watchmaker

Ficklin assembles and lubricates a cleaned watch

Twist the crown of a mechanical watch and you’re winding a tiny spring, which powers a gear that runs until the spring is completely unwound, some two days later. Maintaining these miniature ecosystems is a skill that takes hours to learn — 3,000 hours, if you’re as obsessed with keeping time as they are at the Lititz Watch Technicum or “LWT” (lititzwatchtechnicum.org).

Based in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, this watchmaker’s college accepts just 12 students a year. After a two-year program, graduates can repair anything that ticks, and even fabricate parts.

Jordan Ficklin (watchmakingblog.com), a 2006 graduate of LWT, originally got a degree in computer science but now fixes watches. “Watchmaking tools haven’t changed much in a hundred years,” Ficklin says. “A few have become motorized, but the tweezers, lathes, and files haven’t changed much.”

“Probably the hardest skill to master is manipulating the tiny hairspring that controls the rate of the watch,” Ficklin says. “The slightest mistake can ruin the work piece.”

The LWT, funded by Rolex, aims to prevent a watch-repair crisis, as watchmakers have declined in recent decades. Rolex covers tuition, while students are responsible for their own tools, which can run up to $5,000.

Ficklin muses about traveling back in time 150 years. “Watches from that period would have had custom-fit components instead of manufactured pieces with the tolerances we have today. With a modern watch I can just order a replacement and put it in.” Still, he notes, “Every day I have to adjust parts so that the play between them and the next component is within 0.01 or 0.02 millimeters.”

Your grandfather’s Datejust will reap the benefits of this new generation of watchsmiths.