Why do I need to service my mechanical timepiece?

Most modern mechanical watches (automatic and manual winding) have fairly robust movements, built upon decades of gradually improving technology. However, just like car engines, their movements utilise fine oils and lubricants to ensure friction free operation. If worn regularly, these wonderful little machines are working 24/7, with some elements turning at a rate of 28,800 beats per hour, or 8 beats per second. Over time, regardless of if the watch is worn or left in a draw, the lubricants in the movement will begin to dry, thicken or evaporate. Not only does this mean movement parts will grate against each other, old dry oil will grime up other areas and, in some cases, can become abrasive by trapping small particles of dirt. Worst still, if the watch is working with no oils in place, parts will wear down and eventually break, costing much more to repair than a routine service.


Older or vintage watches will lack the kind of shock absorbers and protection from outside elements that modern watches have, thus servicing is even more essential. This is especially true if the watch is of historic significance, is an investment piece or holds sentimental value.


Additionally, if your watch is water proof or intended for diving and you plan to wear it while swimming, you should be aware that the specialist seals which protect the watch when immersed also deteriorate, harden and crack over time and should be changed at intervals.


You probably wouldn’t drive a car without a regular service, so likewise, watches should be considered in the same way and maintained at intervals to ensure excellent timekeeping.



I don’t remember when my watch was last serviced; how can I tell if it needs one?

Mechanical watches are delicate and intricate in their operation so if parts are not perfectly positioned or lubricants carefully in place, the first tell-tale sign would be a change in the watch’s timekeeping. Usually the watch will slow down and loose a few minutes a day. In some cases, it may actually speed up and need regulating.


If the watch has an automatic movement, another sign it needs a service is the power reserve drops, causing the watch to stop when left unworn, overnight for example.


Looking at the watch’s exterior, if its appears heavily worn, with metalwork being dull, scuffed and scratched then it’s probably a good idea to have it checked by a watchmaker.


In all cases, a watchmaker will have specialist timing equipment which can quickly assess the condition of the movement and therefore tell you if a service is due, or indeed when a service is next recommended.



How often should I service my mechanical timepiece?

Service intervals are dependent on the actual watch and its level of complication. As a general rule, modern automatic and wind-up watches, which tell the time and may have a date function, should be serviced every 4-5 years. Watches which are used for diving should be checked every 3 years, especially if their function is relied upon when underwater. Chronograph watches, whose complications place additional pressure on the movement should also be checked every 3 years. In all cases, a watchmaker will have specialist timing equipment which can quickly assess the condition of the movement and therefore tell you if a service is due, or indeed when a service is next recommended.


For vintage watches, servicing is a more frequent requirement if the watch is worn regularly and should be assessed every 2-3 years. If an old watch has been left for a significant amount of time, yet still appears to work, while the temptation is to simply wind it up and wear, a service would be highly recommended as it is likely a service is well overdue and using it now could damage its delicate (and sometimes irreplaceable) parts.



Do quartz watches require servicing?

Yes. For quartz watches, servicing is somewhat of a different undertaking. Quartz watches rarely lose time and can’t be regulated easily. They will however either stop when the battery dies or the movement is damaged in some way.


It is recommended that dead batteries are replaced as soon as possible, as when left in the watch, they can corrode and leak onto the movement, causing damage or making the watch obsolete. Upon changing a battery, a simple quartz watch can be expected to run for the next 3 to 5 years.


While you might fancy attempting to change the battery yourself, please be aware that you may miss the signs that there is more to address than just the battery. Very often batteries are replaced only to die very quickly (within a few months or weeks). This is a clear sign the quartz movement requires a service. A quartz battery service should also check for water resistance where required.


For inexpensive quartz watches, the tendency is to simply cast away and buy another watch instead of servicing. Yet many people own expensive quartz watches and so should refer to a watchmaker regarding what can be done. Nicolas Watch Co. can undertake specialist quartz testing and servicing to ensure the watch continues to run for many years to come.


For repairs to quartz watches, very often it is impossible to source and replace damaged parts. Sometimes it proves more economical to replace an entire movement. Again, Nicolas Watch Co. will be able to advise on the best course of action.



My automatic watch keeps stopping at night, before it never did that. Why is this and can it be fixed?

Automatic watches are powered by kinetic energy and are ‘charged’ when worn or when the watch is placed on a watch winder. A weight, known as a rotor, rotates on the inside of the case back, and winds up the mainspring. The mainspring is the element of the watch which stores the kinetic energy to power the escapement, which in turn ensures the watch keeps time.


All mechanical watches require fine lubricants to operate correctly and this is especially true of the rotor and associated wheels and pinions which form the automatic element of the watch. Over time the lubricants dry out, thus stiffening the free movement of the rotor and inhibiting the full winding of the mainspring. The result is less energy to power the watch when it isn’t worn. This is the most obvious reason why an automatic watch stops during longer periods of not being worn.


It can of course be remedied with a servicing by Nicolas Watch Co. If the watch is not attended to when this issue occurs, the winding post which the rotor pivots on will wear down, causing the rotor to bank to one side, thus scraping the mainplate of the watch movement and causing further damage. In some cases, the winding post simply snaps. Nicolas Watch Co. have worked on many watches with this issue, which can be expensive to repair and can definitely be avoided with periodic servicing.



I dropped my Cartier watch and now it has a big dink in the side of the case. It seems to be working OK, but I would like to know if I can repair the case?

Yes, you can. Most Cartier watches are made from either stainless steel, gold or a combination of both. These materials polish up superbly well and the watch can be brought back to an almost new condition with a professional polishing.


If the damage to the watch case is deep, it can be treated by laser soldering additional metal to the area and carefully polishing this down to blend it with the original watch case design.


Given that the watch was dropped it is worthwhile Nicolas Watch Co. check the movement for any damage.



My watch’s glass has steamed up, what should I do?

Condensation to the watch’s glass is a sure sign moisture has gotten inside and has likely entered the internal working parts of your watch; this can do a lot of damage. The sooner you respond when noticing this, the more chance you will save your watch from needing an expensive repair. Moisture inside the movement of a mechanical watch will cause rusting to the working parts quickly, normally within 72 hours. If it is seawater the salt speeds up this process.


To resolve, ideally the watch should be placed on a professional heating plate which will dry it out, but if you can’t get to a watchmaker on the same day, try to dry the watch out using a hairdryer on a low heat and at a reasonable distance (too much heat can also damage the watch, so be careful when doing this).


Upon taking the watch to Nicolas Watch Co., we will need to completely dismantle it, dry the individual parts and assess if any require parts replacement. A full service would also be required at this stage.


Water inside a quartz movement watch is a larger issue as it can short the circuit board immediately. Additionally, drying on a heat plate or using a hair dryer is not recommended. In general, water damage to a quartz watch would require a new movement.



How can I avoid moisture getting into my watch?

Most modern watches are designed to withstand a certain level of moisture, be it from body sweat, wearing while showering, wearing to swim or when diving. Your watch should indicate the level of its resistance to water.


‘Water Resistant’ usually means the watch can be worn when washing or showering but is not suitable for swimming.


Watches which mention a depth of over 100m or 10atm are usually suitable for swimming. However, it is advisable that any watches stating less than 100m should not be taken swimming.


Professional diving watches will usually offer in excess of 200m water resistance.


It should be noted, that these numbers refer to the pressure the watch can withstand before it begins to let moisture in. It is obvious that most people will only take a watch to a depth of a few metres, however dependant on your mass, by simply diving into the side of a swimming pool, one could exert a pressure far more than the depth of the actual pool.


Additionally, periodic servicing should include replacement of gaskets (seals) as well as a pressure test.


Most vintage watches are not water resistance and should be treated with far more care near moisture.



I’ve smashed the glass on my watch and need to get it replaced. What should I do?

Watch glasses or ‘crystals’ are usually made in a variety of materials, most commonly acrylic ‘plexiglass’, mineral glass made from silica and sapphire crystal.


Plexiglass is the cheapest to make and is usually fitted to inexpensive watches. It was widely used in the 50s and 60s, so most vintage watches will have a plexiglass crystal. Plexiglass scratches easily and will crack under pressure. Plexiglass can be polished if the size or style is difficult to source. Plexiglass watch crystals are widely available in a variety of sizes and can be easily replaced. They are usually tension fitted and pop in and out using the right tool.


Mineral glass is a more scratch resistant material and will be used on mid-ranged watches. Mineral glass is also readily available; however, the replacement process involves a complex process of careful removal of the old crystal (especially if it is broken) and careful pressing in of the new glass. If the watch is water resistant a gasket or seal will need to exist around the edge of the glass. In some cases, the glass may be glued in using a specialist cement.


High-end watches typically use synthetically cultivated clear sapphire crystal. The material is extremely hard and almost never gets scratched but with effort it can be smashed. Replacing sapphire crystals is expensive. Very often the watch brands are the only ones to stock the specific replacement shape and size crystal for your watch (especially if the crystal is domed). Nicolas Watch Co. can advise on the best way to have this replaced.



Can I overwind a mechanical watch?

No, this is a myth. Winding the watch means tightening the mainspring around its centre arbour inside a small drum called a barrel, which forms part of the watch movement. Once the spring is tightened fully it won’t wind further. You would need to exert a considerable amount of pressure to break the mainspring through winding. There is a greater chance of snapping the stem which holds the crown while trying to wind the watch beyond the mainspring’s limit.


Modern automatic watches are being wound constantly when worn, so include a simple slip system allowing the mainspring to bypass further winding when fully wound. In cases where the watch has stopped working even after winding usually means it is in need of service (or might require some replacement parts, including the mainspring). This is a common occurrence but does not come about through ‘over winding’.



Jaeger LeCoultre have quoted me a huge sum to service my watch and say it will take 6-8 weeks! Is there an alternative option?

Most big watch brands will happily sell you their most expensive watch, yet not mention the need for periodic service and maintenance. When it becomes apparent the watch is in need of a service many watch owners get a shock as to the estimate for servicing by the brand. The estimate will not usually cover any necessary replacement parts, which only come to light once work has begun. So the costs continues to rise.


Furthermore, the service is slow as main brands do not have the necessary internal resources to locally service their watches. This is especially true of the very high brands such as Vacheron Constantin, Franck Muller, etc, who will return the watch to Switzerland for servicing.


Most of the brands will do an excellent job of bringing your watch back to a like-new condition, but you’ll likely pay through the nose and be without your precious timepiece for a few months. The alternative solution is to use the services of a competent independent watchmaking outfit like Nicolas Watch Co. Sadly, the industry has not invested in training enough watchmakers and those which aren’t employed by the brands are also overrun with work. However, you can expect to pay a lot less for the work and should get your watch back in around half the time.


The downside is independent watchmakers are limited in obtaining replacement parts. It has been the policy of the watch brands to restrict the distribution of parts so as to monopolise the servicing business. Once upon a time brands freely distributed their parts and watches could be fixed by your local watchmaker. However, where there is a will there is a way and Nicolas Watch Co. have repeatedly managed to obtain the parts needed to complete complex client jobs successfully. This is usually at around half the cost and timescale of the brand.



If I don’t go back to the brand to service my watch will it have an impact on its future value?

No, it shouldn’t do. It could be argued that having records of servicing by a watch brand such as Rolex might increase the value of the watch in years to come, especially if it is a vintage piece. Normally second-hand buyers are not concerned with who undertook servicing, but more that the watch has been correctly maintained, is in full working order, is as described and ideally comes with its original box and paperwork.


Please note that a relatively new watch which needs attention might have its warranty voided if worked on by an independent watchmaker. However, if work is required owing to a technical fault, then it would be worthwhile returning to the brand anyway. Brand warranties are usually valid for two years. Rolex offers a 5-year warranty on all new pieces but will not cover servicing. However, a new Rolex shouldn’t really need a service within the first 5 years.


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