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When it comes to luxury watches, the maintenance of a timepiece is a recurring theme. But what does the proper care of your watch actually involve? In addition to regular cleaning and polishing with a cleaning cloth for your glasses, regular service and an overhaul are essential for the care of your watch. We will explain to you what watch servicing involves, when it is necessary and how much the maintenance of your watch costs.



What does the maintenance of a watch entail?


You know it from your car: every two years or so, your vehicle has to be put through its paces and inspected for official certification. If something isn't working properly, it has to be replaced or repaired. The same applies to luxury watches. As with cars, mechanical watches contain a variety of components that can show signs of wear and tear over time and need to be regularly checked and, if necessary, repaired. Maintenance of a wristwatch is therefore as essential as regular inspection of the car. Complete maintenance includes professional polishing, after which your watch will shine again in a whole new splendour.


Individual components of a Cartier three-hand watch movement on a grey surface
COMPONENTS OF A CARTIER MOVEMENT



The most frequently asked questions about the maintenance of watches


What is done during an overhaul?

A watch overhaul is usually divided into the following steps performed by experienced watchmakers and polishers:

  • First inspection and assessment of the extent of repair necessary
  • Removal of the movement from the watch case
  • The dial and hands are dismantled
  • Complete disassembly of the movement into all its individual parts
  • Replacement of worn and broken components
  • Cleaning and lubrication of all individual watch components
  • Movement reassembly
  • Watch adjustment

In the first step of an overhaul, the watch is first disassembled into its individual parts, so that the movement can be removed. The winding mechanism, hands and gears are then tested for proper functionality. Only now is the movement dismantled into its numerous components. During this process, the condition of each individual component is checked, as it is often the case that individual parts need to be reconditioned or replaced.


Watchmaker opening a watch case
INSPECTION OF A WATCH CASE


After the watch has been disassembled into its individual parts, all components are cleaned in an ultrasonic bath. Before the movement can be reassembled, worn parts must be repaired or replaced and the movement must be lubricated with oil in all necessary areas. Then, the movement is restarted and wound by hand. Finally, a fine adjustment of the watch mechanism is performed. Watchmaster uses a so-called timegrapher for this task. This works much like an electrocardiogram and records the "heartbeat" of the movement. Using this device, efficient and precise adjustments can be made to the movement.

However, it's not only the inside of a watch that receives a strict check during an overhaul. The case is also repaired. This process includes both maintenance and a professional polish. During the final assembly that follows, the dial, hands, movement and case are reassembled. The fitting of the dial and case is also known as "encasing".

Last but not least, state-of-the-art technology is used to check the seals and rate accuracy of the watch. The water-resistance test is used to check whether the watch case has the necessary tightness. This process consists of a vacuum test, a compression test and a condensation test, which detect the presence of the slightest amount of moisture in the case. The hand movement of the wearer is simulated with the help of a watch winder in order to check the rate accuracy of the movement.


Rolex watch case in a compression chamber for leak testing
TIGHTNESS TEST IN COMPRESSION CHAMBER


During the final inspection, the watch is again checked for proper functionality, ease of use and possible case damage such as scratches and dents. After this final inspection, the overhaul is complete.


How long does a watch overhaul take?

How long the overhaul of a watch lasts always depends on the manufacturer of the timepiece and the complexity of the watch in question. Each manufacturer specifies different time periods for maintenance. We've compiled a small overview of various brands and the times for complete maintenance they've specified. In general, the maintenance of complex watch models takes more time than the repair of basic models with fewer complications.

  • Audemars Piguet: 8 to 16 weeks
  • Breitling: approximately 6 weeks
  • Glashütte Original: 4 to 15 weeks
  • Jaeger-LeCoultre: 8 to 10 weeks
  • Omega: approximately 3 weeks
  • Panerai: 4 to 12 weeks
  • Patek Philippe: 6 to 10 weeks
  • Rolex: 4 to 6 weeks (only 15 business days for most of the newer models sent to the service centre in Cologne)
  • TAG Heuer: 5 to 6 weeks (however, vintage and Haute Horlogerie models take considerably more time)


Where and who can perform service on a watch?

Ideally, an overhaul of your watch will be handled directly by your watch's manufacturer. However, in theory, you can also entrust your timepiece to any other qualified jeweller for service, but this has the following disadvantage: if your watch still has a warranty, this warranty will be voided as soon as any party other than a certified brand specialist handles the watch for servicing or maintenance. While the watch manufacturer's repair is typically a little more expensive than that of a normal jeweller, you can be absolutely sure that your watch will be returned to you in the best possible condition and return with a warranty.


Watchmaker disassembling a watch dial
DISASSEMBLY OF THE WATCH HAND


How often is watch maintenance necessary?

Whether in everyday use or safely stored away, regular service is definitely advisable. A mechanical wristwatch, if worn daily, should be taken for maintenance at intervals of approximately 2 to 5 years. If the timepiece is only worn infrequently, this interval can also be 6 to 7 years. Nevertheless, it is better to have a watch serviced sooner rather than later. If you own an automatic watch and keep it in a watch winder, you should consider more frequent intervals, as the components of the movement are constantly in motion and generate friction. This means that wear of the components is perfectly normal.

If you notice any problems with your timepiece, such as condensation on the crystal, you should go to a watchmaker immediately and have the watch inspected, even if the next maintenance check is still a few years away.


How much does a watch inspection cost?

The costs for watch maintenance can vary, but usually range between €150 and €300. It depends on whether you have your watch serviced by a brand-certified watchmaker or at an independent workshop and what type of watch it is. The more complications the movement of a watch has, the more time the revision will take and, in turn, the more expensive the service will be. If you have your watch serviced by a brand concessionaire, you should also expect to pay a slightly higher price. To make it easier for you, we've compiled a list of the most popular watch models and the respective prices for having that watch serviced by its manufacturer. However, please note that the prices are not fixed, but rather reference values that may vary due to the model and condition of the watch.


Brand Model Cost of maintenance from the manufacturer
Rolex Submariner
Daytona
Datejust
from €650
from €750
from €600
Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch
Seamaster 300M
€731.09 for chronographs, €536.13 for non-chronograph models
Breitling Navitimer 01
Colt Automatic
between €395 and €660
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak from €880
Patek Philippe Nautilus between €1,100 and €1,980
Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso from €590

The most important thing is that you trust the watchmaker and receive a warranty for their services. If this is not the case, or if the person offering the maintenance is not a watchmaker, then please avoid this potentially cheaper offer. If you do not, you run the risk of damaging your watch rather than repairing it. Although service is not one of the lowest running costs of a luxury watch, it still costs less than a broken watch and it is not necessary every year.