When is the last time you checked your watch?
“Service intervals can vary by brand and model but mainly manufactures recommend a service every three to five years to keep the timepiece in good condition,” explains Ian Haycock, head of technical services at Watches of Switzerland, which has over 40 individual brands in its display cases.
It is one of life’s cruel jokes and an inconvenience at the best of times, but when your ticker stops, we have curated a full guide of exactly what to do, where to go and what to look for – whether you’re a quartz man, vintage collector or mechanical fan, we’ve got you covered.
Quartz watches are considered to be one of the cheapest – and low maintenance – watches on the market. With an affordable price tag they are found on the majority of people and if something goes wrong, it is usually the battery. Due to its simple construction, the watch can be taken to any trusted jeweller for battery replacement – and you wont pay much more than $30.
On the other hand, quartz watches can have issues with the buttons and winders, primarily due to daily wear and tear, sometimes with the accumulation of dust and dirt. However, it is possible a full service may be needed to pinpoint the exact problem, which will need to be taken to a specialist watch repairer.
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Mechanical Watches tend to have more parts then the quartz equivalent so therefore more things have the potential to fail. Usually the main problem will be the watch not keeping time correctly and this can be due to a lack of servicing. “You have to treat it like a car,” says Oliver Pollock, founder of Luxury Watch Repairs.
“There are over 180 parts in a mechanical watch that need lubrication. If you don’t bring your watch in every four-to-five years then parts of it can wear, which can lead to losing or gaining time caused by lack of oil. We see 30-40 watches a day and generally when the watchmaker has had a poke around to determine a quotation, the majority of problems are caused by dry oil.”
So what should be done when time slows down? Keep reading for your best options.
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Sometime you can’t escape a service… “[This looks at] all aspects of the watch to ensure it is performing as intended by the manufacturer from when the watch was originally sold,” Pollock explains. “If parts are worn, these are to be replaced and the movement to be re-assembled and re-lubricated.”
Ask what will be done during the service and afterwards get as much information on what was replaced. Check for crown and pushers, seals and gaskets to ensure the watch is still water resistant and ensure they have given the watch a good polish.
“We also place the watch on a five-day time-keeping and power reserve test [applicable to automatic and manual wind watches] to ensure the tolerance is as expected,” says Pollock. “The watch is then pressure- and water-resistance-tested, undergoes three separate stages of thorough quality control and backed up by our two-year warranty.” If these things have not been done they have more than likely not given your watch a full service.
Other problems that will need a full repair include strong vibration, smashed glass, condensation and grinding when adjusting the time.
Part jobs or repairs
Not all problems will require a full service luckily and usually includes scratched glass, a worn bracelet and occasionally de-magnetising a watch. Watches become magnetised with day-to-day use, but is easy to fix in a days work.
Repairing vintage or antique watches
Vintage and antique watches can be difficult to repair, dependent on its age. “Vintage and antique watches are usually far less resistant to the elements than their modern counterparts,” explains Dr Rebecca Struthers, co-founder of specialist watch restorers Struthers London. “Aside from dust making its way into the movement, water damage can be a real issue.”
Some specialists such as Watches of Switzerland may be able to repair them but your best bet is to look to specialist repairers. It is not something that is taught anymore unfortunately so make sure you find someone with a good portfolio.
Choosing the right repairer
Finding the right repairer for the job can sometimes be a life and death situation for your watch, you’re in safe hands if retailers send it back to their HQ for repair, but if you look into an independent specialist, make sure you understand their accreditation.
“Look for accreditation and reviews,” says Pollock. “We’ve got over 1,000 and we use TrustPilot which tells our customers that all the reviews posted are from genuine users because TrustPilot verifies every one. As for accreditation, it is so important. I know people talk about ‘time at the bench’ and while that is great in terms of experience, you need to know your watchmaker has had fundamental training.”
Do’s and Dont’s of watch repairing
- DO TAKE YOUR WATCH FOR AN INSPECTION EVERY FOUR TO FIVE YEARS. “Putting movements and full services to one side, you should still bring your watch in every four years or so because there are things such as gaskets and seals made from rubber, which deteriorate naturally over time, but they would only cost around $100 to get fixed,” says Pollock.
- DON’T FORGET TO MAINTAIN YOUR AUTOMATICS. Even though automatics are usually low maintenance, it is best to give them a wind every week to ensure the oil won’t dry out.
- DO ASK QUESTIONS. Ask everything from accreditation to experience, what they plan to and what has been done after a repair. This will give you a deeper understanding of you watch and how you can continue upkeep.
- DON’T ALWAYS GO FOR THE CHEAPER OPTION. Sometimes quick and easy will leave you further behind down the track – “While it may seem quicker and more cost effective to simply replace a damaged part, the damage can often be more complex than simply one worn or damaged part,” says Pollock. “To find and fix the damage, the watch may need to be dismantled, cleaned and re-assembled. That’s ultimately a service in itself and does of course take a significant amount of time and care.”
What can be done at home?
When it comes to repairing the inner workings of a watch, it is best to leave it to the experts as more harm can be done when a rogue pair of bathroom tweezers is thrown into the mix. Companies such as Rolex recommend simple cleaning to keep your time piece looking its best and prevent an accumulation of dirt, while others believe it should be done by trained hands.
“We don’t advise our customers to try anything at home. Even a strap change can lead to a badly scratched case if something slips,” he says. “If your watch is water-resistant and has a rubber strap then you could get a toothbrush and some warm water and soap to clean the strap, but we can give it an ultrasound and steam clean for a small price.”