How long is a piece of string?
Most manufacturers have an answer to this question, and it tend to be around 5 years. So every 5 years, you may fork out a small fortune to have your beloved watch serviced. Not a cheap pleasure, but you want to keep the value of your watch, so you just have to bite the bullet.
Let’s see what happens if you don’t.
This lovely Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust Chronometer belongs to my father. He bought it new in 1973 for around DM 800 (= EUR 400). He has been wearing it ever since, and he rarely takes it off. It goes into the shower, swimming, and wherever he goes.
In the mid-80s, he forgot to screw the crown in after setting the watch, and went for a shower. Some water got in, but he brought it straight to his watchmaker, who dried it out and serviced it.
Since then, the watch has never been opened again. So we are looking at at least 25 years without a service. Guaranteed.
Accuracy is still good, and my father sets the watch once a month, and then has to make up for a couple of minutes.
The proof is in the pudding, or on the timegrapher in this case.
I find it hard to believe what I see. This watch is 39 years old, and the last service is over 25 years ago. If you would show me this graph and ask me if this watch needed a service, I would say that it doesn’t. No beat error, still a decent amplitude, and a constant beat rate.
This is the watch in crown right position, and we can see a slight beat error, and a small decrease in amplitude. Which you would expect. Yes, if the watch were freshly service, this could look a tad better, but probably not. Note that the beat rate hasn’t changed at all!
Now we’re of course all curious what the watch looks like inside. And I will have to disappoint here. Because I won’t open it.
The watch still has a seal and is watertight. And I’ll keep it that way. And I want this little experiment to continue.
So how often does your watch need a service?
Simple answer – when it starts changing its beat rate. If you observe that, over time, your watch starts going faster or slower, and if it gets more irregular, it’s time for a service. If it keeps its beat rate, it doesn’t.
And, if you have water ingress, every hour counts. You have to have it opened and dried out, and then serviced. Same for dirt and dust.
I’m sure I will get a lot of flack for this, and people will point to web sites with gory pictures of damaged watches. I would bet a lot of money that the inside of my father’s Rolex looks pretty good, and that the watch has no damage whatsoever. If you want to insist that not servicing a watch for 25 years causes untold damage, I invite you to a little bet. We’ll both put £1000 down, get my dad to give me the watch on loan, and open it together. I get the grand if there is no unusual wear (for a 39 year old watch), and you get it if there is unusual wear. I count the rotor axle as usual wear – I always feel sorry for the poor chaps at Rolex who can’t afford to put a ball bearing there. It must be tough in Switzerland, and I’ll send a care packet with some ball bearings over one day 😉
As I said, the watch goes everywhere 😉