Richard West is Workshop Manager at The Watch Atelier, a state-of-the-art service centre that embodies the art of watchmaking and the passion they have for the extraordinary craft behind it.
We asked Richard to share with us what a typical day involves and where his passion for watchmaking comes from. Please read on for his fascinating answers.
MWM: Where does your interest in watches originate from?
RW: I have always been very practically minded and enjoy the complexity of mechanical devices. This all started when I was 16-years-old and attending the BHI (British Horological Institute) course, which back then was based in Hackney. This started my passion with watches. After the course I started working in a local ‘Material House’ learning from some very experienced watchmakers. I then had the opportunity to go to Switzerland to complete the WOSTEP course, which took my skills to a new level and gave me opportunities to work for prestige watch companies. From then until now, some 40-years later, I still love what I do.
MWM: Can you tell us what are the primary aspects of your role being the Workshop Manager of The Watch Atelier?
RW: You don’t realise how much work there is in a job role until you are in it, for example, training, organising, reporting, designing, researching, documenting, and making sure everyone smiles. The year I have had with The Watch Atelier has seen us grow from a small workshop into one of the best watch service and repair houses in the country. We are in the expanding stages as a business, so my overall aim is to make sure the work is in the right place but more importantly to give support to my colleagues. We currently have a watchmaker that has just finished his course at the Birmingham School of Watchmaking, therefore it is important that we all work together to further enhance his skills.
MWM: Typically, what does your working day involve?
RW: My day starts with a check that all work is in the correct place, and all urgent jobs have been accounted for. This is followed by helping guide the watchmakers through any problems that may have occurred. When possible, I will be on the bench servicing, but still available to help train and make decisions on any important matters.
MWM: What are you currently working on?
RW: Currently on my bench I have a Tag Heuer Chronograph C34 which is a Zenith 400 caliber for service, also I have an early Rolex submariner 5513 from 1986 which I have been asked to check on its authenticity.
MWM: If you had to choose a particular favourite watch you’ve worked on, which one would it be?
RW: That’s a hard question to answer, however I have a couple of favourites, the Rolex 4130 modern day Daytona this is such an easy but good-looking watch. My other is an Audemars Piguet Skeleton perpetual calendar the look of this watch with a rose gold case is a magical picture (below).
MWM: How do you see your role evolving given the advances in technology?
RW: When I first came into the watch industry, we had dim lighting with benches that were not the best quality for posture, timing machines had a ‘tic-o-print’ with valves in it, the oils from organic source and the size of the workshop was the smallest room in the building. Today, the workshop that we have at The Watch Atelier has natural lighting, space for 50 employees, the work benches which we designed ourselves gives the perfect position for the watchmakers, including air and vacuum, with new state-of-the-art Bluetooth timing machines and synthetic oils which give far better timing results and long-lasting lubrication compared to the organic oils. Going forward I will embrace any change that gives us the opportunity to continue being a leader in our industry
MWM: Why should people train to become a watchmaker?
RW: I’m a strong believer in training and have seen what happens when you don’t receive the correct training. Every year we see more mechanical watches being produced, which can only mean that we need more watchmakers to repair these watches! The basic movement of most brands tend to follow the same rules. Therefore, to further train watchmakers it is essential that brands help improve the overall ‘centre of excellence’ and allow more watchmakers to be accredited with them. When you consider most brands, their turnaround is in months and not weeks, surely this means more training and watchmakers are needed. But we have an excellent workshop, to hire, train, repair and service to the highest standards. We will continue to support and work closely with the brands in line with the high volume of repairs that we are seeing coming in, together with the training they offer to support our watchmakers.