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The Watchmaker Dilemma: How the Shortage of Skilled Workers Impacts the Timepiece Industry

June 22, 2023
2 mins read

Key takeaways:

  • The watchmaking industry is experiencing a significant shortage of skilled watchmakers, technicians, engineers, and other professionals, which could potentially hinder growth.
  • Factors contributing to this shortage include the surge in watch sales during the pandemic, the increasing prices and waiting lists for luxury watches, and the rising demand for skilled watchmakers in vintage and pre-owned watch businesses.
  • The retirement of many experienced watchmakers and the lack of interest among younger generations in pursuing careers in watchmaking further exacerbate the shortage.
  • Switzerland alone will require an estimated 4,000 new watchmakers by 2026 to meet the demand and replace retirees.
  • Efforts are being made to address the shortage, including expanding watchmaking training programs and establishing in-house training facilities within watch brands.
  • Geographic location plays a role in the shortage, with some regions experiencing more challenges in attracting and retaining skilled watchmakers.

The Watchmaking Crisis: A Shortage of Manpower

The watchmaking industry is currently facing an unprecedented challenge—a severe shortage of skilled watchmakers and other professionals essential to the craft. This scarcity poses a significant risk to the industry’s growth, particularly for high-end luxury brands that heavily rely on manual craftsmanship.

Reasons Behind the Crisis

Aurélie Streit, the vice president of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, explains that the shortage stems from multiple factors. The boom in watch sales during pandemic lockdowns led to increased demand for watches, resulting in supply chain disruptions and shortages. Additionally, the growing interest in vintage and pre-owned watches has created a need for skilled watchmakers to inspect, repair, and certify these timepieces. Moreover, the retirement of experienced baby-boomer watchmakers compounds the shortage, as fewer young people are showing interest in pursuing careers in watchmaking.

The Magnitude of the Shortage

While there is no comprehensive data on the number of Swiss watchmaking graduates, the Employers’ Convention of the Swiss Watch Industry estimates that Switzerland alone will require around 4,000 new watchmakers by 2026 to meet demand and replace retirees. In 2020, there were a total of 52,000 workers employed by watch brands in Switzerland.

The Struggle for Skilled Watchmakers

The shortage of skilled watchmakers affects all segments of the industry, but it is particularly challenging for high-end luxury brands that rely on intricate hand craftsmanship. The demand for highly qualified watchmakers exceeds the available supply, resulting in rising salaries and recruitment difficulties. Brands require watchmakers with specialized skills, such as microtechnology expertise, restoration abilities, and knowledge of complex complications.

Geographic Influences

Geographic location plays a role in the shortage, with some regions facing greater challenges than others. The Geneva region, known for its concentration of watch brands, has already hired many skilled watchmakers. In contrast, locations like Schaffhausen, near the German border, benefit from a smaller pool of brands and a better hiring environment.

Addressing the Shortage: Training and Adaptation

Efforts are underway to address the shortage and bridge the skills gap. Watchmaking training programs operated by industry groups and watch brands are increasing admissions and adopting creative approaches to accelerate students’ entry into the workforce. In-house training facilities are being established to cultivate skilled watchmakers within brands themselves.

The Road Ahead: Investing in Knowledge and Talent

Industry experts emphasize the need for proactive measures and investment in training programs to ensure a sustainable supply of skilled watchmakers. Building knowledge, developing talent, and providing ongoing training and benefits are crucial for attracting and retaining watchmaking professionals.

Conclusion: Navigating the Watchmaker Shortage

The watchmaking industry is grappling with a critical shortage of skilled professionals, posing challenges to meeting the growing demand for timepieces. Swiss brands and industry organizations are working to expand training programs, establish in-house facilities, and attract young talent to address the shortage. By investing in knowledge, creativity, and adaptability, the industry aims to secure its future and maintain the high standards of craftsmanship that make Swiss watches renowned worldwide.

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About Levi Keswick

LeviKeswick serves as a vibrant hub for diverse individuals to share their stories, absorb and contribute to emerging fashion trends, lifestyle concepts, and innovative ideas. We offer valuable insights and advice, amalgamating information painstakingly curated by experts in the field, alongside fashion connoisseurs and influential social media personalities.