A good watch, in many ways, is better than your best friend. THE watch, on the other hand, is a work of art, only more functional. And if it's for any knowledge on horology, Swiss watches in particular, Antoine Simonin is a good person to have on your side. Having spent 50 years in the industry ? he was director of Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP) for 27 years ? Simonin is the watchmakers' watchmaker.
For Simonin, who was head of the jury panel at the Watch World Awards held in the Capital recently, it was the beauty in the details that drew him to watch-making in the first place. ?When I was 15, I liked working with my hands and with precision. But my passion was born as I was a student in the Bienne watch-making school. I must say, this was mostly due to some good teachers with very good training who pushed me on this way,? he says when contacted over email.
Members of WOSTEP, a non-profit foundation engaged in providing quality training to watchmakers, range from reputed watch brands ? like Breitling, Rado, Omega, Rolex, Longines, Ulysse Nardin, Baume & Mercier, Cartier and Parmigiani ? to Swiss retailers, watch associations and foreign retailers.
Training in watch-making and servicing assumes particular significance in the light of the shortage faced by Swiss watchmakers globally in terms of trained manpower, in countries where their watches are exported, like the U.S., which is manifested in the huge sums they are investing in training schools.
Says Simonin, ?In 1991, a very successful period began for the renewal of the Swiss watch-making industry. The Swiss watch-making industry asked me to do a survey of the worldwide after-sales service needs, especially in watch repairing. We came to the conclusion that for the next 10 years, we needed over 25,000 watchmakers in the world. This figure has been partially reached and this is what has been brought to create the partnership with watch-making schools all over the world.? The challenge, he says, is still there. ?The reason why watch-making schools are still opening is that for high-quality education in watch-making there is still a lack of qualified watchmakers.?
When he took over WOSTEP in 1976, there was only one refresher course a year, a result of factors like a slowdown in the watch industry due to new technology and administrative structures. ?The objective was to save the school in those difficult times,? he recalls. When he left WOSTEP in 2003, over 26 different courses for watchmakers were organised under full training, which is a 3,000-hour programme. ?We have integrated a partnership with over 17 watch-making training schools in the world. WOSTEP is now a reference point in watch-making education worldwide,? he proudly adds.
The watch industry has seen its share of activity ? from complicated hand-worked Swiss mechanisms to mass-produced Japanese quartz technology to what not. According to Simonin, there are three aspects where changes in watch technology have been most pronounced ? miniaturisation of complements and final precision (measurement); reduction of high complications for pocket watches, while wristwatches with a diameter of 2.5 cm come with over 400 components; and use of new metal and other elements as silicium, special alloys in the industry as well as all-new synthetic products.
Antoine Simonin hails from a country that is as famous for its watches as its Sprungli, Lindt and Tobler. Did the second option never excite him? ?I love eating chocolate and having a passion for watches? watch-making is something like a never-ending passion,? is the reply.