How to Guide – Luxury Mechanical Watch Service, Maintenance and Care
It’s a terrific feeling to buy something that’s brand new. Whether you’ve made a major purchase like an automobile or a smaller one like a food processor, nothing’s better than using it for the first time. The car’s smooth pickup as you pull out of the dealership is exhilarating; the first pesto you make in the Cuisinart may not be as exhilarating, but it’s certainly rewarding and delicious.
But after a while, the new car smell goes away and the food processor may start making strange noises. That’s when the joy of buying turns into the hassle of maintenance and repairs, and you may even start questioning the wisdom of your purchase. At the very least, you may regret having ignored the simple but necessary task of routine maintenance.
Mechanical watches have many moving parts, and high-end models are precision instruments. Even a low-end quartz watch has as many as 100 different small parts inside, while a luxury timepiece has at least twice that many.
There is an average of 220 moving parts in a Rolex, for example, and watches with extremely intricate complications may have many more. That’s a prescription for eventual disaster – if the luxury mechanical watch hasn’t been serviced and maintained properly.
You’re probably well aware that these timepieces can easily cost between $5,000 and $50,000. Whether you’ve purchased a designer watch for its appearance, its ability to make an immediate personal or fashion statement, or as a treasured keepsake to keep in the family, a luxury timepiece is a major investment. Proper maintenance doesn’t simply avoid annoying and expensive repairs down the road. It ensures the integrity of your valuable property for decades to come.
The good news is that servicing and maintaining a luxury timepiece isn’t difficult. It just requires some common sense on your part, and a professional “tune-up” every so often. Groom+Style will deal with the issue of servicing first.
Does My Mechanical Watch Really Need to Be Serviced?
All luxury watch manufacturers recommend a regular interval for professional servicing. You can ignore their recommendation, naturally, but that will void any warranty that may still be in effect.
Generally speaking, high-end timepieces should be serviced every three to five years. A few examples: Raymond Weil recommends a three-year interval, Breitling suggests a tune-up every four to six years, and Rolex recently changed their position drastically, increasing their recommended time frame from three years all the way up to ten. You should check the owner’s manual for your watch to determine how often the manufacturer thinks you should have your watch looked at by a professional.
There are two approaches you can take when it’s time to service your luxury timepiece; you can send it back to the factory or you can take it to a third-party. There are even services where you can send your watch by post such as this bespoke Rolex watch service. Each has its pros and cons.
Sending your watch back to the brand for service guarantees that the work will be done by professional horologists, who have the knowledge and experience to properly handle your specific watch model. It also ensures that any replacement parts will be branded and original, and that guarantees will be extended.
However, there is almost always a long wait for factory service, so your watch could be out of your hands (and off your wrist) for as long as several months (you could always invest in another watch for your collection to get around this issue). It can also be much more expensive to send your timepiece for service at the brand, because standard operating procedures of some high-end brands call for the automatic replacement of a number of parts which may still be in good repair.
Many local watchmakers will be happy to service your timepiece. Unfortunately, a good number of them have little-to-no experience with high-end watches; many more will have no acquaintance with your particular make or model. That makes it imperative to find a qualified watch repair professional familiar with and certified by the brand of watch that you own. It’s not a well-known fact, but many brands won’t allow local watchmakers access to their proprietary repair manuals and parts unless they’ve first passed difficult certification exams. For some brands of watch, very specialized equipment is also necessary to do anything other than general cleanings. Even in that case, though, many branded parts are difficult for local shops to find and many third-party services substitute generic replacements. Those parts can work fine, but they may void your warranty or lower the value of your timepiece.
An experienced local watchmaker certified by your brand – if you can find one – will likely be able to do the work more quickly and for a lower price. Do your research and find a service that specializes in, and is certified, for your brand of watch.
What’s Involved in a Watch Servicing?
The horologist or technician servicing your watch will always inspect, lubricate, clean, polish and test the timepiece. That’s more difficult than it sounds, since at least some of the movement will have to be dismantled in order to lubricate the parts. It’s easy to understand why you should only trust someone experienced with your brand to take your timepiece apart – and more importantly, put it back together properly.
Dismantling the works is important for another reason. Any watch that’s been in use for years will have at least some metal-on-metal wear, so it’s pretty much a given that there will be at least some parts which need to be replaced during a scheduled servicing. You might wonder “I’ve maintained it properly, so why are the parts wearing down?” but consider your car’s brakes. After a certain amount of driving, the brake pads or linings will need replacement; that’s not because you’ve done anything wrong, but simply due to normal use and wear. The story is similar with your watch. Some parts will become worn and need replacement over the years – and if they’re not replaced, internal damage can get much worse. If your watch has suffered damage to its case, strap or crown those will also be repaired or replaced during a servicing (at an additional cost, of course).
Bear in mind that we’re discussing routine, scheduled service for your luxury timepiece. Should your watch suffer damage or begin acting erratically, you should bring or send it for service as soon as possible, just as you would do with your car if it starts acting up. The longer you wait, the higher the repair bill will be.
Maintaining Your Luxury Timepiece
High-end watches are designed to last a lifetime, but only if you care for them properly. That’s not hard to do, but it’s easy to become forgetful or neglectful. Here are a few tips to help you keep your valuable watch in the best-possible condition.
- Keep Your Watch Clean: Dirt and grime has a way of infiltrating even the finest mechanical timepieces. Cleaning and polishing yours regularly with a jewelry microfiber cloth will not only help it look its best, but will ensure that it won’t tarnish or build up problematic layers of dirt. Avoid chemicals and don’t use just any jewelry polish on your watch; check your owner’s manual for specific recommendations.
- Don’t Leave the Crown Open: Many people understandably forget to close the crown after setting the date or time, but that’s an opening where dust, dirt or water can get in. Always take a moment to be certain the crown is closed.
- Store Your Watch Properly: After a day of avoiding contact between their watch and furniture or sharp objects, many people then drop it into their jewelry case or a nightstand where it can easily be scratched by other accessories. Use a jewelry cloth or organizer to cushion or wrap your watch when you put it away for the night. Don’t store the watch in direct sunlight or hot temperatures; find a cool, dry spot for it.
- Pay Attention to the Band: Leather straps are particularly susceptible to damage. Keep them dry (if you have a waterproof timepiece, dry out the band after it’s immersed), away from excess sun and humidity if possible, and don’t over-tighten the strap on your wrist (which can lead to cracking). Whether the band is leather or metal, always apply any cologne or perfume before putting the band on your wrist to avoid unnecessary exposure which can cause damage or corrosion.
- Avoid Water Exposure: Non-waterproof luxury timepieces should be kept far away from water and even waterproof models should only be submerged when necessary (and wearing the watch in the shower, of course, isn’t necessary). Don’t wear waterproof watches in salt water or in the spa, since salt is a major cause of corrosion and the heat of a spa can do additional damage above and beyond anything water could cause. Dry waterproof watches as soon as possible after they’re immersed, and bring your watch in for a check if you notice any condensation under the crystal.
- Avoid Magnetic Fields: Magnetism can do serious damage to the works inside a mechanical timepiece. Appliances and electronics like refrigerators, speakers, hand-held devices and security scanners can magnetize a watch (you can check for this by holding the timepiece next to a compass). This issue calls for an immediate visit to a qualified technician.
The proper servicing and maintenance of a luxury timepiece will protect your major investment in a high-end watch. It should even allow the timepiece to function long after you’re gone, and your children or grandchildren are impressing their acquaintances with the keepsake vintage luxury watch they’ve inherited.
Now that you have all the information you need to service and maintain your mechanical watch you can proceed with confidence to add to your luxury watch collection: