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In the Watchmaking Classroom
July 4, 2011 Process

In the watchmaking classroom

The Ecole Technique de la Vallée de Joux is one of Switzerland’s best technical schools. Several of its alumni are now excelling at Audemars Piguet.

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In the Village of le Sentier in the Vallée de Joux, a region well known for the high quality of its technical and artistic creations, the Ecole Technique de la Vallée de Joux (ETVJ) is the institution of reference for anything having to do with horologic microengineering, jewelry making and micromechanics.  It’s no surprise that several former students are working in various departments of the Audemars Piguet Manufacture in the neighboring village of le Brassus. “From the very first day, I was completely fascinated by the program. The professors shared their passion for watchmaking with me, transmitting their appreciation of a profession that maintains a respect for tradition,” says Gilles Pellet, head of Audemars Piguet’s Research and Development Laboratory.

This unique school was created in 1901.  “At the time, the only watchmaking school was in Geneva. The companies that were traditionally in the Vallée de Joux, particularly Audemars Piguet, decided to create a school nearby, in order to provide the training that was needed to cover all the aspects of the profession,” explains Lucien Bachelard, who has been Director of the school since 2001.  In the past 30 years, the school has grown spectacularly. In the 1980s, only twenty students trained to be watchmakers – last year, there were 144. “This success reflects the high level of confidence in and respect for Swiss watchmaking know-how. Despite the crisis caused by the advent of electronic quartz watches in the 1970s, the enthusiasm for mechanical watches has never disappeared,” continues the director.

The program is spread out over three or four years. In the first two years, students learn the most important techniques. “They learn how to machine metal and work with materials, as well as make all the parts of a watch; for example, cutting the teeth of the wheel, filing the bridge, pivoting the axes of the balances,” explains Pellet. The third year is spent mastering the tuning of the escapement and posing of the balance-spring, as well as certain more complicated mechanisms such as chronographs or calendars. To be able to work on other complications, such as repair work, renovating or clockmaking, some students decide to stay and spend a fourth year specializing.