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Servicing Your Vintage Watch

When purchasing a vintage timepiece, make sure it has recently had a complete service. There are a few specific things to ask for when purchasing a vintage watch or when serving one you already own. In general we would recommend having a watch serviced every three to five years even if everything seems to be running smoothly.

What actually happens when your watch is serviced? Essentially a very thorough cleaning. The watchmaker should start by disassembling the watch completely. Each component will be gently cleaned with a chemical solution to dissolve dirt, dust and oil. Any damaged components will be replaced before everything is put back together.

Beyond the basic cleaning, you want to make sure the watch is keeping time accurately – duh.  The accuracy of a timepiece is measured by a COSC standard – the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Unit.  A watch will run differently depending on the position – with the crystal facing up or down, on a angle etc.  It may run a few seconds fast when in one position and a few seconds slow when in another.  Likely this will even out as it is worn on the wrist though out the day.  Anything with in a five second plus or minus range is acceptable.  No mechanical watch will keep absolutely perfect time!

The next item to check on is the seals.  A full service should include a check and replacement of all seals when necessary.  This means the gasket that surrounds the caseback as well as the O-ring seal that surrounds the crown on all watches and the pushers on chronographs.  These seals prevent dust from entering your watch, reducing the risk of damage to the movement and dial.

For dive watches you also want to ask for a pressure test.  This will tell you how much pressure your watch can withstand i.e. how deep underwater you can safely take it.  The rating will be something like “10bar” which essentially means your watch should be fine in up to approximately 100 meters or 335 feet of water.  If you have a vintage dive watch that passes pressure tests, it is up to you how much you want to test this rating.  The tests don’t reflect real world conditions and are never a 100% guarantee.  Obviously you want to use and enjoy your watch, but you also want to preserve it.  In general, we do not recommend diving with vintage watches and would definitely advise against taking anything with out a trip-lock crown for a dive as generally this is the weakest point on a vintage dive watch.  Chronographs like the Rolex Daytona and Omega Speedmaster were never meant for diving and are very susceptible to water damage.  Don’t take your chronograph in the ocean or the pool!

When arranging the service, you also want to clarify that you would like any parts replaced with original manufacturer certified parts.  You should also ask that any original parts that are replaced be returned to you with your watch.  It is always a good idea to keep any parts that were original to the watch.  You also want to make sure you have agreed on all other aspects of the service ie polishing.  Many watchmakers include polishing as part of the standard service but of course if you have a vintage piece you want to keep in original condition make sure you tell the watchmaker not to polish!

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