Does my watch really need to be serviced every X years?

I have seen this question on the internet countless times and I’ve heard it in person plenty of times. For example: I tell customers that their modern watch should be serviced about every 5 years. Does it need to be serviced that often? Yes!

I’m not going to go on about the analogy with the oil in your car, because they are totally different machines. I’ll simply ask you, when your car manufacture recommends a service every 3,000 miles (or whatever), do you ask yourself, “Does it really need it that often?” You might, and maybe you stretch it out a little bit, but you get it done eventually, right? Well your watch manufacturer recommends you service your watch every 5 years.

It wasn’t always so nice. Before watch cases evolved into being extremely well built water resistant & dust resistant machines, watches needed to be serviced much more often. I see this when a customer has a quartz watch retro-fit to replace an old mechanical watch. The old watch case is hardly dust-proof and as a result the watch inevitably comes back after a year or two in desperate need of a service because it has stopped. it doesn’t take much to stop a quartz watch.

Today watch cases are very well built and keep out almost all foreign matter, the new enemy is the lubricants themselves. Even synthetic lubricants (used by most manufacturers) degrade over time. When your lubricants break down they no longer perform their job, friction builds, and watch parts begin to wear. As parts begin to wear the problems compound as small particles act as miniature grinding stones destroying watch parts. Don’t believe me? Let me show you.

On the left are brand new parts, on the right are parts that came out of a Rolex watch that had gone just over 10 years without service.

Good Third WheelBad Third Wheel

Good Driving Wheel for Ratchet WheelBad Driving Wheel

Look at the pivots (axles) of these parts. The new parts have smooth shiny cylindrical shaped pivots. The worn parts have scored lines and a trench in them because they operated for too much time without lubrication (or with degraded lubrication). These parts are well made, and if the watch had been serviced after five years they would still look like the ones on the left. One of the downsides to a Rolex is that they will continue to run for 20 years even though they begin to self destruct after 5 years and no service. Service your watch regularly and you’ll need fewer parts and preserve the life of your watch.

Quartz watches are different. The forces applied to the gears in a quartz watch are so small that very little damage occurs after the oils dry. It is time to service a quartz when it no longer keeps good time or the power cells seem to last only a short time. If the watch case is well built this may be 20 years, or it may be after just 5 or 10 years.

Will your watch be okay if you let it slide a couple of years, like you let the oil in your car go for a couple of months? Probably yes, but don’t go more than 7 years. Remember this rule, the older the watch the more often it needs to be serviced. The less water resistant the watch, the sooner it needs to be serviced. Service intervals are all about the quality of the case.

One more thing. If your watch isn’t keeping time like it did when it was new. It needs a service.

Would you like to contribute to the conversation about service intervals? Leave a comment.

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