THE NEXT generation of watch- repairers has been saved, thanks to some of the industry's most famous names.
Cartier, Rolex and Tag Heuer are among the companies who provided pound;60,000 in cash to underwrite a specialised two-year course for watch-repairers.
"The elite in the industry have rallied round to save this course," said John Murphy, a full-time lecturer in horology at City College, Manchester.
He said demand for the graduates was huge. The course has been running for four years and takes up to 16 students a year.
"The industry is begging us for watch-repairers. I don't have to pick up the phone saying we have people looking for work because companies contact us. Even Swiss watchmakers are recruiting our students."
The industry estimates that by next year 25,000 watch repairers worldwide will be needed to repair an estimated 21 million watches.
"An expensive watch is becoming a status symbol and an awful lot of people are buying one-off time pieces that have, say, moon phases or calendars," Mr Murphy said. "When they are also in precious metals like gold or platinum there is a lot of skill in just opening the case before you start dealing with the mechanism.
"Once our students have completed this course they will know the basics and can go into the workplace."
The course is under threat because the European Social Fund rejected a bid for cash. Without this support the intensive course - for 35 hours a week and 38 weeks a year - would have cost too much.
Chris Simpson, head of horology, said the college would appeal against the European Union's decision, but in the meantime major players in the industry were meeting the costs. The difficulty arises in whether the college should make a regional bid - despite having overseas students - or a national bid. According to those who run the Social Fund the course fits neither category.
Many watchmakers have been caught out by a surge in demand for traditional mechanisms, rather than quartz watches. Having closed their old watch schools a training gap has opened up.
The Swiss training organisation, WOSTEP, sponsored by the top manufacturers, selected the Manchester college as one of only 11 sites in the world to run its 3,000-hour course.
Students pay no tuition or exam fees and are given a tool kit and a pound;40 weekly allowance. Work placements are provided and many are offered full-time posts before exam results come out.
Rolex and Tag Heuer gave 14 pound;1,200 watches, worth pound;1,200 each, just for the exams. They are sent away to have faults introduced into them which the students must fix.