Watches: Time-Savers

  • Ken Kessler

Investing in a complicated watch requires more than a commitment of money. Like their automotive counterparts, these finely engineered mechanical marvels require regular maintenance to maximize performance as well as preserve value.

Many watch owners neglect routine servicing, however, because quality watches—even vintage models—are so reliable. But just because they are ticking does not mean that all is necessarily well. Watches can continue to operate with worn components or aged lubricating agents that can accelerate wear and tear, causing more damage than you might expect. If you wear your watch all the time, most manufacturers recommend routine servicing every other year. You can extend the time between tune-ups to every five years if you own a few watches and rotate them. Why service them if they’re not being worn? Simple: Lubricants—even modern ones—dry out or harden over time.

Routine watch servicing is comparable to those 15,000-mile checkups performed on your car. This maintenance generally focuses on three services: cleaning, lubricating, and adjusting, all of which play complementary roles in ensuring accuracy and reliability. Once the case back is opened, however, the repairer may also find trouble spots that need addressing. “A good watch repairer will do more than clean and regulate your watch when he has it on his bench,” says British watchmaker Peter Roberts. “It is his job to tell you if any parts are showing inordinate amounts of wear or look like they might need replacing.”

The make of watch and the level of complication determine the fees for such servicing and how long your watch will be out of your possession. Larger watch stores often have factory-accredited service departments with Swiss-trained staff, but even they may not be able to deal with certain complications. Girard-Perregaux, for example, expects all of its tourbillons and repeaters to be returned to the Swiss factory, and Roger Dubuis, despite investing in a new North American service department, anticipates the return of many of its complications to Geneva.

Returning the watch to the factory is the ul-timate service arrangement, albeit the most expensive and time-consuming—expect to wait six to eight weeks for a basic service. Another route is to find a highly skilled, experienced independent watchmaker to service your watches locally. However, parts replacement can become an issue, as some watch companies, as a means of quality control, no longer supply independents with official parts.

Whichever repair avenue you choose, you will have to be patient. “Because of the growth in mechanical watch sales over the past 15 years, the number of watches in need of servicing has outgrown the number of repairers,” says Swiss-born and trained watchmaker Claude Guyot of Swiss Time, an independently owned Portland, Maine, store. “Most of us are swamped with work.”

Everyday Care

• Always set hands in a clockwise direction.
• Avoid setting the time of a calendar watch around midnight, because setting during a date change can harm parts of the mechanism.
• Wind at the same time each day, preferably in the morning, so that the mainspring is fully tensioned during waking hours and working with greater accuracy.
• Avoid placing your watch near magnets, such as those contained in hi-fi speakers.
• Store watches at a constant temperature, preferably between 60 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

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