Watchmaker Thomas Zimmerman has been working at IWC Schaffhausen for 12 years after a manufacture tour and visit to the on-site museum with his parents as a student sparked his interest in watchmaking as a career.
There is a shortage of watchmakers in Switzerland, and high school students must indicate their interest early on to move into the academic stream that caters for careers in the industry. Once they leave school, they must complete another four years of training before being able to enter the workforce.
Recently, at the invitation of IWC Schaffhausen and Charles Greig, in partnership with YourLuxury Africa Lounge, Zimmerman guided a privileged few through a hands-on experience disassembling and reassembling an open movement in the coolth of the Ellerman House wine cellar in Cape Town. “You need lots of patience and quiet hands to be a watchmaker,” he says. By the end of the session, I realised he should have added “trainer” as he calmly moved among us to monitor our progress, deftly repositioning a screw here, a wheel there, manipulating tools like chopsticks with practised skill. I marvelled at his aptitude that made them an extension of his hand, picking up, positioning, and inserting minuscule parts into tiny holes visible with the help of a loupe.
He also had to control the pace to ensure nobody jumped ahead in their eagerness to strip the pocket watch movement, selected for its size and ease of use, and complete running repairs, when necessary, on uncooperative parts. Something as simple as gently gripping a tiny screw on the thread instead of the head signals success or failure as more than one of us watched uncooperative parts escape our clutches and fly into the depths of the cellar. The Ellerman House wine cellar was the ideal location, naturally temperature-controlled to counteract the warm spring weather and mimic the optimal environment of a watch manufacture.
The event was a special treat for clients unable to travel to Schaffhausen to visit the IWC headquarters. It was a reward for their enthusiasm and love for watchmaking and a brilliant way to build brand loyalty. The level of planning involved shows clients they care, improves their perception of the brand, makes them appreciate their watches even more, and often inspires further sales. The emotional connection during these classes and other experiential activities is invaluable. In turn, Zimmerman is an incredible host, happy to share his passion on similar occasions on global tours.
“Most watch collectors have a passion for watches, brands, the different movements, the engineering and complexity of a mechanical watch. However, they never really get the opportunity to see inside a watch, never mind experience taking a movement apart and putting it back together again to see it working again,” says Donald Greig of Charles Greig Jewellers. “It’s a wonderful experience and a chance to understand the complexity and develop an appreciation of watchmaking. Thank you to IWC for making this possible.”