Jordan Ficklin is a master watchmaker who led the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI) for most of the past decade and has recently returned to the bench.
How many years of experience do you have as a watchmaker?
I started working in a jewelry store 19 years ago doing minor repairs and I have been working in the industry continuously ever since. I graduated from watchmaking school in 2006 giving me 14 years as a certified watchmaker.
What certifications do you hold?
I graduated with a Lititz Watch Technicum Diploma, a WOSTEP 3,000-hour course diploma, and an AWCI Certified Watchmaker for the 21st Century (CW21). Since graduation, I have received a Specialist in Fine Watchmaking certificate from the Foundation High Horology and I have completed Advanced Training Seminar and 4130 Training Seminar at Rolex USA and Co-axial Training Seminar at Swatch Group US. Additionally, I have a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Arizona.
Do you continue to learn new techniques each year?
I strive to constantly improve myself while at the bench and as you can see from the seminars I have completed I have also made it a priority to continue my learning. I attend seminars at both local and national trade associations and I am constantly reading and communicating with fellow watchmakers to make sure that I continue to grow each day.
How important is watchmaking education to the future of the watch business?
There are not enough watchmakers in the United States and we must do more to attract people into the profession. The barriers to entry into the profession are a problem including the limited ways to obtain a good education. Watchmaking is not easy and education is important to successful participation in the industry. It is essential that we have educational opportunities to help people enter the profession as well as to ensure those practicing at the bench keep their skills sharp.
How long were you Executive Director of the AWCI?
I served as Executive Director at AWCI from September 2013 until July 2020.
What are you doing now that you’ve stepped down from your role at AWCI?
It has been wonderful to return to the bench now that I have left the AWCI. I am now a part-owner of the Cincinnati Watch Company with my primary role being the assembly and service of timepieces but I am also involved in product design and business strategy. Cincinnati Watch Company is a microbrand that has been around for about 3 years. We are currently doing pre-sales on our 4th, 5th, and 6th models and expect to deliver the watches in early 2021. In addition to my partnership with Cincinnati Watch Company, I have launched Cincinnati Watch Repair, an independent service center handling repair and service for watches of most brands. I continue to seek opportunities to participate in training and education and I am available as a consultant to the watch service industry. I love watchmaking and I have a passion to share it with as many people as possible.
With remote work happening in so many industries, is that really feasible in watchmaking?
In many ways: yes. For centuries both the manufacture and service of watches have been handled in a distributed fashion. Swiss farmers would produce parts from their home workshops during the winter. Many watchmakers have workshops at home and can continue to service timepieces. Mass-produced timepieces can’t really utilize the “cottage industry” anymore but with a microbrand like Cincinnati Watch Company we do all of our work from our homes and many independent luxury brands could have components finishers, working from home.
Watchmaking education has always been the hardest part of the industry to conduct remotely but with today’s technology, there are even many aspects of education which can continue in a remote fashion. We saw that with AWCI’s expansion of webinars throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, it is still difficult for instructors to assess student work and give feedback with digital technologies and so classroom time will be an essential component of watchmaking education for many years to come.
Does working from home cause a problem with dust?
It depends on the home. I have just finished remodeling my home workshop in an effort to mitigate the dust.
Do you have a horror or success story you can share from a watchmaker’s perspective?
The real horror for watchmakers is the behind-the-scene policies of watch manufacturers that make it difficult for watchmakers to do their job effectively. Many brands restrict the sale of spare parts, tools, and technical information in an effort to control the service of the timepieces they produce. These policies deter people from entering the profession as independent repair persons and have resulted in many premature retirements by talented watchmakers. The consumer is best served by having choices of where to service their timepiece. Many watch manufacturers insist that tight control of the service industry results in higher quality service experience for the consumer, but I can assure you it does not. Lack of parts results in higher cost and lower quality work being performed.
Now a personal horror story. When I was just out of watchmaking school, I was asked to service a vintage Patek Philippe watch that our store had purchased and was going to resell. It was a simple time-only mechanical movement and I believed I had all the knowledge and skills I needed to carry out the work. I disassemble the watch, checked all the components, and put it in the cleaner. To my horror when it came out of the cleaner the escape wheel was missing pivots. I learned an important lesson about packing parts when they go into the cleaner. I had placed the escape wheel in a small parts basket like I had always done, but this high-grade watch had long and slender pivots and they penetrated even the very small holes in the small parts basket. Additionally, the small parts basket was free to slide some in the cleaner and the pivots were sheared off as it moved around. I couldn’t get a replacement part so ultimately the movement had to go back to the factory for repair, but I learned a valuable lesson, and in the almost 15 years since I have never had another pivot break in the cleaner because I am careful to consider how the parts may shift in the cleaner.
Nothing really compares to the all-day “Build-A-Watch” class that gives you a complete understanding of building a watch from the start to finish. How important is that class, and others at the AWCI in furthering watchmaking in the US, even if most of the participants don’t go on to become watchmakers?
For many years the watchmaking industry has tried to hold its “secrets” close to the chest. The Build-A-Watch classes are an effort to remove the veil and to invite people to learn more about watches, watchmaking, and the industry. There is no better way to investigate the world of watchmaking than to get your hands on some tools and see what goes on inside a watch. Build-a-Watch helps watch owners become better caretakers of their watches, it helps salespeople better understand the product they sell, and it helps those considering a career in watchmaking to see if they have the aptitude necessary to work with these magnificent little machines.