like trying to breed kangaroos on top of the Swiss Alps

There is a handful of Australian watch brands, but only one with a claim to producing their own components in-house.

Since 2016 – and based on trial and error, given the intense secrecy of their international watchmaking peers – Nicholas Hacko Watchmaker has been developing its in-house manufacturing capabilities. It has invested around $4 million in micro-machining and other equipment, gaining the ability to make its own screws and stems, then main plates, then a 60 per cent locally-made movement. (A visit to its Brookvale factory is detailed here.)

Its audacious goal is eventually developing a watch manufacturing industry in Australia, and passing on these rare skills.

There is a problem, though. Help is incredibly hard to find. According to founder Nick Hacko, a third generation watchmaker, he’d be swamped with applicants if this was Europe or Japan. In Australia, it’s hard to find young people who want to work in manufacturing.

“We always say that making a watch in Australia is like trying to breed kangaroos on top of the Swiss Alps,” Hacko tells @AuManufacturing.

It’s just the climate here, and by climate I mean literally everything. From raw materials to previous experience, we don’t have a culture… We are a young country. That is our problem.”

Hacko repairs watches in Sydney’s CBD and manufactures them through the Rebelde brand at Brookvale. He has sold 450 locally-made timepieces as of late-2018, and believes he will need at least one machinist and one watch repairer added to his small team by the end of the year.

A watchmaking culture takes time to develop, he admits. The Swiss and the Germans have been making portable clocks since the 16th Century, a fair head start.

Hacko says that time has presented difficulties in other ways. As well as an obsessive eye for detail, it takes maybe five to ten years to get good at the job, he estimates.  

“If you knock on our door and say, ‘Hey, I wanna be a watchmaker in three years time,’ it’s not possible,” he adds.

“This is why I think that it’s difficult nowadays, because young kids and young people, they are very, very, reluctant to commit to such long periods of time.”

The local difficulties in attracting young people to careers in engineering and trades are well known. These are highlighted in figures released this month by the National Centre for Vocational Educational Research, showing apprenticeship commencements and completions fell again last year by 3.7 and 5.5 per cent respectively.

Hacko accepts that there are challenges to being any kind of manufacturer in Australia, and watchmaking is just an extreme example.   

“We are so used to the fact that we are doing well in other areas,” he offers

“There’s our financial services, real estate, tourism, all that’s fine. It’s not that we are starving to death… Watchmaking is neither a job nor a profession, it’s a calling. You have to feel it.”

– Brent Balinski, editor, @AuManufacturing   


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