It's easy to assume that after purchasing an expensive luxury watch, the bulk of the cost has been covered. However, that's not entirely true as the cost of servicing a complicated or even a basic mechanical timepiece can add up significantly over the years. In fact, this cost can eventually surpass the original retail price of the watch.
While on one hand, the need to service a luxury mechanical timepiece is a positive sign that it has been well-used and cherished over the years, on the other hand, the cost of maintaining it can eventually surpass its original retail price. While owners of luxury watches understand the importance of servicing, there is always some frustration involved in paying significant amounts of money just to keep their beloved timepiece ticking, especially when it appeared to be working perfectly fine before.
Let's start with the point that luxury watches, such as the Rolex Datejust, are often renowned for their durability, but even the most rugged mechanical object requires regular maintenance. Typically, luxury watchmakers recommend having your watch serviced every 3-5 years to ensure its optimal operation and safeguard against serious wear and tear. However, some manufacturers are now producing watches with service intervals of up to ten years. Nonetheless, it is worth questioning what these recommendations entail and whether they are always necessary to follow.
Why luxury watches require service
The specifics of a watch “service” can vary significantly from one brand to another, and even depending on whether the watch is powered by an in-house or third-party movement. Additionally, it’s worth considering a brand’s long-term stability and their ability to repair their watches in the future. Many major brands offer guarantees that they will have the necessary parts to rebuild their watches for up to 30 years after the point of purchase, but this may not be reassuring for those looking to invest in a watch as a long-term heirloom to pass down to future generations.
Keeping in mind those points, let's discuss the terms "optimal operation" and "serious wear and tear." It's no surprise to luxury watch enthusiasts that these timepieces are intricate and finely-tuned machines with hundreds of components interacting multiple times per second to display the time. This means that there are thousands of opportunities per hour for something to go wrong. To ensure the smooth operation of these components, specialized lubricants are applied to surfaces bearing heavy loads. Over time, these lubricants can dry out and coagulate, especially if dirt or debris from damaged components comes into contact with them. If extraneous particles contaminate the lubricant, this can double the damage on the components that the lubricant was supposed to protect.
reasons luxury watches need service
For instance, if a small piece of brass breaks off from a wheel tooth due to a severe shock to the watch, it may not necessarily affect the watch's accuracy. The chip could move around inside the mechanism for an extended period, causing minimal damage and hardly any disruption.
If the chip of brass ends up in the lubricant, it can cause severe damage by constantly contacting the delicate components like wheel pinions. Even though wheel pinions are typically made of steel, the presence of a foreign object around or between the bearing point can still cause the metal to score over time, leading to a rougher surface that increases friction and drag. This, in turn, can negatively impact the watch's accuracy and its ability to keep good time.
Proactive maintenance vs. necessary repairs
Regular servicing can help prevent small issues like lubrication problems or minor damage to components caused by normal use or minor shocks. Even if your watch is not currently showing any errors, there may still be an issue developing inside. Damage to a wheel pinion, even if it is significant enough to grind the pinion to dust and completely destroy it, is minor compared to the potential damage that could happen to a major component such as the mainplate.
This is what I mean by "serious wear and tear." When large portions of the movement need replacing, it's something all owners want to avoid. It's not only expensive and time-consuming, but it can also have a negative impact on the watch's value and even destroy its provenance. Swapping a random third wheel with another identical one from the manufacturer is one thing, but replacing a serialized baseplate is another. These catastrophic failures usually take time to manifest, but it's important to stay vigilant to prevent major issues like the one described from happening.
Servicing third-party vs. in-house movies
When it comes to servicing, the brand of the watch plays an important role. Newer brands usually source the majority of their movements, which are often simple workhorses. This has two advantages: firstly, common movements are easily available from other brands and most service centers can source parts for them. Secondly, these movements are not very complicated and are not likely to be temperamental. Therefore, you can use these watches without much concern and may not need to service them as regularly as recommended (every three to five years). If the watch is ticking and keeping good time, you may be able to extend the service interval, especially if you rotate it with other watches rather than wearing it every day.
When it comes to complicated watches with a long heritage, such as Patek Philippe, there is little reason to worry. These brands can rely on their centuries of experience to repair almost anything that bears their name. However, newer brands that prioritize high-tech materials and innovative mechanics cannot guarantee part sourcing for as long as their established peers. If you prefer to wear these watches, it is crucial to stay on top of maintenance and not hesitate to reach out to customer service for support. Insist on high-quality work to ensure your favorite timepiece keeps ticking for years to come.