Vintage watches, should you service them?
I'm fresh out of my experience with a watch of mine, and would like to share it with fellow collectors who might want to watches that are beyond the usual three-hands, date and time functions.
Think twice before servicing these types of watches. Before you commit, be sure to read up and know about the kinds of parts that make your watch exceptional, and communicate it to the watch maker.
You wouldn't want them to go in blind just to mess up your valuable vintage.
All the rage these days are the many sub-dialed darlings of yesteryear. Bi-compax with sub-seconds and a minute register; tri-compax with the added hour register; and the coveted tri-compax moonphase!
They're all very good to look at, with useful functions to boot, but the drawback comes when you notice something is up with the timekeeping or if the chronograph functions start to work a little off (usually it's the resetting of the central chrono seconds).
Some of these marques have ceased to exist, and collectors are sometimes one chronograph reset away from a costly (or impossible) repair job that will take months to accomplish.
Usually means funky chronographs like regatta count-down timers, mechanical alarms or minute repeaters.
Vintage watches come from a large variety or marques, who may have developed their own parts and functions. These can be fairly rare to come across, and your watch maker might not have been exposed to them, lending some unfamiliarity to the service.
Not knowing what makes a certain complication unique means they go in expecting it to behave like something they've seen before. This could mean damaging or ruining a part that's impossible to replace.
As must humans visit the doctor, there are times when your vintage timepiece will need to be serviced. While there are usually two schools of thoughts to this - one advocates a regular periods of servicing, usually every five years or so; the other will send the watch for service only when there's a noticeable dip in performance.
There's no wrong answer to this, and my personal view on this varies depending on what type of watch you're talking about. I think regular servicing is a good approach for new watches, given that they're mostly in penultimate working order during purchase. This route will give your shiny new watch a lot more longevity than one whose left to have its oil dry and gears ground.
However, when it comes to vintage watches, I stand on the other end of the see-saw. Given the often fragile nature of the timepiece, even exposing the movement to the environment may pose a significant risk, let alone having someone rip it apart and put it back again.
There are of course many veterans and collectors of vintage watches that will give you even more insight, but in my capacity as a collector who's had his share of mishaps and successes I hope to give my take and advice from my limited experience.
So if you've just got your hands on a nice vintage watch and am wondering whether you should send it for service, I hope this article will help you get to a clearer decision.
I'm going to assume you ran a good check on the watch before buying, as expected of all vintage watch buyers. There's nay a feeling as crummy as getting your hands of a nice dial with a crappy movement. All factors in, you'd ideally start off with a good working watch.
Here's a checklist to get through before you send the watch for servicing. I'm going to assume you bought a watch whose condition you can live with. (I wrote a piece about things you look out for when buying a vintage watch.)
Why do you want to service the watch?
The usual reason I would have my watches serviced is when they start to lose or gain a significant amount of time in the course of a day. The photo above is of a 1960s Titus that gained me about 3 hours a day.
Another common reason you would want to have your vintages serviced is when the complications don't work. This could be due to worn out parts or clogged oil.
Do take note that in most cases where function has to be restored to a vintage watch, you will most likely have parts replaced. Because of this, please find a reputable watch repairman that you can trust, or someone who has a good reputation.
Are you concerned with the cosmetics of your vintage piece?
Often times you can even have the watch case polished or the glass changed. All you have to do is ask. But for people like me who buy every bit of the vintage watch, scars and all, polishing is a little over the top.
Don't touch the face.
The main perks about buying a vintage piece is that you're getting the whole package - the watch in as original a condition as possible. While you can clean and wipe the case down with a little steel polish to give it a nice shine, every bit of time-weathered blemish is a part of the watch's journey and shouldn't be altered.
This is especially true for the dial and hands. Do make a note to tell your repairman not to alter any aspect of these two, or you might end up with more than you asked for when the watch comes back to you with notable retouches on the dial or changed hands because he thought they were too old.
It will take as long as it takes.
Vintage timepieces will take longer to service than new watches will, even more so when they need to have parts changed and replaced.
Unlike at a marque where they can simply order or use new parts to replace the worn ones, finding a unique part for your vintage watch will take more effort, especially if the repairman is looking for an original part. You might even have to shell out more for it as well.
And if the above list checks off well for you, I think you'll be ready to send the old ticker off to the spa. It might come back to you as good as new, or it might as well come back to you new. Either way, the relationship between a collector and his timepiece is one best lived in your own footsteps.
Happy collecting folks!