Becoming a Watchmaker

It’s been an interesting and unexpected journey in becoming a watchmaker. If I knew at the beginning what I would have to sacrifice to get to where I am now, would I still have gone ahead? Damn right I would have.

Watchmaking is a fabulous career. I always look forward to and gain incredible amounts of satisfaction from my work. There are very few jobs where you can say with complete certainty what you’ve achieved at the end of each day; real measurable productivity. I can take an old, beaten and broken watch, bring it back to life and make it run and look like it was new; and thrill someone to bits in the process.

There have been some definite hardships along the way, and probably the biggest challenges of my life. I’ve had to look long and hard in the mirror and rediscover who I am, what I stand for and what motivates me.

On the journey to becoming a watchmaker I’ve met some of the most brilliant and wonderful people in my life, and sadly also the absolute worst. Looking at this list below it probably looks like a straightforward or easy set of achievements from the outside, but along with the triumphs, support and guidance there has been tremendous turmoil.

Thankfully I’m a positive person. I survived 8 years at the sharp end of the stick in China, and so grew a very thick skin. Weakness shouldn’t keep any of your attention.

You just need to keep your head up, focus on the future, stay positive and keep moving forward.

Just because some people in this world are awful doesn’t mean you have to be too. Feel blessed for what you have.

When life falls apart you always pick up the best pieces! Whatever’s left behind wasn’t worth keeping.

This doesn’t work as a metaphor for watchmaking though! When a watch falls apart you need to pick up ALL the pieces. Hehe. So if you’re looking to be a watchmaker get used to the idea you’re going to spend a long time on your hands and knees searching for those tiny parts you’ll inevitably drop!

Below is a chronological list of the path I have taken, along with some links to articles and pieces I’ve written along the way. As the journey continues, I’ll update it as necessary.

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Some of the awards I’ve won along the journey to becoming a watchmaker

 

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MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A WATCHMAKER

Mar 2011 – Decided to change career

Apr 2011 – Chose to become a watchmaker

Sep 2011 – Started as a full-time BHI student at Birmingham’s School of Jewellery

Oct 2011 – Founded the Great British Watch Company

Nov 2011 – Awarded the Harrison Bursary from the Worshipful Company of Watch and Clockmakers

May 2012 – Completed my 1st Year BHI exams, and left the School of Jewellery

Aug 2012 – Won 2 awards from my BHI exam results

Sep 2012 – Started as a full-time WOSTEP student at British School of Watchmaking; sponsored by the Swatch Group

Jan 2013 – Awarded a bursary from the George Daniels Education Trust

May 2013 – Completed my 2nd Year BHI exams, and left the British School of Watchmaking

June 2013 – Started work at LVMH (Tag Heuer, Zenith, Bulgari)

Jan 2014 – Awarded another bursary from the George Daniels Education Trust

Feb 2014 – Left LVMH and started as a Watchmaker at the UK’s largest independent watch repairer

This was a big moment for me to actually have the job title of watchmaker. It was under 3 years since I was first aware that watchmaking was a profession.

May 2014 – Completed part of the 3rd year BHI exams

Aug 2014 – Won a further 2 awards from my BHI exam results

Feb 2015 – Started work at the UK’s largest group of high-end jewellers

May 2015 – Completed the rest of the 3rd year BHI exams

Aug 2015 – Picked up my MBHI award, along with the award for the overall best results worldwide. The 5th BHI award I’d won

11 Responses

  1. david pierce says:

    Colin,
    I am not sure if this is a forum or not. If it is it will probably become one of my favorites. Some of the other watch information venues have been destroyed by the arrogant sniping that always seems to raise its ugly head. You are correct in saying that some of the people who get into this field are not particularly nice. I am not sure why these type of people are attracted to mechanical watches, but unfortunately there always seem to be a few supercilious elements waiting to crawl out from under their rocks and bash the accomplishments of others.
    david

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve thought about this myself, as it’s always a shock when you encounter it.

      I’ve concluded that it’s jealousy and a destructive self-loathing. When some (thankfully in the minority) people see success or passion or talent, it reminds them of their own lack of success, passion and talent. They see other people doing well as detrimental to their own self-worth and so seek to pull that person down, even although it doesn’t bring them up or make them better in any way.

      It’s just that they measure their own value by comparing themselves to other people, whereas successful people measure their value by comparing themselves to their ambition. So if other people are doing well, such people see their value diminish. Successful people are never satisfied by their own self-improvement as the goal-line of their ambition is forever moving forward.

      Generally speaking, watchmakers who are good are fantastically motivated, love their work and enjoy sharing their skill and passion. Watchmakers who aren’t so good either stagnate, leave the industry or move into management. It’s like all engineering fields in that respect.

      Watches and watchmaking are both a bit quirky and so can attract people who think differently. Mostly that’s positive; people who love the obscure and individual, occasionally it’s because they were rejected by the mainstream.

      I personally don’t know any watchmakers who regularly use watch forums; none.

      The aggressive tone many of the contributors use is mostly fuelled by ignorance; they believe if they shout loud enough then you won’t question their lack of knowledge. There is a tremendous amount of misinformation on the forum posts I have seen, which is one of the reasons watchmakers actually stay away from them.

      So, this isn’t a traditional forum, but you’re welcome to talk about whatever you want to. I’ve only ever had to delete one users comments; as they started getting personal towards another poster.

      Colin

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Klaus,

      It’s a long(ish) story; there was a lot of politics, but the result was that I went to work at Tag Heuer and continue with my BHI studies as a long distance student.

      Colin

  2. Mohammad Abdullah says:

    Hi Colin….its Abdullah………hope you are doing well……I really appreciate your response regarding watchmaking…..i have been dreaming about watches since my childhood. i finished my undergraduate from Bangladesh. do you have any idea that if I apply to Birmingham City University then what will be my living cost per month…is there any opportunities to do side job while studying Horology-BA(Hons).
    If you have any suggestions to study any other institute then please inform me, I am eagerly waiting for your reply.

    Abdullah

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Abdullah, thanks for your message. The living cost in Birmingham would be roughly around £600/month if you’re quite frugal. You will be able to apply to stay in the University Halls if you are a student, which can be a little cheaper than privately renting. As far as I am aware foreign students can do just part-time work on the student visa (10-15 hours/week); but the rules may have changed so the UK Government website should have the latest details. The cost of tuition is £9000 per year in Birmingham, plus you’ll need to allow for the cost of tools and materials. Alternatively you can also look at doing the BHI’s Technician Grade course as a distance learner, or the AWCI CW21 course. But that will need a lot of a self-discipline and study to get through that – it is possible though, as I finished half of the BHI’s full course as a distance learning student.

  3. Iorath says:

    Hi Colin,

    Having only recently discovered you’r website I am enthralled! What passion you have! When will you be manufacturing? Please count me as a customer because as you say a watch is what it means to you and I believe you will make a cracking watch.

    Currently I’m torn between the Garrick – Norfolk, good price, sleek styling, but I have no idea of the credentials, and Robert loom – Robin, classic style. My price point is no more than £4000, will you be making a watch soon? and can i afford one? I should say, like you I’m mostly drawn towards the movement being manufactured/ modified in Britain.

    Cheers for your time Collin,

    All the best for the future and I’m confident you will do well regardless.

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Lorath,

      Many thanks for your encouraging comments. The process of making my own watch has stalled slightly, and in fact not a huge amount has progressed since 2014. My own professional watchmaking ability however has not stalled, and the ambition to manufacture my own watches is always on my mind. I hope to be able to produce a branded product this year for sale,I will be able to talk more about this when the details are finalised, however it will likely start as a selection of bespoke clocks with a strong historical and emotional appeal. The reason for starting with clocks is simply that it is very straightforward for me to modify them as required without making a heavy investment in tooling and machinery.

      A batch of watches will follow after this, and over time I would aim to add an increasing complexity of modification to them.

      Garrick is produced by the same people that make Meridian watches, and Simon Michlmayr who runs both, is a very highly respected watchmaker.

      Interestingly the European Union invested heavily in German watch manufacturers, and only very little in British ones. There can be some optimism that following the UKs exit from the EU the UK government would be free to invest and encourage development within the small watch manufacturing industry without fear of breaking any of the existing EU rules regarding sovereign governments providing “unfair advantage” to local trades.

      Many thanks again for your encouragement!

      Colin

  4. Roland says:

    Hi Colin;
    through your recent articles I sense a kind of bitterness and wish you could get through this barrier. It holds you back. It’s hard to explain in a few written words but in my profession I’ve been “at the top” and discovered it was all BS and so were most of the people. I decided to leave it all behind, sold everything and got out of the rat race. Now I follow my passions and chose the people I like to have in my vicinity, and for the rest …… well, there is a nice warm place somewhere in this universe .
    I sincerely hope you’ll find your self confidence and dedicate all your time in perusing your dreams. You can’t control others, you can only control your own actions. Ignore and let them soak in their own little world. There was a saying in my profession: “never let them get you down, because as soon as they notice, they will all jump on top of you”. Hope you will stay firm on course 😉
    Best regards: Roland.

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Roland,

      Many thanks for your kind message.

      I don’t feel bitter at all, I’m far too positive for that, but I was disappointed in some people and ultimately with the BHI and their arbitrary nature. I will admit that it did kill off some of my motivation to work in my spare time, and I think that was primarily because the immediate end-goal had disappeared. I have always felt in control of my own future though.

      I’m in the process of buying a house, and so in the interest of raising as much money as I could I recently sold my lathe and some tools, and will also be selling some historic pocket watches which I have restored (they were going to be part of my BHI portfolio). I can always buy another lathe in the future if needs be, but in the moment it was more useful to have the cash rather than let it gather dust. I still have access to a lathe at work, and will have much more space in my new home, and so it’s more of a short term loss for a long term gain.

      I still work every day as a watchmaker though, but the direction I am going in may well be on a different path. I was offered a job last year with the opportunity to become a more practical watch-maker i.e. actually make watches from scratch, but I decided not to pursue that for a number of reasons. I’m lucky in that I’m both technically minded and also articulate and outgoing, which is quite rare in the industry, and so there are always opportunities available to me should I wish to take them. I am very self-motivated and driven, and so whatever route I go down I will always aim high.

      We have the saying “don’t let the bastards grind you down”, which has similar meaning, and one that I often remind myself of.

      Thanks again Roland!

      Colin

  5. Roland says:

    Seems we are on the same frequency …..
    Good on you Colin !!

    All the best wishes out of Denmark: Roland.

    P.S.; I started fiddling with my fist watch exactly one year ago, now I’m trying to restore a beaten up Landeron 48 and will start soon servicing a Poljot 3133. Fantastic work!! Can’t get enough of it ……”Bring it on” :-))

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