Vintage Watches – Servicing vs. Restorations

Vintage Watches – Servicing vs. Restorations

As mentioned in an earlier post, the words service, overhaul, clean and restoration are usually used interchangeably. You will find, however, that it is more practical and technically correct to differentiate between a service and restoration.

When it comes to vintage watches, it is rarely the case that they merely need a service – that is, cleaning and repairing without the need for major work. When I refer to major work I mean: repairing or changing bearings, repairing individual components, fabricating components, undoing past repairs that have caused more damage then good, and generally spending more time a watch attempting to restore it to its original, or closest to original form.

This doesn’t have to include the aesthetic features such as a case or dial, however it will definitely mean the movement. There are so many variations with watches and approaches to fabrication, that it is impossible for a watchmaker to have come across all of them in their lifetime to be able to treat them like a modern watch. With modern watches you can at least order (or relatively easily) find new parts and technical manuals. For some vintage, you’re stuck working with whatever is in the watch and even having to fabricate parts from raw material as it is not possible to obtain the original parts for it.

This leads me to another point in relation to how often vintage watches should be serviced. The rule of thumb for modern watches if 5-7 years depending on the watch, usage, and previous work that has been done to it. I would suggest based on my experience and the experience of my mentors that a vintage watch should be serviced every 4 years at the most.

Now at first this could seem like a very clever ploy by watchmakers to rake in all the money in the world by demanding what might seem like unnecessary servicing, however I want to explain to you the rationale behind this.

Let’s say you bring in a relatively modern watch with a nice 2892-2 or 2824-2 movement in it. You haven’t serviced it for 7+ years and you didn’t see a point in servicing in until it stopped or otherwise gave you a problem. This is not of a huge concern. The main difference between you having serviced it about this point in time and the 5 year mark that was recommended is that you will be paying a little bit extra for spare parts, most of which will be relatively easily available. So, not a big deal, maybe an extra 1 or 2 hundred dollars.

Now, let’s take this same scenario but you have just brought in a vintage watch that was given to you by your parents or grandparents. You decided to take the same approach of not servicing it until it stopped or gave you some sort of trouble. When it comes to being assessed it turns out you need a centre and third wheel, the bearings are worn to the point they don’t retain their shape, and there is a general miniature catastrophe happening in there.

This little world of problems isn’t going to set you back an extra 1 or 2 hundred. It will easily set you back an extra 6-8 hundred in repairs and parts alone, if and only if those parts are able to able to be obtained or manufactured. Now the money part is not so bothersome, but imagine getting turned away time and time again by various watchmakers because the parts for your watch are so damaged and unobtainable that your now sentimentally valuable watch is no longer repairable.

In short, I believe this justifies the 4 year service mark as It would be a shame to allow watches to disappear due to our negligence to appropriately service them when they require it. Failing to do this will lead to having to restore the movement at some point as opposed to servicing it. Restoration would involve more time and higher costs as it is quite specialised work and it is where a lot of work ends up as ‘dodgy’ due to a lack of the skills required. I think this point won’t need any analogies or comparisons, however please let me know if you have any questions regarding what was discussed here.

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