Cambodia is open again, but Jessica Thakur, a technical advisor at the Prince Horology Vocational Training Center, has no plans to return home anytime soon.
Thakur, from a small town outside Melbourne, is busy with work at the Prince Horology School of Watchmaking which was launched shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began. While previously based in Switzerland, she enjoys the young and dynamic atmosphere of Cambodia.
“Phnom Penh is just beautiful,” she says. “The streets are busy and bustling and Cambodians are such kind and kind people.”
Six students, all Cambodians with full scholarships, signed up as the first group of students to learn the art of watchmaking. Thakur works alongside Maarten Pieters, a fellow technical advisor.
Thakur is a former instructor of the World Renowned Swiss Watchmakers Training and Education Program (WOSTEP). Before that, she was an instructor at a watchmaking school in Texas sponsored by the Swiss luxury group Richemont.
Pieters served as director of WOSTEP for over 16 years after leaving Omega. At Omega, he worked in the Haute de Gamme department, responsible for the brand’s most complex watches.
Classes have been suspended due to COVID-19, but students are on track to graduate next year. Recruitment has started for the upcoming academic year – Cambodians will once again be able to study on a scholarship or heavily subsidized awards. The school hopes to be a beacon for emerging artisans around the world who want to learn Swiss watchmaking in an Asian setting.
So far, a foreign exchange teller, a human resources professional and a farmer have registered. The complete program has been designed and is transmitted by the two internationally experienced watchmakers, Jessica and Maarten.
Prince Horology’s two-year program has been designed to closely mirror the Federal Certificate of Proficiency (CFC), a professional training standard set by the Swiss government and widely regarded as the watch industry standard. The well-known and highly regarded 3,000 hour program from WOSTEP and Prince Horology is based on the same CFC criteria.
Thakur is confident that the two-year program will open up pathways graduates cannot imagine.
“I was just an apprentice in Australia and couldn’t imagine my career would take me to Switzerland and the United States,” says Thakur. “I am aware, however, that not everyone can afford to go to Switzerland to learn such a specialized subject.”
“I am happy that we have been able to open a school here in Cambodia and I am sure that our students will learn valuable skills that are appreciated internationally.”
WOSTEP, says Thakur, is famous for its ability to feed international watchmakers. Thakur and Pieters hope to put the educational knowledge acquired over the years to the benefit of the group of students in their charge.
Thakur says a number of countries have emerged to establish their own stamp on watchmaking. Japanese watchmakers, for example, perfected the quartz movement, which used a battery and challenged traditional conventions, making high-quality watches accessible to a wider user group. Asia’s watchmaking heritage is vastly underestimated.
“Cambodia is well known for its craftsmanship and there is a great deal of pride in the intricate designs that make up the exterior of the temples of Angkor Wat,” notes Gabriel Tan, communications director for Prince Holding Group. “I am confident that our students at the school will not only master Swiss watchmaking, but will produce fine watches in Cambodia in the near future.”
Thakur recalls how instructors had to work with students on Zoom classes to design sundials, a tricky proposition given that most publicly available textbooks focus on the movements of the sun commonly found in the world. northern hemisphere.
“We had some interesting projects that could only happen here,” she says.
No expense has been spared to ensure Cambodian students have an experience comparable to their peers in Switzerland. Jiaxian Su, the famous Singapore-based watch journalist, called it “the most impressive horology academy outside of Switzerland”.
This was only possible because Prince Holding Group, more specifically known as the parent group of companies including Prince Real Estate, Prince Huanyu Real Estate, Prince Bank, Belt Road Capital Management, Cambodia Airways and Awesome Global, places education at the heart of its activities. long-term corporate social responsibility efforts.
Like a tide that will hopefully lift all boats, Prince Holding Group has invested heavily in educational initiatives over the past 18 months.
Last month, the conglomerate made waves nationwide with the launch of the Chen Zhi Scholarship, a seven-year program set to disburse funds equivalent to US$2 million supporting nearly 400 students with full scholarships. for courses related to science, technology and management in top universities.
“We aim to be part of the transformational force driving vocational and university education in the country,” adds Tan, a true watch enthusiast from Singapore.
Education will be key to Cambodia’s eventual recovery. The country is arguably better positioned to emerge from COVID-19 with one of the highest vaccination levels in the world. Europe is a key partner in the coming years as Cambodia seeks a more diversified economy beyond garment manufacturing and tourism.
The success of traditional Swiss watchmaking in a Cambodian school with Swiss-trained experts could therefore serve as an instructive example, reflecting the substantial goodwill between Cambodia and the EU as people-to-people exchanges are only expected to increase.
A combination of aid, development, skills transfer and investment could reduce poverty, improve the lot of Cambodians and introduce new industries targeting the wider Asian market.
“At the end of the day, most Cambodians just want better opportunities and we’re here to offer what we can,” Thakur says. “Without financial support, I don’t think it would have been possible for a school like ours to operate in this part of the world.”
Watchmaker Prince now serves as a model for much of the Prince Foundation’s CSR work, which has seen the parent company win eight corporate awards this year. By partnering with institutions (or creating them if they don’t exist) that have the expertise and networks to advance social outcomes, the Prince Foundation hopes to build an open yet strategic and audited approach to ultimately realize its vision: “Together, building a better future”. for Cambodia”.