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The Good Life

Make Your Own Watch

| By Larry Olmsted | From The Rock, January/February 2021
Make Your Own Watch

When you take a cooking class, the meal tastes extra special simply because you made it. Turns out the same is true for watches.

To earn their MBAs, three Swiss business students developed a hypothetical business plan for a hands-on workshop in which visitors could learn about watchmaking and leave with their own custom creation. The idea was so good they brought it to life, and five years after the first Intium workshop opened, the company has three locations in Switzerland, and thousands of watch lovers from around the world are sporting one-of-a-kind timepieces.

Class starts with theory—how mechanical watches work—but quickly gets hands-on, as students disassemble a high-end movement before putting it back together, with magnifying glasses and fine tweezers. Next, they assemble their own watch, choosing case, color, dial, hands and band from hundreds of thousands of possible permutations. Then, starting with an ETA movement
(a watch component that has powered Panerai, Omega, TAG Heuer, Longines and Breitling), students assemble and case their watch, testing for accuracy and waterproofness. 

While Intium’s experience (and the resulting watch) are relatively inexpensive by Swiss standards ($2,300-$2,800), the program attracts collectors owning pieces costing five, 10 or 100 times as much. It was when one wealthy Qatari collector came to Geneva to collect a rare Patek Philippe model that he learned about the Intium experience and decided to build the first pocket watch in his library himself. 

But there’s more to the experience than a bespoke timepiece, as even avid watch lovers learn new things about the watchmaking process and how complex the movements are, which in turn greatly increases their appreciation and enjoyment of all watches. While a range of conventional dials are offered, a disproportionate number of attendees opt for skeleton faces to see the results of their own labor. It took just an hour after leaving the class for someone to remark “nice watch,” and for the first time in 25 years as a watch fan, I answered, “Thanks. I made it myself.”

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