When the average person thinks “watchmaker”, they picture an older man in a white lab coat working in the mountains of Switzerland. Watch retailer Tourneau is challenging that image with a program that gives disadvantaged kids in New York City a chance at a watchmaking career. Company executives gathered recently to recognize the program’s newest group of graduates.
Launched last year, the Tourneau Watchmaker Program was the brainchild of Terry Irby, a soft-spoken watchmaker who manages Tourneau’s service center, which is located in Long Island City in the borough of Queens, New York. Facing an ever-increasing number of watches needing service (currently about 600 per week), Irby needed to expand his staff – not an easy task in the United States, where qualified watchmakers are in high demand.
Irby’s idea was simple – partner with the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day School, also known as CDI, an institution that helps teens who are no longer in school get back on the right path. CDI offers its students the opportunity to participate in internship programs in a variety of fields. Tourneau approved Irby’s idea and set up a watchmaking school in the service center. CDI students who want to try watchmaking have to pass a series of interviews and a dexterity test. Selected students attend 16 classes over eight weeks at the Tourneau school. After completing the program, those who have the aptitude and the desire can progress to paying internships in the service center, which can lead to full-time jobs servicing watches, or in the materials, refinishing, or quality control departments.
“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 CDI to get the extra time and attention they need.”
One of the recent graduates, 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.”
Since the program began, five students have accepted full-time internships with Tourneau, a number that’s anticipated to grow with the 2014 graduates. 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.”
The next class of the Tourneau Watchmaker Program will begin in the fall. Barkley said “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.”