Owning a mechanical timepiece is a little bit like owning a car. Similar to a car engine, a mechanical watch is powered by it’s own little engine known as a movement. Eventually, the movement’s lubricants get dry, parts need replacing, and timekeeping suffers. When that happens, your watch may need to be sent in for service. Service and maintenance of a timepiece tend to be an afterthought for most collectors. Most of us are too enamored with our favorite watches to be bothered with anything that isn't needed at the present moment. Here’s a quick guide on the when, where, what, and how of servicing your mechanical watch.
When to service your watch depends on a few factors and your manufacturer. For example, most watch manufacturers recommend servicing your watch every five years. More specifically, Rolex recommends service every 10 years while Omega recommends every 5-8 years. If you happen to own a Panerai LAB-ID, then you’ll be handing the service work to the next owner since it doesn’t need to see a watchmaker for 80 years!
These times can vary depending on how often a watch is worn. For example, a watch worn sparingly, maybe a few times a month, may not need service for quite some time. However, it's important to run the movement at least once a month to prevent the oils from drying. Inversely, watches worn often or daily, may benefit from service at regular intervals.
Some people may operate under the modus operandi of “if it ain’t broke, don't fix it.” While it may seem like a logical idea, delaying service may cost you more money in the long run as the increased wear and tear could add up to more service work.
Source: Watchpro USA
There are no shortage of options of where to send your watch for service. Here’s the quick rundown:
1. Authorized Service Centers- Most large watch brands have their own service centers. Many owners choose this option because it gives them the piece of mind that their watches are in the hands of the watch brand (Rolex, Omega, Panerai, etc) and that the parts used are 100% authentic. For some, it may be the only option as most brands do not supply movement parts to independent watchmakers for their in-house movements. For these reasons, this option can tend to be the most expensive.
Source: Harwood International
2. Independent Watchmaker- Many collectors prefer to have their watches serviced by independent watchmakers. The service is more personal, turnaround time is faster, and the price is often cheaper than an authorized service center. This is a great option for owners with watches powered by ETA or Sellita movements because any competent watchmaker can service them. Also, some of these watchmakers may have parts accounts with large watch brands and are able to service in-house movements. You can learn more about in-house movements here.
3. Specialty Shops- Specialty shops are a step up from your typical watchmaker and offer services that go above and beyond what you normally see. For example, Rolliworks in Campbell, California specializes in the complete restoration of vintage and modern Rolex timepieces. Along with the typical movement service, Rolliworks’ case and bracelet repair are outstanding. Whether it's a stretched out bracelet, dinged up case, or chamfers that need re-cutting, Rolliworks’ quality of work is unmatched.
A full service typically involves a watch being inspected and repaired to ensure that it is performing up the manufacturer’s standards. This typically involves the complete disassembly of the movement so that all of its components can be cleaned and re-lubricated. During this time, the owner can choose whether to have the case and bracelet polished before the movement is placed back into the watch. It’s common to have gaskets, seals, crowns, and crown stems replaced during this service. Once the watch is completely reassembled, a watchmaker will test the timekeeping and power reserve over the course of a few days to ensure that it's within tolerance. Lastly, the pressure and water resistance of the timepiece is tested before being sent back to its original owner.
Source: Millenary Watches
The cost can vary widely depending on the work necessary and who performed the repairs to the watch. The average cost to service a movement is about $500-700. From there, add-ons can pile up rather quickly. Things like a new crystal, hands, crown, case and bracelet polish, etc can bring your service bill well over $1000. Last year, I paid about $850 to service my Submariner at a Rolex service center. This involved the service of the movement as well as the cost of new gaskets, seals, crown and crown stem. While $850 for a basic service sounds like a lot, it seems like a bargain compared to the $6000 service quote for a Richard Mille RM11!
Written by Patrick Bernardez