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Matt Schloemer, Richter & Phillips Watchmaker Extraordiaire

Considering a career change? Then listen to Matt Schloemer’s story and take heart. Schloemer quit his job as a CVG baggage supervisor in 2010 to pursue watchmaking. Since he was a kid, all the tiny gears and moving parts had fascinated him. “I saved up for months to buy a Tag Heuer,” he says. “I laid with it under my head and just listened to it tick at night.” Years later, after inquiring at jewelry and watch boutiques and being all but laughed away due to lack of experience, Schloemer, 34, found the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute in Harrison, Ohio, and signed up for an introductory course. He was hooked. Wanting to pursue a career in the field, Schloemer looked to the Lititz Watch Technicum in Pennsylvania—the best watchmaking school in the country.

After a grueling application process, which included a nine-hour interview, Schloemer was one of 14 students accepted out of more than 100 applicants. The program itself was no less intensive: He took classes and workshops in micromechanics, theory, and watch repair for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year for two years. After graduation, Rolex selected him—the only one in his class—as an apprentice. He spent five months in Pennsylvania, training in all aspects of factory-specific service, and one month at Rolex’s watchmaking facilities in Switzerland, working as a watchmaker at their manufacturing facilities in Bienne and Geneva. In March 2013, Schloemer landed a job at Richter & Phillips in downtown Cincinnati—one of the same places that had shooed him out the door a few years before.

Many watches Schloemer repairs come to him after their owners first tried to get cheaper repairs from less qualified people. “There are a lot of people out there who will take your money and try to fix your watch,” Schloemer says. “Very few of them have training that is required to really understand the intricacies.”

That wasn’t always the case. Watchmaking used to be a much more common career, but the advent of cheap digital watches pushed many out of business. In 1992, there were approximately 28,000 watchmakers nationwide. Back then, Richter & Phillips had four on staff. Now, Schloemer is one of just three in the area and 3,000 in the country—and only 250 have his level of training.

Schloemer has built one complete watch in his career (see right), but his days are filled repairing family heirlooms, small fortunes people wear on their wrists, and just making sure a favorite watch still ticks. “Many watches mean a lot to people. I’m lucky to  make them work like new again,” he says.

Originally published in the August 2014 issue.