Philanthropist and watch aficionado Chen Zhi instilled confidence in all future Cambodian watchmakers with his recent visit to their class by bringing them exciting news.

The first batch of Cambodian students at the Prince Horology Vocational Training Centre, specialising in Swiss watch making, are set to graduate in three months.

Through an unparalleled investment in modern state-of-the-art specialised equipment, training and technical know-how, the Prince Horology Vocational Training Centre in Cambodia offers students an incredible opportunity to learn the art of Swiss watch-making and micromechanics in a unique setting.

The good news is that the current six full scholarship students trained locally as Swiss watchmakers will soon be fully immersed in the world of horology and able to advance confidently in a lifelong rewarding career in Cambodia upon their upcoming graduation.

The even better news is that the next 16 candidates can ready themselves for this opportunity because the school has plans to expand to teaching two classes of eight students by 2023.

“Anyone can join our programmes by applying. We offer full and partial scholarships for talented Cambodian students experiencing financial hardship,” says Jessica Thakur, the Prince Horology technical advisor.

“And we welcome both male and female students, although our first class happens to be all boys,” she adds.

To be eligible for a scholarship placement, the criteria considered is a personal statement outlining the financial hardship experienced by the student, a certified document from local authorities proving financial hardship and candidates must be open to a personal home visit from the admissions team. Add to that a positive attitude and an average score of above 80% achieved in the pre-selection testing.

Philanthropist and watch aficionado Chen Zhi instills confidence in the first class of future Cambodian watchmakers. Heng Chivoan

She says the scholarships – available only to Cambodian students – give discounts such as 50 per cent of the tuition fees to 100 per cent of the tuition fees to even 100 per cent of the tuition fees plus stipend or even 100 per cent of tuition fees plus stipend and accommodations.

Sorya, one of the six students, says he strongly recommends this programme to all interested Cambodians.

“It is a very rare opportunity that not all people get and you will feel like you are studying abroad with professional instructors. The school gives support, helps those in need, and we can show the world the potential of Khmer people.

“But… you have to know your personality type. Are you a good fit? Are you strong enough to motivate yourself and ready to do things perfectly? Because this programme requires a lot of patience.

“I actually have many dreams, but I’ll talk about the first step. I’m looking for a chance to work in the watch making industry in any European country,” he says.

Being the first class of students to choose to study something in any given country is of course taking a risk, which has concerned some of their parents as well.

“First, they worried about me and didn’t know what I would do after finishing my studies. But now they trust me enough to allow me to do what I love and just wait to see how I succeed and they have hope for me,” Sorya says.

Thakur recalls how they got past the early bumps in the road with their studies and after two intensive years in class – including studying remotely during the Covid-19 closure – all of the students have continued to do their best to move forward and achieve their goals.

The Prince Horology Vocational Training Centre specialising in Swiss watch making will graduate its first class in three months. Heng Chivoan

“During the closure we have had to be very flexible just like everyone else. So we did a lot of online projects with the students. They had to do a sundial while they were at home using things around their house.

“We did some mathematics and science work online, just training until they could come back into the classroom because our programmes are predominantly practical. We did the best that we could,” says Thakur.

“Now our first class will graduate in July of this year. We are aware of many opportunities within Cambodia and throughout the ASEAN network for our students. We would also love to add to our teaching faculty hiring some of our Cambodian graduates and so on. There are many plans for the future,” she says.

Recently, Chen Zhi, chairman of Prince Holding Group, one of the largest and fastest-growing conglomerates in Cambodia, visited the students at Prince Horology Vocational Training Centre.

Chen Zhi has paid keen attention to the institute personally, because of his support for it the through Prince Foundation.

Watchmaking and repair is a specialised skill with a history that stretches back several centuries. Heng Chivoan

The centre forms a key linchpin in his group’s broader efforts to elevate education across Cambodia via scholarship programmes, thought leadership training programmes and other CSR initiatives.

“Three years back, this was just a vision,” shares Chen Zhi. “I am impressed with the progress that has been made since we founded the school before the start of the pandemic, and I look forward to seeing the birth of Cambodia’s first-ever watchmakers trained to Swiss standards.”

The six Cambodian students, currently under full scholarships and stipend, are set to graduate as the first watchmakers ever in Cambodia who can repair and assemble watches to Swiss standards – standards that are widely considered the benchmark in the world of luxury watches.

Learning all about horology at a centre using best-in-class equipment and from international experts, Chen Zhi hopes the passion of these future pioneer watchmakers can serve as an inspiration for high-end craftsmanship across Cambodia in many disciplines.

“Unique to Cambodia, this school brings world-class facilities that rival those found in ateliers or facilities in Switzerland” says Sack-Man Loui, the executive principal of Prince Horology. “As instructors, we want to do our part to further elevate a culture of artisan craftsmanship, and we have spared no expense to ensure our Cambodian students get the very best training.”

Thakur says the Kingdom in general has a cultural history rich with artisanal work and handicrafts, from the stone carvers of Angkor Wat to the more recent traditions of silversmiths and silk weavers.

Although perhaps not immediately evident, it is only natural that a profession that requires delicacy, patience an​d creativity has found a new home in Phnom Penh, Thakur says.

For more information visit the school on Facebook: @princehorology