When I was a kid, I loved going to the jeweler. I loved seeing the shiny jewelry and especially I loved looking at the watches. It seemed like once or twice a year my father would go to get a present for my mother, or to have his watch “polished up” as he would say. One particular trip I remember is the time my father took my mother’s Rolex Datejust in for service. When we came to pick it up, we discovered much to our surprise that the Rolex corporate service center in Dallas had replaced the bezel, dial, hands and movement with slightly different ones.
My father is Italian. He is hot blooded and frankly I remember him blowing his top. Rolex had literally given my parents back a totally different watch, and it wasn’t something he asked for at all. However, in hindsight I realized Rolex did the right thing. Now, years later I have come to find out that the movement in that watch was actually junk.
Thirty years after the incident, my mother had an issue again with the same watch. She asked me to help, and I asked an independent CW21 watchmaker to repair her Datejust. I told him the story of the watch, he explained that Rolex had done this same thing to countless ladies Rolex watches in the 1980’s due to their own error. He went into great detail on the situation and what we should do to preserve the watch for the next generation.
This kind of understanding of Rolex’s history and expertise in the watch world is not always true of every watchmaker. My goal with this article is to help guide you on the do’s and don'ts of picking a watch servicing professional.
First, we are going to specifically focus on professionals who repair Rolex watches. Most mechanical watches function exactly the same. However, from a basic level you will want someone who has experience with repairing Rolex watches and access to replacement Rolex parts. If you want to push the easy button, you can take your Rolex to an Authorized Rolex Dealer. They will either have an in-house watchmaker or will send it directly to Rolex’s service center. They will also have a Rolex parts account. But, Rolex has some strict policies about service that depending on when your Rolex was made, you may not appreciate.
If your Rolex is pretty modern, say made in the last fifteen years to twenty years, taking it directly to a Rolex AD for repair is perfectly fine. However if it is a vintage Rolex, this does not make sense. Rolex will replace all of the non-perfect parts. The dials and hands will most likely be replaced and if it is a Rolex with a bezel insert, like a GMT or Submariner, they will replace that too. They will not ask if you want this, they will just do it. When you give your Rolex to them, you sign an agreement to allow them to repair it to their standards. From the side of a collector, this type of policy frustrates most of us. We want the time that has passed and the memories to not be thrown into a trash bin. However, we have a fantastic alternative, take it to an independent watchmaker for your service needs.
One other benefit of taking your Rolex to an independent watchmaker for service is the cost. They are usually more reasonable than Rolex for these services. But not all independent watchmakers are the same. You will need to ask questions like, “Are you a Rolex service center?” or “Do you have a Rolex parts account?” If they say NO to either of these questions, just leave. I do not think that these types of shops are bad in general, but this is a Rolex that you want serviced -not a Casio. So whoever you have servicing it needs to be very qualified.
There are some certifications and training that are also nice for your watchmaker to have but is not a mandatory requirement. One certification that I like to see is a CW21 certification. This certification is a lot like being a CPA or a lawyer. It means that the watchmaker had special training that was provided by an approved school or training facility that is under the American Watchmakers and Clock Institute. After the training they then have to pass a 3-day long test, followed by recertification every few years. This is a really impressive accomplishment in the watch world. However, this certification is not required for me to drop off my Rolex, but it definitely ensures they have been excellently trained.
Training, experience, working under another expert watchmaker, and a Rolex parts account are the most important things when it comes to picking an independent watchmaker. You would not take your Rolls Royce to the local lube place, so do not take your prized Rolex to just anyone in the phone book.
Lastly, we did an article about laser welding a few weeks ago. This next level of refinishing a watch can really help if you have a nasty scratch or dent. I have had to have a few watches refinished over the years. This process literally made the watch look new. The results were incredible. Again though, choosing the right watch maker was key.