How does it feel to be a female student in a watchmaking class – and anticipate working in a male-dominated industry? That is a question I asked the young women last year during a visit to Edgar Faure Middle School, a school in eastern France that has a horology program that is highly respected by high-end watch brands.
Students say that this business is challenging and motivating, and they know that, as women, they are likely to face prejudice. But in their class, they say, they never do – and some are surprised that I would have expected it.
I admire them. When I was a student 20 years ago, I would have been too embarrassed or too intimidated to enter a program where men outnumbered women. And as I have written about the world of watches in recent years, the articles are almost always about men; I rarely interview a woman.
I wanted to hear what students had to say, so I emailed three top schools – the École Technique de la Vallée de Joux in Switzerland, Hiko Mizuno College of Jewelry in Tokyo and Faure – asking to speak to a female watchmaker student and sending some samples. question. Over the next few days I received a dozen replies, passed on by the principal, and then arranged interviews. Given the opportunity to express themselves, these women take advantage of it.
“I realized that more and more women wanted to be watchmakers and were also attracted to all the other manual trading, and I found that really cool,” said Marie Witz, an 18-year-old horology student at Vallée de Joux. “It doesn’t bother me too much to find out that we are outnumbered, and I even feel that is very unusual.”
After all, he said, “I don’t think I’m worse or better than men because sex is not important in this business. I think we have the same ability to make watches work. “
Laure Amstutz, 19, is another Vallée de Joux student who is not affected by obvious imbalances. “Don’t be impressed by the number of boys, because we have the same capacity as them.”
“Afraid of Breaking Nails?”
In all three schools, only a third of horology students are women. And it’s actually an upgrade.
The Mizuno program, for example, had no girls when it started in 1995. (And Japan continues to fall behind Another industrialized country in terms of gender equality, ranking 121 out of 153 countries in global gender gap index 2020 compiled by the World Economic Forum; France ranked 15th and Switzerland, 18th.)
Dan Clémence Decrette, 21, a third-year student at the Vallée de Joux, said some of her teachers said, “Sometimes it can be helpful to have more girls because we seem to be more skilled with our hands. However, we can see that there are now more girls in watchmaking than ever before. Two years ago, one of the classes of this watchmaking program consisted only of boys. “
School programs are similar to those offered in France and Japan: lathe, assembly, finishing, casing manufacture and repair. Practice workshops are complemented by subjects such as watchmaking theory, mathematics, physics and professional drawing.
“I have no particular problem being a woman among my classmates,” Émilie Detouillon, 22, a student in Faure’s seven-year diploma program, wrote in an email. “Sometimes we get a little bit of a joke or a comment, but no more than in any other industry where you will always find guys with predetermined ideas about women.
For example, he says, “If you take care of yourself, you may hear the stereotype ‘aren’t you afraid of breaking your nails?’ line.”
What attracts a woman to make clocks? In Switzerland and eastern France, many horology students – women and men – grew up surrounded by this industry. High-end brands are the leading businesses in the area, and often students have family, friends, or neighbors working there.
Ms. Decrette said she was only 14 when she did a three-day internship at Blancpain, a Swiss brand headquartered not far from its current school in Vallée de Joux, an area considered one of the birthplaces of haute horology.
“When I sat at the desk and picked up the screwdriver and tongs, I knew this was what I wanted to do,” he said.
He loves restoring antique movements and, upon graduation, wants to take special training in recovery and complications at the École Technique Le Locle in Switzerland. “Antique watches have lived with someone before,” he said. “The balance is like the heartbeat of a watch. When we get the heart of the watch to work, we also bring the story of the owner back to life. “
His classmate, 28-year-old Roxane Ochoa, said in an email that he was inspired by his grandfather, Philippe Thorimbert, a watchmaker who worked for several companies, including Longines, Rolex and Movado, and later had his own small workshop at home. until he died last year of Covid-19. “Since I was a child, he would tell us about trades he liked,” he wrote. “He’s very passionate about his job.”
“I chose this profession because I liked the manual aspect,” he said. “When you do get to work on the part you are working on, it is a very pleasant and satisfying feeling.”
For Mao Tsuzuki, 23, a Tokyo resident who completed a three-year master’s course at Mizuno, the appeal is similar. “I get blown away every time I go to a home improvement shop, just look at the screwdriver and check all the tools,” he said.
The principal at Faure, Florence Burger, said today’s female students are different from their predecessors. “Girls are bolder these days,” he said. “And it stems from their own will, although they may not necessarily be aware of it.”
Ms. Burger said she believes social change has made their self-confidence possible, and that schools should support that evolution. “In the school environment we must continue to encourage girls to be more courageous and boys to be more accepting,” he said.
“We Have to Work Harder”
High-end watchmaking has long been associated with men, but women have always played an important role.
In Switzerland, where the industry started with farmers spending long winters making watches, wives help their husbands make spare parts. In the late 1700s, when the mass production of Swiss watches became commonplace, women are hired to work with pieces as small as hair springs because they (and their smaller hands) are considered better for precision work. As the Japanese watchmaking industry industrialized throughout the 1900s, women are often found on the assembly line there too.
And last year, the Swiss watchmaking federation reported that 32,536 men and 25,014 women worked in the watchmaking industry – but 1,338 men held executive positions while only 278 were women.
Miss Decrette, in Vallée de Joux, says she knows the industry continues to discriminate against women. “This is why it’s nice to see in recent years more and more women become CEOs of large groups, like Catherine Rénier in Jaeger-LeCoultre,” she says.
And that’s why, said Ms. Detouillon, she hopes the industry will start featuring more women watchmakers: “We are short on iconic female figures in this field.”
Miss Detouillon is also concerned about her own future after she graduated from Faure. “I’m about to start my career and, to be honest, I wonder a lot about my role as a woman in a company,” she said.
“We are easily judged by our physical appearance, such as how we dress, whether we wear make-up or not,” he said. “We are generally judged quickly and are seen as more fragile and vulnerable. The fact is that men will also fall victim to prejudices about their young age or their physical appearance. But as women, we have this challenge: In addition to having an image that sticks with us, we have to work harder to have our work recognized and taken seriously. “
He’s been having a hard time. “In the various internships I have done,” he said, “I sometimes find myself in situations where people tease me instead of teaching me a lot, and in these situations we don’t feel like we are being taken seriously at all. and that can quickly become a real problem. “
“I Dream Above Everything”
Pandemic, that is cut Swiss watch exports last year in 19 of the industry’s top 20 markets (China as an exception), it has also affected schools, with classes occasionally interrupted and opportunities missed.
Ms. Tsuzuki won the 2020 Richemont Award as best Mizuno horology student, but due to travel restrictions was unable to claim his prize – two weeks at the Richemont brand factory in Europe. But he will start working for Richemont Japan after graduating later this month. The two events are not related; Regardless of the award, he says, he’s got to interview a watch repair job in the group’s customer service department.
“I love customer service, because the watch has an owner and a story,” he said. “Every watch has a personality, depending on the owner. I was fascinated by the story. “
Miss Detouillon, who will graduate from Faure in June, has decided to put her job search on hold and is looking at schools in Switzerland where she can receive additional training in watch decoration techniques. “After my diploma I wanted to specialize in general decoration,” he said. “I would love to travel, and if I have the opportunity to work overseas, I think I will.
“But for now, I dream above all else to be able to find a job in the midst of this pandemic, and especially be able to have the opportunity to choose something that fascinates me.”
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