BHI Exams and the WOSTEP course

I now have experience with both the BHI’s (British Horological Institute) qualifications and the WOSTEP (Watches of Switzerland Training and Education Programme) course and so I can talk about the differences.

bhi

The BHI reinvented its qualification structure in 2011. They offer 3 major qualifications that are taken in sequence:

  • The Diploma in Clock and Watch Servicing that takes one year, and demonstrates you can service watches (you can chose to specialise in watches or clocks)
  • The Diploma in the Servicing and Repair of Clocks/Watches that takes an additional 2 years. This demonstrates you can repair watches
  • The Diploma in the Repair, Restoration and Conservation of Clocks/Watches, which is an additional year on top of the previous qualifcation. This demonstrates you can do all the above and restore watches (making the parts yourself) and repair the most complicated varieties of watch

If taken as a full-time or distance learning student, you will be able to finish the full course in 3-4 years. The qualifications are split into modules and so you can take them as slowly or as quickly as you are able.

One of the attractions of passing the course is the ability to use post nominals MBHI, marking you as an accredited Member of the British Horological Sociery. Historically the BHI have offered a fellowship title, FBHI, to the top students, however this has since been withdrawn.

Follow this link to the BHI’s education page.

Upton Hall

Upton Hall near Newark where the BHI is based

 

wostepWOSTEP is a 2 year 3200 hour course. Again they’ve recently refurbished their course structure. You take a series of 5 intermediate exams that you must pass and then are allowed to sit the final exam. The final score is based only on the final exam, and just one grade of qualification is given. Here is a link to the WOSTEP course details.

They also ask for you to complete 2 watches.

  • One is a Eta 6498 movement that you should modify. This is known as the “school watch”.
  • The other is a larger pocket watch sized movement made from Nickel Silver, where you are required to make the majority of the important parts and then send it off to COSC in Switzerland to be tested as a chronometer. If it passes you get a chronometer certificate. This is known as the W01 watch after its calibre.

Making both these watches is now considered a compulsory part of the course.

The intermediate exams are:

  • Constructing a winding stem
  • Constructing a balance staff
  • Gear Train adjustment
  • Escapement adjustment
  • Constructing a balance spring

At the end of the WOSTEP course you should be able to:

  • Service and repair almost any type of watch
  • Make any of the constituent parts of a watch
wostep

The home of WOSTEP in Neuchâtel, Switzerland

So from the outside, there’s not a great deal difference, and to be honest there isn’t. Both courses will train you to become a competent watchmaker. By far the biggest factor between these two courses is that the WOSTEP is far more structured in what you must do, whereas the BHI exams are left a lot more open for the candidate to decide what they want to do. This means if you are hardworking and self disciplined you can do well in the BHI course, but if you need someone to look over your shoulder and provide constant support then you’ll need to consider the WOSTEP course.

The way that the courses are set up means that you can only take the WOSTEP course if you give up work and become a full-time student. The BHI course offers the flexibility to complete exams over a number of years, and in any order if you wish. You can also complete the BHI course as a Distance Learning Cource (DLC), although you’ll have to travel to the exam centres to take your exams. You cannot take the WOSTEP as a DLC.

Both exam courses are very difficult. Due to the full-time nature of the WOSTEP I think that it is slightly more challenging, and the course also expects students to be working to tollerances of 0.01mm by the first exam after just 4 months. Because of the WOSTEP course’s strong emphasis on just watches and a lot of servicing, you will be ideally suited to work for an established watch brand. The BHI course will place you well as a self employed watchmaker/repairer or the employee of one.

If you want to be a restorer or an actual watchmaker, in the vein of George Daniels, then both courses will suit you well but neither will push you towards this. If your ambition is to make your own watches then you will find that there is a lot of extra work you’ll need to put in during your studies.

The WOSTEP schools all have entrance exams, usually a mixuture of practical and intelligence tests alongisde a traditional interview. This helps ensure that the standard of students is high. The BHI course is open to all and attracts both professionals and hobbyists, and as a result the quality of students is mixed.

The BHI course requires students to gain 50% or more in an exam to pass, and at least 75% to gain a pass with merit. The WOSTEP course is marked out of 6, and you need at least a 3.6 to pass (60%). In reality we have found that you will need above 70% to pass, as 25% of the marks are only awarded if you have less than 5 small errors and no major errors, making it very difficult to score less than 70% and have fewer than 5 errors.

Below is a table showing some of the basic pluses and minuses of the courses as I see them:

Course Positive Negative
BHI Exams
  • British course
  • Admission open to everyone
  • Relatively cheap exam fees
  • Freedom to complete the course over a number of years
  • Can take course while in full-time employment
  • Can re-sit failed exams as many times as you wish
  • Opportunity to win awards each year
  • Available as a distance learning course
  • Technical Drawing part of course
  • Strong emphasis on history and theory
  • Exposure to clocks
  • Can use post nominals once you pass (MBHI)
  • Flexible and accomodating leadership
  • Not as well known internationally
  • The quality of watches worked on depends on budget of student
  • Weaker average of student
  • Heavy reliance on self motivation
  • Fewer opportunities to get employer sponsorship
  • No consequence if you fail or underperform
  • You must provide all your own tools and materials

 

WOSTEP
  • Swiss course
  • Internationally recognised qualification
  • Supported by most major watch houses
  • Only work on quality movements
  • WOSTEP schools kept to strict standards
  • Teachers must be WOSTEP trained
  • Leave with 2 hand built watches
  • Opportunity to earn a COSC certificate
  • Immediate work contacts within industry
  • Access to highest end of tools and equipment
  • Only two years
  • Can only re-sit one intermediate exam
  • Intermediate exams have no bearing on final mark
  • Less emphasis on history and theory knowledge
  • No emphasis on restoration or clocks
  • No technical drawing aspect
  • Can only study at an elected school available in a few locations
  • Expensive course (although it is full-time with tuition and tools provided)
  • Often locked in by sponsors after finishing course
  • Difficult to get onto
  • Must be a full-time student
  • Very strict environment

29 Responses

  1. Keith says:

    Hi, im really interested in doing the wostep course but finding it hard to find information about enrolling on this course. was you sponsored by one of the watch companies or did you get accepted as a private student?

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Keith, I was sponsored by the Swatch Group.

      I can only speak for my experience in the UK, and so it may be different at alternative WOSTEP schools. I applied a year previously to being accepted, contacting all of the financial contributors to the school. It was a pretty frustrating experience, and most of the companies I spoke to were rude and made me feel as if I was wasting their time. The only exception I found was Swatch, who took a moment out of their day to talk to me.

      I also contacted the school directly, but never received any reply.

      That experience has been echoed from other people I know that also applied.

      I had missed the deadline for that year in the end anyway, and so I applied the following year; attending the horology course in Birmingham in the meantime. This time I had a bit more information about how the sponsors worked, and this time I applied early in the year. I was invited to the day interview at the school, and was accepted.

      Swatch are currently the only company that will take external students i.e. that don’t already work for the company. This may of course change in the future.

      Other than that the choice is to apply to be a private student.

      There are pluses and minuses to both sponsorship and private funding.

      A sponsorship with a company of course is financially better whilst on the course; you get all the course fees paid, and you also receive a salary. You will however generally have a handcuff agreement with your sponsor company, which means that you will have to work for them after the course – generally between 2-3 years, often on a reduced salary as to what you would otherwise expect. You also have to work for 4 of your 6 week Summer holiday at the company.

      The private students of course have to pay their own way. There are bursary funds available to help with the course fees, which you can apply for. However your living expenses for two years will have to come out of your own pocket. The main benefit is the freedom you have; you do not have to answer to an employer during your studies, you can choose who you work with over your Summer holidays, and ultimately you also get to choose who you work with after your finish the course. You will also generally attract a higher salary than a sponsored student once you graduate.

      In any event, the first port of call would be for you to contact the school.

      Call them, don’t write!

      I hope that helps

      • Eva says:

        Dear Colin,

        Could you give me any specific advise about sponsorship? I’m during application process (BCU) but of course high school fees I’m looking around for possible sponsors.

        Thank you for your time.

        Regards,
        Eva.

  2. Karl Sheehan says:

    Hi, As a mature student (47) Im interested in the BHI distance courses and was wondering how well recognised are they by the big international companies ?
    Hence what are the chances of securing a job with the above BHI qualifications under my belt ?
    Thank you

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Karl,

      For most employers the big issue is not how well qualified you are – although that might get their initial attention – but actually how good you are. Watchmaking is a meritocracy and as such a practical exam or bench test will almost always form part of an interview. They’ll give you a watch, expect you to fix it and judge you on how long you took and the condition of the watch after you’ve worked on it.

      WOSTEP is slightly more famous worldwide than the BHI exams, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter too much as any company worth their salt will know the value of both qualifications. As a newly qualified watchmaker you should not find it a problem to secure work; there’s a massive shortage of watchmakers worldwide.

      Most people who call themselves watchmakers are not qualified, but rather have just worked in the industry long enough to have been given increasingly complicated watch types to work on. As someone who is qualified, you will not only know HOW to fix a watch, but also WHY you need to do what you do, which will put you at a huge advantage.

  3. Sid Sands says:

    I am in the process of applying to as many horology and WOSTEP courses as I can! Just wondering what kind of salaries a fresh graduate is likely to expect?
    Thanks

  4. Sid Sands says:

    Do you know of any places where you can apply and train privately possibly abroad? Competition seems fierce in the UK and I think I may have left it too late to get onto a programme this year.

    • Colin Colin says:

      Generally if you want to apply to schools you will want to do it by January at the latest to start in September. Give Birmingham City University a try, as it’s a relatively small course and so the tutors can be flexible. Other than that there’s a few schools in the USA that take on foreign students, as well as the main WOSTEP school in Neuchatel

  5. luis says:

    Hi, my name is luis, looking at your story for me its like a dream all I want to do is training in wostep but when I look at the price I do not have the kind of money to pay. How does payment work? Do you have to apply first then if you accepted you look for sponsors?

    Thank you

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Luis, thanks for your message.

      Learning to be a watchmaker is an expensive endeavour. Not only are there the tuition fees, but also the cost of tools and equipment which can run into the thousands.

      I can’t comment on courtries outside the Uk, but for the British School of Watchmaking (which runs the WOSTEP course) you would either apply through a sponsor, or else as a self funded independent student. As far as I am aware no student has started as self funded and then later found a sponsor.

      There are bursaries floating around that can help with payment if you are eligible for them, so it is worthwhile to do some research. The first step for you is to decide on where you want to study, find out the sponsors, and then get in contact with them. You have a year to prepare (as the intake will be decided March/April time) and so you can be quite direct and ask what they are looking for and what you can do in the meantime to prepare.

      I hope that helps

      Colin

      • Javier says:

        Hello Collin,

        I’m in my final year of BA Architecture. I would like to do WOSTEP after my graduation next summer.

        What kind of knowledge in watchmaking is necessary to apply to this course?

        Also can you tell me what kind of assessment or test is mandatory to do during the selection process at WOSTEP school in Manchester?

        Thank you for your help,

        Javier

        • Colin Colin says:

          Hi Javier, thanks for your message.

          You require no prior knowledge of watchmaking to take the WOSTEP course. I wouldn’t recommend going in blind though, as watchmaking is a career of passion and so you should build up your knowledge, and interest, before starting any application to the course. The tests are all mandatory, and conprise of an IQ test, basic filing test, dismantling and reassembly of a movement under instruction and an interview. The thing that is most highly prized at this stage is attitude and demostrating the capacity to learn rather than raw talent.

          I hope that helps and good luck!

  6. david pierce says:

    Colin,
    I looked at the BHI webpage and was unable to find any specific information about their distance learning course. Do you know how I can find out what the course contains, the sequence of lessons, necessary materials and tools and, of course, the cost. From the few internet posts that I read about it, BHI mails the entire course and then it is up to the student to use the material at their own pace. In other words once the lessons are shipped there is no further contact with the school. At this point I simply do not know.
    david

  7. Mohammad Abdullah says:

    thanks a lot ….Mr.Colin….what should I do to be real watchmaker.?…..i mean i want to create my own watches….
    have a nice time

    yourssincerely

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Abdullah, I would recommend starting off by buying George Daniels’ book Watchmaking. Ity’s a guiode on how to do everything yourself by hand. A lot of it will not mean a great deal to you at this early stage, but it will introduce you to the type of methods and the way of thinking required to be a watchmaker – if you still have interest after that, then I would look at starting a training course. There’s the BHI Technician Grade, and also the AWCI’s CW21 course

  8. Deepak Nigwal says:

    Hello Collin,

    I’m Deepak, a pre-final year student of B.E. in Mechanical, from central India. I have a keen interest in horology or watchmaking, and now its a dream to have a career in it. I’ve gone through almost all the schools round the globe, but to be honest, it’s very difficult for the Indians to take admission in any of them. Many of the US. inst. do not take international students.

    Also, I wanted to know the scope or need of Mechanical engineers in watchmaking. Since I posses most of the skills and knowledge required, do I get advantage of having a previous degree in Mech? Apart from that, will the courses such as CAD/CAM/CIM help in watchmaking industry?

    And at last I’m literally concerned about the financial aids, as without scholarships or apprenticeships, it would be a nightmare.

    I’ve read all your previous comments, and those were very helpful. But now help me with these problems.

    Deepak

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Deepak, mechanical engineers are vey useful in watch manufacture. The majority of that goes on in Switzerland. Their usefulness is mostly in CAD and/or in operating a CNC lathe. The skills are also useful in watch design and research.

      The big difference that you will find is that the scales are much smaller. Some mechanical engineers I’ve met in the watch industry have specialised in micro mechanical engineering, where extremily small tolerances are required. Similiar fields where the skills are transferable are in the manufacture of medical equipment and high performance engines.

      There are some scholarships and bursaries available, they’re often quite hard fought over. Apprenticeships are becoming more common now, as, especially in the UK, is has finally become financially viable for a watchmaker to spend the time training someone. You might want to consider doing the BHI Distance Learning Course, or the AWCI CW21 course – which will involve a lot of self-motivation to get through. With the global access to the internet; Youtube in particular, it is quite possible to train yourself to be fairly competent if you have the aptitude and are patient enough.

  9. Justin Hon says:

    Thank you very much for doing this Q&A session Colin.
    I started looking at WOSTEP schools and realized that they have one in Hong Kong as well. I am a Hong Kong citizen, would they insist that I go to the WOSTEP school in Hong Kong instead of the one in Neuchatel? I hope to attend the one in Neuchatel to soak up all the Swiss goodness (higher concentration of watchmakers, more companies to choose from for summer job/future employment, and the overall environment).

    Would you know the acceptance rate of the Neuchatel as well, like the number of applicants and the number of people taking the entrance exam?

    Thank you, really appreciate your information since there isn’t much recent material about the path to watchmaking on the internet.

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Justin,

      From what I understand all but one of the WOSTEP schools are independently run, with the schools having to meet certain standards to run the course. It’s like a franchise in that respect. The only school that is directly run by WOSTEP is the one in Neuchatel.

      I don’t have any experience of the school in Neuchatel directly. I’ve heard from some students who attended there that it is slightly easier to get into than some of the other schools as at the time all the students were private, and so if you had the money to pay for attending, then it was only your attitude and experience which would be taken into consideration. I’d guess that there would be no more than a dozen students per year group. At many of the other WOSTEP schools, most of the places are reserved by the sponsoring watch companies and so private students have to fight over only a few places available – and some years there are no places for private students.

      I hope that helps.

      Colin

  10. david pierce says:

    Colin,
    I attempted to contact the school through email and they did not respond. Is this the normal way they operate? The distance learning course looks like the only option that would work for me. This opens up additional questions such as:
    Is the work graded?
    Where is it graded and by whom?
    Do they expect students from other countries to travel over to England to take the tests?
    Did you take the distance learning course and, if so, how did you get your work graded?

    I feel that until I can contact somebody at the BHI School I do not know how to start the enrollment process. As I am now 68 years old I have no desire to repair watches at a service center for a living. I do however enjoy working on watches (and other machinery) and would like a more formal schooling in horology.
    david

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi David,

      I would try giving the BSoW a call. The tutors may well have been on the summer holiday break, or away on a pre-term training course.

      For the BHI all the examinations are taken in the UK currently, either at Upton Hall or one of the few other designated centres. During the Distance Learning Course you can pay extra to purchase “tuition”, which for the most part is being able to send your work away; such as questions at the end of each of the 12 stages, or practice practical pieces, and have it graded and receive feedback. It is marked by designated tutors of the BHI.

      I did take the DLC, however I didn’t purchase the tuition, so can’t really make much comment on it. My work was only graded by the exams I took.

      I think you may have answered your own question in the final paragraph; the BSoW (i presume you mean them and not the BHI) wants to train people to work in the servce industry, and has no interest in helping someone train for a hobby. It is very expensive to run, and the sponsoring companies all need to see a decent return on their investment.

      So the DLC does seem to be your best option, as you can learn at your leisure and specialise in the areas that you find the most enjoyable.

      I hope that helps.

  11. Matthew curtis says:

    Hi Colin

    I have been looking into various options of gaining knowledge and qualifications to begin a watch making/technician career.
    I have been in the luxury watch industry for last 6 years in sales so think it’s time to take my step. But I am somewhat confused on the best option to take.

    I have found the Birmingham university course in horology which I am going to the open day on the 8th October to find out more information. But from from everything I have read so far the wostep option seems to be the most talked about.
    The fees are a lot so I to would definetly try and locate a sponsor could you give some advice on best practice on how to do so, and if the wostep is the best option.

    Thanks

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Matthew,

      I’m in the process of writing the 2nd part to my How to become a watchmaker series, which will be of help. Here’s the first part: http://great-british-watch.co.uk/how-to-become-a-watchmaker-part-one-introduction/

      No matter where you train, what you get out of it will ultimately only be decided by what you put into it yourself; there are no real bad options with regards to training.

      WOSTEP is better known internationally compared with the BHI or other courses. At the end of the day, watchmaking is a meritocracy and so you can have all the certificates in the world – which will help you get an interview – but experience and ability trump qualifications in being able to get a job, and also being able to do the job well. Most courses teach you a lot of skills that you won’t use out of the classroom, and be prepared for the fact that once you are fully trained, you will still be some way off from being economically productive.

      Still, it’s a fantastics career, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to pursue it further.

  12. Edward says:

    Hi Colin,

    Thank you for all of your information thus far. I am currently considering the possibility of attending the BSOW. However, there are several daunting factors which make me feel as if this idea isn’t feasible. One of the main ones, being accommodation; did Swatch pay for your accommodation throughout the duration of your course? I’m considering moving to the area permanently to aid my aspirations, but letting opportunities in the Sale area seem very limited, and I can only imagine that commuting to and from Manchester each day would cause much hassle, as well as further increasing outgoings, on what would already be a limited budget (especially if privately funding the course). Do you have any advice on this? It seems to me that the only realistic way of attending the school would be to obtain a sponsor?

    Kind Regards,
    Edward

    Kind Regards,
    Edward.

    • Colin Colin says:

      Hi Edward,

      They don’t pay for accomodation directly, but you do get a basic salary if you’re sponsored. It was £14k when I did it, which was fine to live on. Renting is ok in Sale, there’s plenty about, and if you want to travel a bit further and cycle/drive to work you can maybe find cheaper accomodation. Some of the other students all got together and rented a house together in my year.

      There’s a tram stop in Sale which is about a mile from the school too, if you want to live in Manchester. You are getting educated though, and you are going to be completely non-productive for whoever sponsors you for those two years, so living on a tight budget is expected. If you go as a private student then you may be able to get a bursary to pay for the course fees, but you’ll have to find a way to fund your living expenses. One of the private students had a part-time job when I was there.

      What you’ll find is that private students will be able to pick and choose their employer and also will not “owe” them anything, so their starting salaries are considerably higher. Sponsored students have guaranteed work after they graduate but will be tied to their sponsoring company and will be paid much less. So it’s swings and roundabouts.

      Watchmaking currently is an expensive career to get into. This is especially true if you’re being fast-tracked, which the BSOW will do. The alternative is to work at a company, and have them train you; but then your future progress is at their whim, and so will be much slower progress.

      It’s a fantasically rewarding line of work though, and so if you are passionate about getting into it, then a financial hit at the start is a small price to pay.

      I hope that helps.

      Colin

  13. Edward says:

    Hello again Colin,

    Thank you for the reply. Along with the rest of the information you have posted, it really does help. As somebody mentioned earlier, competition does seem fierce, but nonetheless, I shall be giving it my all to obtain a place at the BSoW. Thanks again.

    Kind regards,
    Edward

  14. Joshua Harper says:

    Hi Colin,

    Really interesting article and thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions, all have been very helpful.

    Regards applying for the BSoW, do you know how many applicants apply because for only 8 places a year that must be incredibly serious competition? Also, do you know anywhere I can find help on what entrance exams I would have to take and the standard of those entrance exams. You mentioned an IQ test, how hard?

    Also, I heard or read somewhere that there were numeracy tests, again how hard? I don’t come from a mathematical background although I’m very logical and think I could be logical with design, but this requirement to be good with numbers does worry me. How important is this?

    Thank you so much for any advice you can give me, really appreciate it.

    Josh

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