Like a high-performance sports car, your mechanical watch needs to be serviced now and then. In timepiece argot such treatment is called a “complete overhaul,” and although that’s mostly accurate, it’s also a little misleading. It refers, in essence, to a tune-up, but what does it really mean? For some answers, we turned to a panel of industry leaders: Florin Niculescu, vice president of product development at Parmigiani Fleurier; Maximilian Büsser, founder and CEO of MB&F, who spent time at Harry Winston Rare Timepieces and Jaeger-LeCoultre before founding his own maison; Jean-François Sberro, Hublot of America’s managing director; and Paul Boutros, head of Americas, international strategy adviser and senior vice president at Phillips.
How Often Do I Need a Complete Overhaul?
Most Swiss and German watch manufactures recommend one every five years. Some say as few as four; others as many as 10; every five to seven years is therefore a good range to keep in mind. Says Niculescu: “It depends on how much and how often the watch is worn, and how it is stored when off the wrist. The more the watch is worn the better. As a rule of thumb, a watch should be overhauled approximately every four to five years. If it is worn regularly and stored properly, one could wait longer.”
Büsser is more circumspect, recommending every three to five years “maximum.” Boutros concurs. “For modern watches, we recommend a complete movement service every three to five years if the watch is worn frequently,” he says, a sentiment echoed by Sberro, who observes that “fine watches are like fine automobiles and require care and maintenance to keep their performance. We suggest servicing every three to five years.”
“If a watch is worn sparingly, such as a few times per month or less, servicing can take place less often,” Boutros adds. “However, when worn infrequently, it’s important to wind and run the watch at least once a month to keep the movement’s parts lubricated. To prevent rusting and ensure oils do not completely dry, a service should take place within 10 years.”
Do Climate and Other Conditions Factor into Overhaul Frequency?
You bet. If you’re in the water every weekend with your dive watch, five years is the maximum time, not the minimum, you should let elapse between servicing. This will ensure that the O-ring rubber gaskets aren’t cracked or the screw-down threads compromised — the last thing you want is for your calibre to be flooded with seawater.
“For watches worn in [swimming pools or other bodies of water] or in the shower, it’s important to have the watch tested for water resistance every two years, as the sealing gaskets age and easily corrode when exposed to water,” Boutros advises. Says Büsser: “Changing all the gaskets ensures that the water resistance of your watch is still intact — which in turn makes sure that humidity does not get to the movement and see the finest parts start rusting.”
Do Watches with Grand Complications or Tourbillons Need to be Tuned Up More Often than a Basic Watch?
On this our panel doesn’t seem to agree. “The same [rule] applies to complications,” says Niculescu. “It all depends on whether the timepiece is worn regularly, but in general, high complications normally require overhaul more often — say, every three to four years.” Sberro says much the same, though he thinks you can probably wait five years.
“The more gears, the more friction, the more points which need to be oiled,” Büsser points out. “So indeed, the more complicated the movement, the more sensitive it will be to oiling the gears, and therefore to time and wear.”
Boutros urges even greater vigilance. “Highly complicated watches like perpetual calendars, split-seconds chronographs, and minute repeaters have significantly more components and much greater complexity than simple time-only watches,” he says. “These additional parts are very small and thin, especially those of the finest quality, and are therefore prone to damage if oils become dry. The more frequently they’re used with dry oils, the higher the chance of significant damage to parts — when metal contacts metal directly, without oil, the friction causes each part to wear down. Due to the extremely high cost of replacement parts, it’s prudent to be diligent with servicing — more so than with a time-only watch. When it’s worn frequently, a complete service is recommended every three to five years. If worn infrequently, we recommend a service take place no later than five years — sooner than with a simpler watch.”