Service of a Timely Partnership: Tourneau Just in Time

November 3rd, 2014

Categories: Education, Repair, Training, Uncategorized

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Sohpia Hollander’s story, “Time Tinkerers: Finding a Future Repairing the Workings of Watches,” she wrote about students who are saved by a time-honored profession: Clock repair.

A partnership program between a school for kids who’ve not made it in traditional high schools and the Tourneau Repair Center in Long Island City trains the students. Of 25 from the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School who finished this program–twice a week for two months–Tourneau employed six. Hollander quotes one student who “couldn’t focus and felt embarrassed asking questions or speaking in groups, he said. ‘I felt I was a kid with a hoodie on his head,’ he said. ‘I thought I didn’t have much to say.’

“But seeing the inside of watches sparked questions, he said. He was astonishedwatch 2 by the sheer number of parts. He found a new ability to concentrate as he tinkered with the tiny pieces. Understanding watch innards has become as addictive as a new videogame, he said. ‘Now I can take something that’s broken and fix it,’ he said…. ‘It’s a good feeling to solve other people’s problems.’”

Hollander reports that watch sales and production are brisk but that there are only six repair schools today as compared to 50 in 1955. She quotes Terry Irby, technical service director at Tourneau who told her that “If they didn’t make another watch, I think there’s enough work for another 50 years.” He admits there aren’t enough watchmakers. Where Irby works, some of the watches are in the $36,000 range. You’d want to take good care of such a piece.

Hollander continued: “Pablo Gonzalez, 19, enrolled in the program’s first class last spring. He was flunking his courses, clashed with his parents and hung out ‘with a bad group of kids,’ he said.

“‘I was really going downhill,’ he said. ‘Everything was going wrong.’ But he found peace in the three-dimensional puzzle of hundreds of miniature watch pieces. He began experimenting with other activities, learning how to play handball and rediscovering his love of skateboarding. ‘It makes you confident about what other things you could do,’ said Mr. Gonzalez, who was one of the first program graduates hired by Tourneau.”

Do you know of other such programs? Do you agree that while small, this apprenticeship approach, multiplied by businesses around the country, could have the kind of impact we need to get back on our economic feet?

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6 Responses to “Service of a Timely Partnership: Tourneau Just in Time”

  1. Simon Carr Said:

    Now, when I go to look at the pictures at the Met, I make sure I allow time for a good look at Velasquez’s “Portrait of a Man,” which was reattributed to him just five years ago after the museum’s conservation team gave it what must have been an extraordinarily skillful cleaning. The canvas which emerged after centuries of over-painting and layers of varnish were removed, is absolutely extraordinary, for its freshness, sensitivity, energy, vibrancy and freedom! But suppose these repairmen or women had not existed? Yet another object of great beauty would have been lost, probably forever.

    I am a true conservative. I have always been more fascinated by, and far more admired, those who work to preserve and save than those who create. Why should we so restlessly use up our precious earth at such breakneck speed, just so we can create wealth to enable us even more of it yet faster? Instead, just think how much better off we all would be were we to learn how, like our forefathers, to repair what was broken instead of always buying “new?”

    A recent gift, bedside table clock, albeit attractive and functional — it tells time — has computer chips in it. I’m not sure what they do — perhaps dissect algorithms or make it possible to talk to our men on the moon –but I’d much rather have had a repaired clock from Tourneau. Of course, any timepiece Tourneau sells, I could not possibly afford. So I’m grateful for what I got.

    Nonetheless, hats off to such a worthy enterprise and to you for bringing this wonderful story to our attention.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Simon,

    In days of yore, things cost so much more than they do today which is one reason we repaired them. They also seemed to last longer in the first place. To fix a $50 item might cost $125–so one would have to have deep pockets to indulge. Next, finding someone with the skill to fix the clock or toaster or coffee pot or TV or……is the next challenge.

    I enjoyed reading about “Portrait of a Man,” but I’m glad that artists continue to ply their talents. Not everyone can visit the Metropolitan Museum or own such a work themselves. I love being surrounded by art and couldn’t be if all that was available was great works now restored.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Many corporations and wealthy individuals have found creative ways to help less fortunate members of society, ranging from self help to educational and medical programs. Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital stands out in glaring contrast to an otherwise greedy health system which feeds on personal tragedies. Not only, through its research has it cut children’s leukemia from a 97% fatality rate down to some 3%, no family is ever charged a penny for a child under its care. Athletes, many of whom rose from poverty, run organizations to keep children and teens off the streets, urging them towards scholastic success. The late Eugene Lang, a self made person, adopted an entire fourth grade (in a “bad” New York City neighborhood) promising each child a college education. Another standout is country singer, and philanthropist, Dolly Parton.

    Scandal is more fun and attracts a greater readership, so the good side of human nature suffers a none too benign neglect.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I agree: We don’t celebrate all the generous people nearly enough. I seem to remember the man who offered college to an entire class of young children: How generous of him to do this, what a great idea and super incentive to try to succeed. I am sorry to know that he died. St. Jude is an amazing hospital for certain. I didn’t know about Dolly Parton.

  5. RCF Said:

    I do not know about “getting back on our economic feet.” But I do know that we need to get back on our educational feet, and that this is an excellent way to do it. As long as the apprentices are not exploited, are really taught the skills they need to continue in the field, are given jobs appropriate to their skills when they “graduate,” it sounds like the kind of program we need everywhere. There are schools of the technical trades that are doing their job very well. Cape Cod Regional Tech is one of them. Minute Man is another. But companies like watch makers and small machine creators could do well to hire apprentices and train them, as you say.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    RCF,

    Internships/apprenticeships can be tricky if a company is merely taking advantage of free labor and has no intention of really training and eventually hiring at least some of the students. The experience is crucial for all participants to help them over the hump of the Catch-22 question: “Do you have experience doing X?” [Answer: “I will if you hire me!”]

    Even if a student isn’t selected by Tourneau or a like company in a similar program, he/she can add to their resume that they’ve been trained there.

    As important is the self-confidence that these students acquire and an interest in something when nothing before has caught their imaginations. It gives hope and if they’ve never before completed a semester or a training program and now they have–a launching pad for them to start to support themselves.

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