Thursday, August 17, 2017

Who said watchmakers don't party hard?

*** Who said watchmakers don't party hard?

Well, at least once a year…at the Annual meeting of The Watch and Clockmaker Association of Australia. Last Tuesday night Josh, Tyler and myself attended the WCA AGM held at the Ryde RSL. And boy, did we have a ball!  The meeting was an opportunity for kids to meet the 'Who's Who' of Sydney Watchmaking. For me, it was an opportunity to snatch some bargains at the tools and parts auction. 

Before I brag a bit about my hunt…believe it or not, there are still around 800 watchmakers repairing watches in Australia. Unfortunately, most of them do not offer their skills directly to you - watch owners and collectors – but, rather, work as subcontractors for established jewellers, do the trade work from home or simply live as hermits. Many work on a casual basis, awaiting retirement. Watchmakers like ourselves, who deal directly with public, are quite rare beasts.  The reason for keeping the 'low profile' is not for lack of skills, but restriction on supply of spare parts by major Swiss brands which is killing our trade. Of course, most watchmakers are either too proud or too blind to admit that, but a 'small guy with a loupe' is almost extinct, especially in Australia. Yet, only a few decades ago, even the smallest country town would have not one but two or three watchmakers.  

About 200 watchmakers are members of The National WCA. They are hardened veterans who have decided that they will not quit, no matter what, and for that reason alone they deserve our respect. However, most of them are in their late 70s. No matter which angle you take, the fact that there are only five watchmaker students who attend Sydney TAFE (and that is FIVE from the entire Australia!) speaks a lot about the future of the watchmaking trade in our country. On Tuesday night, a faithful bunch of 50 or so watchmakers packed a rather small room, keen to elect Officers who will run the organisation for the next 12 months and tackle issues that bother them - of which the most important one is: How to attract young blood and pass the baton on to the next generation?  

Luckily for us, we have solved that problem. We took our destiny in our own hands by cutting off the reliance on big brands, and starting our own. The only reason why Josh and Tyler are now firmly into watchmaking is because they figured out that hard work, skills building and creativity will eventually pay off. Investing in your own future is risky but exciting and there is nothing more rewarding than being the master of your own destiny.  Independent and free; no longer a Swiss slave but an equal partner.   

At the meeting I was pleased to notice a couple more young apprentices who were radiating enthusiasm. While small in number, the WCA is loaded with tradition and experience; a fertile ground for young watchmaker. By the way, if you are considering watchmaking as a career or if you do repairs as a hobbyist, you should definitely join the WCA.  

Back to the auction:

The moment I laid my eyes on her, I knew she was going to be mine! 

Yes, I already have two jewelling tools, but both are incomplete and well-used. But this baby is not only a complete set but also in like-new condition! The jewelling tool or press is an essential watchmaking tool used to replace cracked or worn jewels. It also comes with a number of reamers which are used to prepare the hole to 'accept' the new jewel and face plates to hold and position bridges and main plates. And the tiny 4.5mm collets are just so amazingly machined, to perfection!   

After some fierce bidding, the jewelling tool was secured, so I've moved to my next favourite thing: the Omega plexi glass removing tool. This set of 7 collet sizes is almost impossible to find - and when it does appear online it is often snatched up not by watchmakers but Omega memorabilia collectors. It is an essential piece of equipment for removing watch movements which are fitted in one-piece-case like Dynamic and Seamaster.  Again, the bidding was nerve-racking but, in all fairness, I just wanted it more than any of my colleagues.   

I also managed to secure more hand tools, case openers (Including an original unused Bergeon milled set for Rolex). Tyler scored a pile of books and a cabinet of watch parts. Josh restrained himself completely (while trying to restrain both Tyler and myself from bidding on more items!). However, the icing on the cake was the very last lot: a vintage valve- operated timing machine kindly donated by Martin Foster FBHI. Martin is without a doubt the most eloquent horologist who regularly contributes to a number of publications. While most of his WCA colleagues find his sense of humour rather annoying, I just can't have enough of him. To win his 60 year old valve tickoprint was a matter of honour. And to Martin's credit, the darn thing still WORKS. I have no idea what am I going to do with it, but I just love the glow of old tubes so I couldn't be happier with this little gem.  

All in all, great fun and, yes, we are looking forward to the next AGM. As I've said so many times: watchmaking is cool and yes, we are still looking for one more apprentice to join us. 

Do YOU have what it takes? 

Happy collecting,

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