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Patek Philippe is running an elite (free) watchmaking school in NYC

Patek Philippe is opening the Patek Philippe Horology Programme New York, a free, two-year watchmaking course to train the next generation of specialized watchmakers.

[NEW YORK] If you've been thinking about becoming a watchmaker, now might be your chance: Patek Philippe is opening the Patek Philippe Horology Programme New York, a free, two-year watchmaking course to train the next generation of specialised watchmakers. 

This is the second Patek Philippe training programme outside the company's Geneva headquarters, the first having opened in Shanghai in 2013. The first six apprentices in the New York programme began their two-year course of study a few weeks ago. Because the programme was not publicised, Patek used a headhunter to find people looking for technical jobs and invited them to apply.

Of 300 applicants, the top 80 were brought to Patek's New York workshop for presentations from executives and the technical teams. The final six were chosen according to their reactions during the visit and the level of interest and curiosity they showed.

The selected students pay no tuition, are given a stipend to help cover rent and food, and are guaranteed a job with Patek Philippe upon graduation. Sweet deal. The idea is to encourage smart young people to look at watchmaking as a viable career path while removing some of the financial barriers to entry.

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The programme teaches students to work on quartz, mechanical, and automatic watches, including those with basic complications such as date displays. (Perpetual calendars, split-seconds chronographs, and the like come much, much later). Laurent Junod, a watchmaker who has been with Patek Philippe for 27 years, has been appointed director of technical training and will oversee the programme.

"Anyone in this industry understand how difficult it is to find high-level watchmakers," said Larry Pettinelli, president of Patek Philippe USA. "As the interest in mechanical timepieces has grown steadily over the past 20 years, we are determined to be able to provide the best possible service to clients worldwide, now and in the future." 

The New York service centre is an important part of this challenge. Approximately 10,000 watches come through the workshop each year, according to the brand, and 19 watchmakers are currently handling all those repairs. Some require only such simple things as a little lubrication or some polishing, while others require complex mechanical work. Without trained, highly specialised watchmakers, the whole operation screeches to a halt-and when you've got a US$100,000 watch, the last thing you want is to wait six months for it to travel to Geneva and back for a tune-up.

Most watchmaking schools, especially those outside Switzerland, are sponsored or managed by a specific brand or conglomerate of brands. Without skilled labour, there's no way to make new watches or to fulfil the promise of indefinite service that comes with buying one. Rolex has the Watch Technicum in Liditz, Pennsylvania; Richemont draws watchmakers from the Institute of Swiss Watchmaking in Dallas; and Swatch Group has the Nicolas G Hayek Watchmaking School in Miami. The schools offer varying levels of scholarships and stipends for aspiring watchmakers, and all guarantee jobs of some kind to well-performing students.

Patek will have only one training class going through the programme at a time, so if your watch obsession has you pondering a career change, you've got until early 2017 to get an application together.