How often should I service my mechanical watch?

Like many of you, I am often in a bit of a quandary when it comes to deciding how frequently I should have my automatic or manual winding watch serviced or overhauled.

Watchmakers always advise for mechanical watches to be serviced once every 3 – 5 years. The new Omega Co-Axial watches (like newer cars) have longer service intervals of up to 8 or 10 years.

Given that I own more than 100 mechanical watches, this could be a problem!

The main reason why watches need to be serviced so regularly is to keep the mechanisms running smoothly and with as little friction as possible. This is done by keeping the moving parts dust free and well lubricated. Like automobiles this is done using lubricating oil.

Watchmakers say that over time, ‘good’ oil turns into ‘bad’ oil and after 5-6 years of constant ticking, a watch which has kept correct time no longer does so because the good, fresh oil has deteriorated to the point where it no longer act as a lubricant. Apparently, (and I do not doubt this) friction reduces the driving force, increases wear and tear and, has a very negative effect on time keeping and accuracy.

I am not an expert watchmaker but my challenge however is that with my ‘3-hand’ watches, I have never had a watch ‘break’ or stop being accurate due to lack of service!

The oldest watch I have that has never been serviced is a Rolex winding watch that is more than 50 years old and that I have worn for more than 36 years.

Aside from this Rolex, I also have other watches from the 60’s and 70’s like a solid gold Rolex 1601, Rado, Moonwatch, OLMA and a few others that have never been serviced and which still run well.

On the other hand, due to the more complex mechanism’s I do find that 5 or 6 ‘hand’ watches do need to be serviced more frequently. I must say though thta these watches have stopped working because I have not worn them for months if not years and the mechanisms seize up. They need an overhaul or service to get them running again for a number of years.

An overhaul basically means that the watch mechanism is completely dismantled completely and worn out parts are replaced and all components are thoroughly cleaned, de-greased, dried, then re-assembled, lubricated and finally adjusted. To ensure accuracy, the watch is then left to run for a few days and if needed, re-adjusted again.

The process is tedious and time consuming. A complex watch mechanism like an automatic chronograph (stop watch) may contain over 200 components. In addition, the watch case itself may need polishing and in case of water resistant watches, replacement of rubber seals and in some cases replacement of the crystal, pushers and winding crown. Finally, the watch bracelet is cleaned and polished to give the watch a desirable “as new” look.

Many watchmakers in Asia do not go through this labourious process. They simply service a watch by repairing or replacing any damaged parts, lubricate the watch (as necessary) and charge a fraction of the price of an overhaul.

My recommendation (which will probably raise the ire of watchmakers and collectors all over the world): If you wear a watch regularly and do not expose it to extreme conditions, you only need to get it serviced every 10 – 15 years. I have never encountered a situation where an old watch that has not been abused or serviced regularly needed extensive repairs done to it.

Watches that have stopped working (due to lack of use) only need to be serviced or overhauled when you want to wear it again. Otherwise just leave it unwound and as a ‘display’ piece.

Just think of all that money you can save. Happy Collecting! 🙂

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