Product Design

Watchmaker, Watchmaker Make Me a Watch

I don’t think I ever realized how amazing mechanical watches are until I saw one dissected in front of me—its labyrinth of gears, screws, and wheels untangled and laid out on a worktable. Sure, mobile devices that send information from space to your pocket are pretty amazing too. But old-school watches are mechanical marvels: one-inch-wide, self-propelled machines—exact enough to track something as precise as time, engineered to last for generations. No lithium-ion battery, no motherboard, just pure, good ol’ earthling mechanics.

I should mention that I’ve never actually owned a watch. Like most Gen X-ers, my phone functions as my timepiece. In fact, until the Apple Watch, I didn’t pay much attention to watches at all.

But when Tim Cook announced his newest wearable, we wanted to examine the Apple Watch’s lineage. To put its pedigree into context. So we took apart watches. Put them back together. Watched way too many YouTube videos. Then we hopped on a plane to Seattle to visit one of just three Rolex-accredited watchmaking schools in the country. There we met the students who will become the next generation of watchmakers. And we wondered, with wearables on the horizon, will this generation be the last one?

Only time will tell. But Seattle Watch Institute students don’t think they are the last of a dying breed—and neither do I.

Watch being made at Seattle Watch Institute

Mixed up between the magnifying glasses, the tweezer tools, and the crisp white lab coats, there’s the reverberation of something noble here. These students aren’t just technicians—they are craftsmen, obsessed with the pursuit of perfection in miniature. Their entire education revolves around honing and prolonging mechanical sequences. To fix something, so it won’t return to a repair shop for another decade. To build something that will last forever.

The art of watchmaking is inherently different from modern industries that endlessly pump out shiny thingamabobs and upgraded doodads. That’s what I find so interesting about the students at the Seattle Watch Institute. Their livelihoods blend design, craftsmanship, mechanical innovation, and creativity. Their trade is built on tradition. Like the timepieces themselves, watch repair is part of a legacy. And the watches that these students go on to build and fix will be timeless in a way that the Apple Watch could never hope to be.

Getting into this university is extremely competitive—only 12 students are accepted from hundreds of applicants—and yet so few have even heard about the watchmaking school.

So how did these folks decide to pursue a career in watchmaking? Every student had a different story to tell. But one thing united them all: passion. And from what I gather, that’s the most important thing you need when you’re looking at microscopic parts all day and developing the dexterity to feel the difference between two-hundredths of a millimeter.

Well that, and patience.

Meet the next generations of watchmakers: