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It’s common knowledge that many young men and women volunteer and enlist in the US Armed Forces every year. Giving up many of the liberties bestowed upon the civilians that they’re fighting to preserve. Another common knowledge many try to forget, or shy away from, is that many soldiers return missing more than just the time spent in battle. They return missing limbs, a utilitarian purpose and a means to provide for themselves and family, if they aren’t put back in to some sort of service.

Unemployment for “Paralyzed Veterans of America” is at 82%. That is a very high and saddening percentage. This horology training “Veterans Watchmaker Initiative” is a direct action to try and bring that statistic down as much as possible. Offering a free education to all veterans that became disabled while serving their duty of defending the American way of life and its freedoms.

The origins of this watchmaking school got its inspiration from the now defunct: “Joseph Bulova School of Watchmaking”, which dates back to 1945 and is attributed to a man by the name of: Arde Bulova. He founded this school with his father’s name, Joseph Bulova, who created the “Bulova Watch Company”, in 1923. Joseph Bulova an immigrant from Bohemia, Czech Republic, was a true entrepreneur. He launched his first watch production plant in 1912, in Biel, Switzerland, developing a standardization of watchmaking for mass production. He would go on to establish himself in New York and be responsible for many innovations in horology and the tools of the trade. Becoming a household name by 1923 and always pushing forward in his industry, betting on pioneering advertisement for watches; via radio (1926), television (1941) and sponsoring events, like: offering a Bulova watch to Charles Lindbergh for completing the first non-stop cross Atlantic plane flight.

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Joseph Bulova (1851-1935) * Image courtesy of Bulova

With such a noble proposition and the support of jewelers pledging to employ Bulova graduates, the school was a success. In the early 1950’s there was a high demand for skilled watchmakers in America, which led the school to open its doors to disabled civilians as well as veterans. Providing top-notch facilities for disabled students, pioneering “accessibility” by providing automatic doors and extra-wide elevators. There was even a medical department on the school campus which provided students with free access to: doctors, nurses, physical therapists and a gym to keep in shape and rehabilitate. The “Joseph Bulova School of Watchmaking” would become a full-fledged rehabilitation center; a nationwide representative and advocate for disabled people; and the founders of wheelchair sports in America. No doubt all major historical contributions to equal rights and opportunities for all able and “different”-able people.

Unfortunately, due to the “quartz crisis” that came along to provide more inexpensive wristwatches and flood the market. There was a collapse in the mechanical watchmaking industry that would lead to a rethinking and structuring of the industry. But, as many fads come and go, so did the quartz era. And nowadays, watches may not be as poignant as they once were, but nonetheless they are a luxury market that still holds a solid investment. Requiring skilled individuals for maintenance and assembly purposes.

The aging watchmaker population is in decline. There are about 3,000 active watchmakers with an average age of 65 (only 2 years away from massive retirement) and only 6 schools offering watchmaking training. Compared to the 44,000 watchmakers and 40 active schools that operated in America, in the 1950’s, the numbers have dropped substantially. Even for a market place that has slimmed with time, it’s quite evident that the current number of professionals are not enough to fulfill present and near future demand.

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The “Veterans Watchmaker Initiative” is exactly aimed at providing professionally trained watchmakers for the industry. A very well compensated profession that could efficiently be done by veterans, offering them the means to provide for themselves and loved ones, while participating and regaining a functional place in society. In order for these ideas to come to fruition, the “Veterans Watchmaker Initiative” has been actively seeking donations and synergies.  The future campus will be located in Middletown, Delaware on 4 acres of commercial property donated for this project. But, there is still a lot to be done. A residential school most be constructed to accommodate future alumni’s. While the VMI continues to acquire: watchmaking equipment, video gear, office equipment, exercise equipment and all other necessary items for a successful activity. Most of these materials have been attained from personal funds and donations of retired watchmakers.

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Blueprint of the future “Veterans Watchmaker Initiative” school to be built in Middletown, Delaware * Image courtesy of VWI

Watch Service Centers or Jewelers that may be in need or interested in hiring a graduate from the “Veterans Watchmaker Initiative” can do so by first donating to this noble cause to help “Kick Start” the initiative. The school alone will provide local employment for at least 25 to 30 people, not to mention the construction labor and all the future empowered veterans that will successfully enter the US workforce with required knowledge. Not only is this an opportunity to gain a professionally trained horologist, but also to provide meaning for those who risked their lives for our common freedom. “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once”; so take a moment to “give them the time of day”, because they will give it back tenfold. It’s just a question of time.

http://www.veteranswatchmakerinitiative.org/donations.html

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Chairman of the Board & Co-founder of the VWI – Sam Cannan * Image courtesy of VWI

http://www.veteranswatchmakerinitiative.org/index.html

Video courtesy of: PPI Television

Written by Mauro Az