The history of watchmaking, since its birth, has been linked to the development of mechanical technology and consequently to the continuous need to keep up with the times, through professional updating through training.

And like circles in the hardening of clocks
they turn so that the first to whom they ask lies
quiet he seems, and the last to fly;
so those carols, different-
mind dancing, of its wealth
I am admired, fast and slow

“And like the wheels of clocks they turn in such a way that the first one, to those who observe it, seems stationary and the last one seems to fly”; this is a perfect representation of the transmission part of a watch mechanism, with the wheels turning at different speeds; all to represent the movement of the Blessed Souls in Paradise. This is one of the first testimonies of the existence of mechanical clocks, commonly called "monastic alarm clocks", precisely for use in the Benedictine Abbeys, where the time of the daily life of the monks was governed by the rule "Ora et labora". Dante certainly had the opportunity to visit Benedictine Abbeys and, probably, monastic awakeners were already present in some of these.
This makes us understand the value that the Poet attributed to the Art of Watchmaking, using it as a simile to create some tercets of his Work; for us a priceless heritage that we inherited from our ancestors. If we have managed to maintain it up to the present day, and certainly thanks, yes, to the history that has seen us as protagonists since its beginning, but, above all, our blacksmith shops were the first "universities" that allowed us to transmit the knowledge and development of mechanical technology.

Over time these shops transformed into laboratories specialized in the construction of watches and the figure of the blacksmith transformed "into a micromechanics technician", the Watchmaker. The shop, consequently, becomes a training center for this new professional figure. A profession that allowed the development of knowledge that could also be used in other sectors. An example for all is Ser Filippo Brunelleschi, who history rightly remembers for the construction of the Dome of the Cathedral of Florence. Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) and Antonio Manetti (1432-1497) are the most authoritative sources for establishing the relationship between Brunelleschi and the art of watchmaking. In their respective biographies they both state that Brunelleschi tried his hand at building "oriuoli" and "destatoi" (clocks to wake up, i.e. clocks with a chime, the common "alarm clock"). Vasari underlines a particularly interesting aspect of the Great Master's watchmaking experience, when he writes that "they gave him great help in being able to imagine different machines to be carried, removed and pulled", indicating how this experience was a great contribution to create the machines that allowed him to "carry, lift and pull", therefore useful for moving materials.

In other words, Brunelleschi's watchmaking experience allowed him to build instruments that contributed to the transport of material for the construction of the Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. I could continue with other examples that allow us to understand the fundamental role that Italy has had, from the birth of mechanical watchmaking up to the present day, always as a protagonist; all this was possible thanks to the ability to transmit these values ​​of an art profession, with the fundamental tool of training, first, in the blacksmiths' workshops, then, of the Master Watchmakers. For centuries the wealth of knowledge in the field of watchmaking has been transmitted, as has often happened for other artistic professions, from master to student in a close relationship within a workshop or from father to son as a value of family heritage.

A few centuries have passed since the birth of mechanical watchmaking, Switzerland becomes the country where watchmaking finds its most natural habitat, where manufacturers are born and where the generational transfer of knowledge in this field takes place through specific professional schools. For watchmaking, the conditions are created for constant growth both in quantity and, and this is the most important aspect, in quality, making Switzerland the world reference country for watchmaking. Italy, a neighboring country, has always been an example of sensitivity for "beautiful things" and could not fail to be involved in this great development, both as a component manufacturer and for the diffusion, in particular, of high-end watchmaking. all over the world; the saying "what is chosen in Italy will work all over the world" quickly spread. In effect, a rebirth of an artistic profession was created in which, as we have seen, Italy had been a protagonist in the past. Consequently, the need to create professional figures linked to the world of watchmaking, albeit for a niche job, becomes more pressing and we are witnessing the creation, in Italy, of the first technical-professional schools, with very distinct qualifications and diplomas. Often the technical and professional schools, which provided for this specialisation, met the needs of local realities rich in this professional tradition. An example, experienced directly, was my passion for this profession that began at the Leonardo da Vinci State Institute of Higher Education in Florence. This institute was born in 1900 in Florence, by will of the then Traders Association and the City Municipality, who understood the need to build a technical-professional school which included, among the various specializations, the Specialization of Watchmaker Mechanical Technician.

Training professionals in this sector arose from the need to respond to local needs that offered job opportunities for a professional reality spread across the region, the result of a tradition that began, as we have seen, at the dawn of the history of watchmaking.

I entered this school, first as a student, at the end of the 1960s, and then returned as a teacher, a role I held for 38 years, until 2012. The educational programmes, created in close collaboration with the training departments of various companies and Swiss schools, were periodically updated to follow the particularly dynamic evolution of the sector, which, in the meantime, was not only linked to the development of mechanical technology, but also to electronics which entered forcefully, already in the 1960s, revolutionizing the whole world watchmaker. An aspect that has always amazed me, in relation to the other specializations of the Institute, is that I have been able to compare myself with other scholastic realities in our country and beyond; there was the attention that Switzerland paid to the professional educational updating of teachers. Every year we were invited to participate in training courses on the various evolutions of the sector, in some cases already in the prototype phase of the product, to learn about the new watchmaking directions and to be able to modify the teaching programs for the subsequent school years. It is difficult to find this continuous relationship in other training environments. This is to always put the training of our students in the foreground also for the new technologies that would arrive on the market, making the schools in the sector not only fundamental for the creation of the various professional figures, but also a reference for professionals for their own updating professional.

I remember, among the many courses organized for professional development in my school, the one held in the 1970s on the electronic tuning fork watch, an electronic technology that caused many sleepless nights for watchmakers and many of them, to overcome this revolution in the sector and in order to continue their profession, they were forced to return to school. Watchmaking schools became a point of reference for professional development, even for self-taught watchmakers. The electronics revolution in the sector brought the application of new construction technologies and a great development of Haute Horlogerie. Intervening on these new masterpieces of watchmaking art required knowledge of new procedures that only well-planned training could offer; this could only be obtained through the training centers of the manufacturers and the schools of the sector.

The development of training, for the knowledge of the values ​​of high-end watchmaking, became necessary not only for repair technicians, but also for sales staff, who could understand and enhance certain characteristics and accompany customers with greater awareness in choice best suited to their needs. Some companies, to optimize their level of service, certified themselves with the ISO 9000 standards. Among the first in Italy, I remember Orologeria Pisa in Milan, a pioneer in the development of certification procedures that had yet to be identified to establish where it was created excellence in the sale and repair of high-end watches. Rules that established periodic professional refresher courses in various skills. This has allowed us to better manage the evolution of Haute Horlogerie in these particularly dynamic years.

The evolution of new information communication and transport technologies have favored a globalization of the diffusion of watchmaking in general and of Haute Horlogerie in particular. The awareness of the values ​​contained within this concentration of Art and Technology is no longer the heritage of some countries, but becomes a universal heritage. Suffice it to say that UNESCO, in December 2020, declared "the complex of Swiss and French knowledge necessary for the creation of mechanical watches" to be an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

The spread of Haute Horlogerie throughout the world is constantly growing, the passion for this masterpiece of technology spreads to the most remote countries and, in addition to a traditional clientele, clubs of enthusiasts are created. In recent years, the continuous search for Vintage watches, which have made the history of many Maisons in the watch sector. Training, which until a few years ago was mainly managed at a national level, evolves with international organizations which have the role of spreading knowledge of the values ​​of Haute Horlogerie and, to be adequate for this mission, of training professionals in the sector . In the 1990s, the AIHH (Interprofessional Association of Haute Horlogerie) was created and operated until the early 2000s. In Italy it followed the retailers who were dealers of various brands in the high-end world for staff training.

In 2005, the FHH (Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, in Geneva) was born, maintaining the mission of the previous organization. It is currently supported directly by around 40 Maisons protagonists of this sector of excellence. For both organizations, I had the honor of being entrusted with following the Academy, together with other teachers from various continents, both to create the teaching material and as a trainer.

The objective of the Academy of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, based in Geneva, is to spread knowledge of watchmaking, with neutral material, not only for professionals, but also for all the "actors" of the sector and structures training and teaching centers of the Maisons of the various countries, with the support of 22 local trainers in 11 languages, distributed across the various continents.

If we think about how mechanical watchmaking has developed and spread throughout the world, from its birth in the 13th century to the present day, the value and diffusion of training could only be the constant of the various goals achieved.

In-depth analysis by Ugo Pancani

Teacher in mechanical and electronic watchmaking Trainer Academy FHH Genéve Member Academy GPHG

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