"I love working with my hands. I love fixing things, bringing things back from the dead" - said Tim Stewart, who is not just the only official watchmaker’s apprentice in Victoria, but also the only one Victoria had in 4 years.
The ABC article, published today, explains: "Watchmakers say there is no shortage of work, but the number of independent repairers is shrinking, as big-name Swiss companies become more powerful by restricting access to spare parts and fixing more watches themselves. Currently, there is only one way to enter the watchmaking trade in Australia. Hopefuls must sign up to a part-time TAFE course in Sydney and balance travel, study and apprentice work, if they can find an employer willing to take them on."
Graham Baker, the Victorian President of the Watch & Clockmakers of Australia, is working hard to convince government to adopt the Swiss model: an intensive, full time training. But even with proper training in place, Graham also points out the obvious problem for independent Australian watch businesses: to hold onto staff when the Swiss mega brands come calling, offering in-house jobs for higher pay. "We might spend three or four years training them, then they're gone."
It seems that independent watchmakers stand no chance. No spare parts, no capital to grow, no new blood entering the trade - and even when they train and pass on decades of 'behind the bench knowledge' to apprentices, they are unable to retrain them: for an enthusiastic youngster the lure of working for Rolex, Omega or Richemont is simply irresistible.
So what is the answer and how are we going to stay in business? By doing exactly what I have been preaching for the past 5 years: a full frontal attack. And by “attack” I mean squeezing the last cent, the last drop of sweat and blood, and fighting back by simply being BETTER than Swiss brands. Providing a better workmanship, better customer service, faster turnaround. Undertaking complex repairs on watches rendered by their own makers as 'not worth repairing'. Investing in new tools and machinery. Starting the watch brand. Working long hours, studying, teaching, writing, lobbying, sharing and inspiring unselfishly, constantly and persistently.
Because that's what winners do.