches. My mom would drop me at his booth and I would just stand there, fascinated.
    I thought that was so freaking cool, to work on such tiny things like watches.
    I had a Mickey Mouse watch that broke and I got to watch him repair it.

    I was inspired by him (and other repairmen) to take stuff apart and see "what makes it tick"..
    Another thing that was common when I was a kid, there were handymen repair shops where you took just about anything that was broken and the nice man would fix it. Toasters, vacuum cleaners, TV's, radios, whatever.

    That's what I wanted to do when I grew up, be a handyman, to just fix broken stuff.
    Now I'm older, have arthritis in my hands, my eyes aren't so good anymore, there's just no way I could do this sort of work anymore. That sucks because that's what I love to do more than anything, fix things, work on stuff..

    My favorite TV show is "How it's Made" []
  • Almost a watchmaker (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MajorDick ( 735308 ) on Friday December 22, 2006 @09:39PM (#17344996)
    I am fairly young (35) when I was growing up my Grandfater (a watchmaker by training) a boilerwelder by trade (it paid MUCH better) taught me how to clean and repair a watch from a young age.

    When I was 15 I lived with him to help on the farm since my Great Grandmother moved in with him. I asked for him to take me as an apprectice as a watchmaker (hey I lived there why not and I was good with guns, clocks, etc) besides my bedrrom was the "Watch Room"

    He said he wouldnt mind at all and thought I could make short work of it but he warned me he saw no future in it, as all the watches were going electronic and I could probably never make a living at it.

    Investing 8 hrs a day for 2+ years and not having it be a viable profession made my mind up , I decided not to

    Last year I was in L.A. I REAL WatchMAKER (not watch repair man, hack, etc, but WATCH MAKER, who can from nothing but raw metal make a watch from scratch command UPWARDS of 250,000 a Year.

    DOH ! I have my Grandfather last watch he wore every day, a Seiko, he loved it, it never needed cleaned, and kept perfect time.

    The article is about as dead on as it gets......I wish I wish I wish......
  • by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Friday December 22, 2006 @09:43PM (#17345028) Journal
    I do. I began recently, after being watch-hostile for over 25 years. I was one and at first wore it because it was a gift, with intention to get rid of it ASAP, but I found out that it's good, comfortable, precise and doesn't fail like the $3 watches I kept having bad experiences with ('fix it for me please!') and I found it WAY more comfortable to peek at my wrist than to dig in my pocket for the phone or bend over the computer to see the system tray, or peer into dark dashboard of the car, or turn back to see the clock on the wall behind and so on. A wrist-watch is really more comfortable - under one condition, that is its quality is sufficient that it doesn't become a nuisance.

    Now I'm pondering some 'integration' again - pick a watch with some other handy functionalities. Any suggestions?
  • by Quila ( 201335 ) on Friday December 22, 2006 @09:44PM (#17345034)
    I have some very nice mechanical and quartz Swiss watches. I used to be able to go by a local master watchmaker to have them serviced or fixed. Then he retired and there was literally nobody else around to do it. Now I'm supposed to ship everything back to the manufacturer. Nobody in town will even replace the batteries on the quartz ones.
  • by Quila ( 201335 ) on Friday December 22, 2006 @10:22PM (#17345266)
    Now I'm pondering some 'integration' again - pick a watch with some other handy functionalities. Any suggestions?

    You don't have to go electronic to get extra features. In mechanical watches, these are called "complications." Just look for a watch with multiple complications, such as stop watch, day, date, week, month, year, moon phases, perpetual calendar, etc.

    But be warned, when you get a quality watch with more than a few complications, you will be paying major money. The Patek Philippe Calibre 89 has 33 complications, over 1,700 parts, took nine years to design and make, and is worth about $6 million. The thing even calculates the date of Easter every year -- mechanically.
  • by codeviking ( 685537 ) <> on Friday December 22, 2006 @10:37PM (#17345336)
    I wear a Waltham pocket watch made in 1908. My dad is a pocket watch collector/repair hobbyist. He can tear a pocket watch completely apart and rebuild them. It's incredible how tiny many of the parts are. A pocket watch is a work of art, and it's neat to have a watch that's nearly 100 years old in your pocket, and that runs incredibly well.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 22, 2006 @10:39PM (#17345358)
    That's what I wanted to do when I grew up, be a handyman, to just fix broken stuff. (...) that's what I love to do more than anything, fix things, work on stuff..

    This gets rather personal, so I'm ACing it: Be glad that you didn't. My dad worked for IBM for 40+ years. He repaired computers (and before that, typewriters). He started back when you would measure radio tubes for defective bits and replace them, all through the way to replacing defective chips on IC cards.

    Today, nobody does that. You're a glorified "replace these cards until it works" or worse yet, a glorified delivery boy replacing the broken box with a new one. The circuitry is so small and integrated, your hourly rate so high compared to just pushing out another at the assembly line, it's just not worth it. One of his colleagues sucidied over it, my dad retired.

    I've seen that happen to more and more small electronics - just making an estimate of what's wrong exceeds the cost of buying a new cheap device. Shops that used to fix things like that have closed up. Cars are the same - my dad would understand simple engines well, today you need a computer to tell you what's wrong - and probably a computer to fix it.

    I must admit, that's just the way it is. Even if I compare it to a "flip the burger" McDonald's rate, you have a very narrow window of oppertunity where an expensive piece of equipment needs to be fixed in a very short time. Ever tried to debug "Well there's some wierd race condition that only happens under load on release builds", it's roughly as bad as "Well the hardware locks up under some wierd conditions". Many times, even if you found an expert of the subject, it's just not worth it or he'll conclude "scrap it, buy a new one". Sorry to rain on your parade but it's just not as glorious as it sounds.
  • by FractalZone ( 950570 ) on Friday December 22, 2006 @10:46PM (#17345388) Homepage
    PreacherTom is an astroturfer for BusinessWeek magazine.

    BusinessWeak magazine? Come on, it is tabloid business journalism at its lamest; entertaining yes, informative sometimes, but rarely if you want in depth information about the topics it purports to cover. I have an MBA and while I could cite some monthly business periodicals in the papers I wrote for classes, Businessweek was rarely one of them.

    The WSJ is much better, more accurate, and more insightful and has far more interesting articles in any given week than BusinessWeak does in a typical month. I guess that is why BW needs shills...
  • by kjart ( 941720 ) on Friday December 22, 2006 @10:57PM (#17345440)

    PreacherTom [] is an astroturfer for BusinessWeek magazine.

    So...he links to BusinessWeek and presumably makes some money doing so. This is somehow morally reprehensible? I really don't care where the stories come from, as long as they are interesting (i.e. News for nerds, stuff that matters). I have no problems if he manages to eke out of living submitting stories from BuisnessWeek, just like I have no problems with Slashdot making money from this website.

    Now, if stories submitted by this guy get preferential treatment in anyway, now that is a problem.

  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Friday December 22, 2006 @11:40PM (#17345710)
    Since when do doctors still do house calls?

          _I_ do. I'm not in the US though. Price of a house call, about $30 ;)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 23, 2006 @12:29AM (#17345976)
    My suggestion? Don't. A good watch should tell time, and that's it. Anything else just means it's not going to do its main job as well as it could.

    My watch of choice is a quartz plastic Timex, with a nylon band. It's darn near indestructible (esp. with the nylon, rather than crappy leather or uncomfortable metal bands), pretty damn cheap, yet it has a huge face with analog hands. The only other thing I'd accept on a watch is a calendar, which I still need to fiddle with every other month, and only tolerate because I have trouble remembering what the date is.

    The only extras a watch should have are those that would actually improve the main task of keeping time. For example, a watch that automatically adjusted for daylight savings time, or time zones, or leap years. 'course, you could just get an atomic clock radio watch and save yourself a lot of trouble.

    I also have a light on my watch. It's designed for illuminating the face, but I find it more useful for seeing in pitch darkness (I use it to find my flashlight when I go camping), but it's definitely a frill I don't need (how often do you need to know the time when you're in pitch darkness?), and it runs down the battery. (Although it gets surprisingly good life. Must be LED or something.)

    Also, digital is crap. Analog hands forever. A wristwatch should show you what time it is, not tell you. If you have to read it, you've defeated the point of having a wristwatch. At that point you might as well fish your cell phone out of your pocket.
  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @01:01AM (#17346116) Journal
    It'd suck if you couldn't afford to buy the watches you make.

    Why? I'd much rather work on nice stuff, even if I personally couldn't afford it, rather than work with cheap stuff.

    Think about it, would you rather work in a shop turning out finely crafted watches you couldn't afford, or be on an assembly line cranking out plastic watches for Wal-Mart buyers?

    I regularly write software that I can't afford, but I enjoy it, and it's a nice living.

    What would really suck is working to create a product that you need but can't afford.

  • by Fulcrum of Evil ( 560260 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @01:50AM (#17346304)
    Yeah, but these are watches, not an accounting package. It's nice, when people work on things meant for private use (like watches, cars, and suits), for them to be able to buy and use those same things. It's also good advertising - a nice rolex, even the simpler ones, should start more than a couple conversations.
  • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @02:57AM (#17346592) Homepage

    Many times, even if you found an expert of the subject, it's just not worth it or he'll conclude "scrap it, buy a new one". Sorry to rain on your parade but it's just not as glorious as it sounds.
    There are still a few places where there's room for mechanical craftsmanship. High end Swiss watch repair, obviously. Me, I've been a locksmith for the last 15 years (except for those 2 years when my reserve unit got dragged off to Afghanistan, but that's another story), and I gotta say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sure, there's all kinds of fancy electronic stuff now, but the majority of it comes down to working with the same kind of mechanical designs they've been making since Linus Yale came up with the modern pin tumbler lock in the mid 19th century. Yeah, a lot of the low end work has gone the same way as computers, with it being cheaper just to buy a new craptastic Kwikset lock at Home Depot than pay someone like me to fix it; but any commercial/industrial or high-end residential stuff, you still pretty much need a locksmith to service it. It's a classic mechanical trade that will never go away. How many people reading this have keys? All of you, right? That, my friends, is job security.
  • Re:Wishful thinking (Score:3, Interesting)

    by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @03:16AM (#17346656) Journal
    I have a fake that likely was made by a master craftsman (or out of heisted rolex parts). My jewler friend (I fix his PCs, he takes care of the jewlery :) said the only reason he knew it was a fake is that he knows I'm too cheap to spend over $100 for something I don't wear except when required as an accessory. I hate watches, bracelets, cufflinks (as that implies cuffs), or anything else around my wrist. Drives me nuts!

    Jewler was wrong, I paid $125 for it ;-)
  • Re:Yeah but.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jrmcferren ( 935335 ) <robbie.mcferren@gma i l . c om> on Saturday December 23, 2006 @08:52AM (#17347612) Journal
    A watchmaker does not "make" watches. A watchmaker is a high grade of repair tech. The major difference between a watch repair person and a watchmaker is that a watchmaker can make the parts on demand if needed.
  • Back to the topic? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fullback ( 968784 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @11:15AM (#17348044)
    I was faced last week with the choice of either having my Rolex repaired, or throwing something with a replacement cost of $8,000 in the trash. Since owning one is considered to be a sign of stupidity to this crowd, I chose the stupid path - I ran for Congress. No, I decided to have it repaired.

    Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (Japan), I decided to check the Rolex website for information. It turns out that Rolex is light years ahead of most global companies. They are already embracing a new paradigm: Web 4.0.

    Web 4.0 you say? Yes, indeed.

    Web 4.0 is retro. The master site for Rolex has no email addresses. None. No email for the headquarters or any office in all their offices flung far throughout the world. No email for you today. It's pure genius. It took me back to my work-a-day world of the 1980s. We used to have businesses back then that managed to survive (and even thrive) without "IT guys." We used to talk on the phone, send letters, send telex or even use those new fancy FAX machines. We could just give the new guy a desk, a phone and some pens.

    Think about it for a minute. Which is more frustrating: not being able to fire off an email, or not getting a reply to your email? Or, heaven forbid, a nonsense non-answer or automated "empathy mail like, "We are sincerely interested in your customer service experience and are commited to providing you blah blah blah blah..."

    Nip that customer frustration in the bud instead of prolonging the agony of no, or nonsense answers, since you're only going to tell the customer to get lost anyway. The first thing it does for a comapny is eliminate the angst of having to read customer complaints. Who needs that first thing in the morning? It weeds all but the most determined whiners and complainers.

    It also eliminates all the IT guys running around without ties having meetings in strange "geekspeak" going frantic about needing the latest version of ComExpRo 9000 version 23.01 beta ($24,000 license fee) and a new Sparkmaster Database Servoserver ($72,000) with 128 Megagoobers of chrome plated exhausts. Or something like that.

    No internet. No email. No spam. No security problems. No spyware. No upgrades. No Vista!

    And no maps to the office in Tokyo on the web site. If you can afford a Rolex, you shouldn't be sending emails or need maps anyway. Get your secretary to call and get directions. Bingo. If you don't have a secretary, get a casio. No, you should have enough smarts to figure out how to call and get directions.

    Off I went to the Tokyo office. It just so happens that I was there about 8 years ago, so I vaguely remembered where it was. It was just a short walk from Tokyo station. Since I'm a guy (internal flawless GPS system installed), I asked my girlfriend to "confirm" my GPS at the station with a random person.

    "Oh, the Rolex building? Sure, it's blah, blah, blah..."

    It turns out that everyone in Tokyo has been to the Rolex service center since everyone bought several back during the bubble and they all need servicing eventually. I found it easily. I walked directly to the counter after being offered a friendly smile by one of the many friendly-looking counter ladies, only to be handed a plastic tag with a number. I turned around to see about a dozen Rolexers lounging around in leather chairs waiting for their number to be called. All reading Rolex catalogs and Rolex magazines (some were even post Y2K - Rolex had no Y2K problem...). They check your watch as you wait, then present you with an estimate to repair it.

    When my number was called, I presented my cold, dead watch to the woman. She was holding it when she asked my if it had stopped. I said something to the effect, "Yes... see?"

    She then asked me when it stopped.

    Now, this is Japan and all interactions between strangers/customers/gods is formal and exceedingly polite. I formally and politely smiled as I pointed to the watch face and read off the time and date. Grin. Wink.
  • by FallLine ( 12211 ) on Saturday December 23, 2006 @03:29PM (#17349124)
    So are you saying "No, not really: there is no such thing as astroturfing" or "No, not really: I know PreacherTom, and he's neither a paid shill or a figment of the imagination of a Business Week marketeer"? Because if he has a financial/business interest in the story he's submitting, that should be disclosed. As you say, an interesting story is still interesting even if hyped by a "crier", disclosure notwithstanding, right?
    Whatever you want to call it it is very different than what is popularly recognized as "astroturfing" [], i.e., creating a false impression of public sentiment (e.g., false product reviews, fake consumer action groups, etc). There is no real distortion of the truth going on here besides the fact that he isn't disclosing the alleged fact that he has a commercial interest in the magazine he links to. There are far greater problems on slashdot (such as outright reporting of biased facts, horrible ignorance, etc). For instance, just 2 days ago: read this []

    What's more, the argument can be made (and probably should) that PreacherTom and those like him are doing Slashdot a favor by pointing out articles that are more interesting, more relevant, and more informative to the slashdot readers than what they themselves are able to contribute. Would it be better if slashdot readers simply remained ignorant of everything that businessweek et. al publish? I think not. Is there some fundamental problem with someone making money for performing a service that benefits the readers? Nay.

UNIX is many things to many people, but it's never been everything to anybody.