Unique in the world, the Ecole de Réglage, located at number 5, rue Jaquet-Droz in La Chaux-de-Fonds, is celebrating twenty years of existence. Company representatives and watchmaking associations, training institutions and cantonal authorities gathered on 11 November this year to mark the event. The main task of this teaching centre is to train specialists capable of adjusting and regulating the balance-spring torque of a mechanical watch.
A victim of the emergence of quartz, training as a balance-spring fitter gradually disappeared from the scene in the 1970s. At the end of the 1960s, the final intake of apprentices to leave the school marked the end of this forgotten trade. In the spring of 1990, the boss of Nivarox set alarm bells ringing in watchmaking circles: «We don’t have any more balance-spring fitters, they’ve all retired. What’s going on?» Faced with this urgent situation, a working group was set up consisting of manufacturers, representatives of watchmaking associations and the Employers’ Federation (CP). In August 1991, an initial enrolment of eight operators, hand-picked from the 70 candidates who applied, began their training. Such keen interest shows clearly that despite the temporary disappearance of this occupation, its impact remains strong in the minds of those in the industry.
Supervised by the CP and essentially supported by the industries taking part in the project, watch operator training, balance-spring option – as it is known today – is a two-year course. Twenty-four months during which students, currently numbering eight, spend most of their time in the college, punctuated by two one-month placements with firms with which they have signed a contract. They will be capable not only of carrying out timing operations, but also assembly and fitting/casing-up. At the end of their training, they have the possibility of improving their skills by following the final module (two years’ on-the-job training) and thereby obtaining a Federal Certificate of Capacity (CFC) as a watchmaker.
To date, more than a hundred operators have been trained at the Ecole de Réglage, almost the majority being women. More than two thirds work in the watch industry, more often than not with the firms who hired them as apprentices. Their expertise in the regulating system of the mechanical watch, often more advanced than that of a watchmaker, is highly valued inside the workshops of leading manufacturers.
At present, five firms are part of the training pool: Breitling Chronométrie in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Rolex in Biel, Nivarox-FAR in Le Locle, Sowind Group in La Chaux-de-Fonds and Ulysse Nardin in Le Locle. Representing more than 70% of the total value of exports, mechanical watches have a rosy future ahead of them, as do students at the Ecole de Réglage.
Article published in FH Revue, 8th December 2011