2014-06-18 / Front Page

Tourneau Honors Graduates Of Watchmaker Program

Executives from Tourneau, the world’s largest luxury watch retailer, recognized seven students who have successfully completed the company’s inventive, new Watchmaker Program. The eight-week course explores the Art of Watchmaking, giving at-risk students in New York City the skills and knowledge they need to start a career as a professional watchmaker.

The graduation ceremony on June 12 marked the third session of the Tourneau Watchmaker Program, which was started a year ago by Terry Irby, Tourneau’s Technical Director and a third-generation watchmaker. Facing an aging staff of watchmakers and more than 600 watches arriving every week for repairs at the company’s Long Island City service center, Irby knew he needed a solution.

Irby turned to Tourneau’s executive leadership with the idea and collaborated with Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day School — an institution focused on teens that have dropped out, aged out or were poorly served by public high schools. Tourneau created the school at its service center, tapping industry connections to donate or discount supplies and work benches.

“Watchmaking is a skill that most often stays in families, because it takes a long time to learn,” Irby said. “As a kid, I loved it – I couldn’t wait to help my father. Now, my career is about passing those skills on. These students can take what they learn with them and support their families. I tell them: I have 50 years of knowledge and eight weeks to teach you.

The students spend two days a week soaking in Irby’s knowledge, starting with the basics — hand-eye coordination, dexterity, the history of watches and watch repair tools. As the weeks progress, the students begin taking apart watches, examining every piece and understanding its purpose. They start with cases and bracelets and then move into the mechanics – the movements, hands, dials and calendars. The course work also includes the assembly and disassembly of mechanical movements and an overview of quality control and service process for repairs. Outside of the Watchmaker Program, they’re attending classes to complete their high school education.  

One graduate, Bronx resident Diomaris “Dio” Parra, grew up tinkering with whatever she could find at home, but it wasn’t until she started at Tourneau’s Watchmaker Program that she realized how skilled she was.

“I have always been interested in exploring the mechanics of how things work, taking apart fans as a child.” Parra said. “Since working with Terry at Tourneau, I now truly understand how a lot of machines function and friends and family now come to me to fix their watches. I get so much joy out of bringing them back to life and see watchmaking not only as my next job, but as a career.”

At the end of the eight weeks, the students have gained valuable skills that stretch beyond watchmaking and delve into their personal lives — some of which lacked direction, structure and motivation to succeed.  Edwin Larregui, a 19-year-old Bronx resident, was a star pupil in the second Watchmaker Program class, which took place in the fall of 2013. He currently works 40 hours a week at Tourneau among the watchmakers and attends evening classes to earn his high school diploma.

“Being a part of Tourneau’s watchmaker program has changed my everyday life drastically,” Larregui said. “We are taught that the way you treat a watch is your signature. I apply that to everything that I touch today, staying very organized and precise, which helps me at school, work and home. I now get comments from teachers who see how neat and organized my essays are and my grades have improved. I’m also much more focused and find it easier to concentrate on the task at hand. At home, my mom has noticed how everything looks brand new. The pots and pans are immaculate and everything in my room is in order.”

Since the program began, five students have accepted full-time internships with Tourneau, a number that’s anticipated to grow with the 2014 graduates. The retailer plans to continue the program, helping to supply itself and the industry with the desperately needed U.S. watchmakers, whose numbers have dramatically decreased — nearly 90 percent — since the 1950s, according to the American Watch and Clock Institute.  

“We work with more than 100 watch brands and the challenge of finding U.S. watchmakers affects many of them,” said Larry Barkley, Tourneau’s Senior Vice President of Retail, who helped launch the program with Irby. “When we started this journey, we recognized it would create a new generation of watchmakers to help us continue to offer the repair services that Tourneau is known for. At the same time, we hoped it would also create new opportunities for these students who have enrolled at Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night School to get the extra time and attention they need. We’ve been tremendously impressed by the level of talent and dedication they have shown. Tourneau hopes to grow this program in the future so that we can touch more lives and have a greater impact on this industry that we are so passionate about.”

For the program’s graduates, finishing the course signals a new beginning. Some will take their new skills and apply them to another trade, while several students, smitten by craft, will continue to hone their skills at Tourneau working at one of the retailer’s New York area stores or in the service center, putting them on the path to becoming a full-fledged watchmaker, which takes a minimum of three to four years of hands-on training.

The next class of the Tourneau Watchmaker Program will begin in the fall — creating another group of teens that may just help keep the industry thriving.

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