How to Service Your Watch

How to Service Your Watch

| 08.31.23

Watch keeping funky time? A bit slow? A bit fast? Not remotely working? Well, then you’ve come to the right place.

It’s not always easy to tell at first glance whether a timepiece is maintaining its accuracy. The best thing to do, provided you don’t have specialized equipment, is to time it over the course of several days against a master clock, such as the one on your phone. If you do have special equipment, such as a Timegrapher, you can use this to check a movement’s accuracy. 

TIP: Make sure your watch is (mostly) wound before performing a check. (Never overwind a mechanical watch beyond the point at which you feel resistance from the crown.) For automatic watches, make sure you’ve been wearing it for a while before timing it.

How to Use a Timegrapher

Here’s what you’re looking for: 

-Beat Rate: The movement’s rate expressed as the number of seconds fast or slow it’s running per day. (For example, -10 seconds, or +4 seconds.) For reference, COSC standards are -4/+6 seconds per day. Within 7 seconds in either direction (beyond 0 seconds) is good; within 20, less good. More than that in either direction is problematic.

-Amplitude: Technically, how much rotation there is in the movement’s balance spring, expressed as a number of degrees. Though this number can fall as a watch winds down, amplitude that is too low or too high is often symptomatic of a problem with the movement. A “good” amplitude is from roughly 270-315 degrees, though it can be lower — perhaps 220-250 — among otherwise healthy vintage watches.

-Beat Error: A measure of the consistency of a balance wheel’s swing between oscillations in either direction. Ideally, it should be zero, meaning there is no difference between a clockwise and counterclockwise oscillation. Anything beyond 1m/s is probably a cause for some concern, while something below 0.5m/s is pretty good. 

The best thing to do is to check the watch in several positions using the Timegrapher’s watch stand, which has a spring-loaded catch to hold your timepiece. You essentially just need to turn the device on, and it’ll do the rest and provide you the readings. (At Analog:Shift, we take an average of the watch's readings from three different positions to ensure an accurate representation of its amplitude.)

How to Interpret the Results

So what happens if your watch is running outside the aforementioned parameters? Low amplitude, for example, can be indicative of mainspring issues: If insufficient energy is being transmitted to the watch’s escapement, it can lose time. If the amplitude is too high, the movement can be damaged when the pallet fork smacks into the roller jewel.

While there is often a micro-adjust lever for controlling small changes in the movement’s regulation that can be accessed by simply removing the caseback on many vintage watches, we don’t recommend doing this — even taking the back off for a few seconds just to peer at the movement is enough time for dust and dirt to ingress and work its way into the gear train. So it’s better to leave that sucker on there and…

How to Find a Good Watchmaker

If you happen to live in the U.S.A, we can provide certain repair services through our network of watchmakers. (Contact us for details and pricing!)

If you live elsewhere, there are a few ways to find a reputable watchmaker:

-Go through the brand. If you have, say, a new Rolex that’s still under warranty, you should contact Rolex for service. (Some brands — Rolex included — have vastly limited the amount of parts they provide to third-party repair services, so it may be impossible to source certain parts elsewhere, anyway.) The good news is that brand warranties are getting longer and longer these days, so you’re getting your money’s worth with respect to repair services when buying a new watch at retail. We at Analog:Shift offer a one-year mechanical warranty across the board on all watches.

-Find the local Red Bar Group (watch collector’s group) on Google or via Instagram and canvas them. These are the folks who will have good local recommendations!

-Local jewelers. Often they’ll have in-house or contract watch repair, depending on the complexity of the job. 

-Good, old-fashioned Google. “Watchmaker, Dallas,” or “watch repair, San Francisco.” That sort of thing.

What Will This Cost Me?

Unfortunately, the answer is: It depends. 

Replacing a battery in a simple quartz watch could run you something like $15, while pressure testing could run from $15 to $50. Replacing a crystal might be something like $50 to $200+ depending on the crystal.

For something like a regulation or a thorough cleaning of a mechanical movement, expect to pay, at minimum, around $200 for a simple, time-only caliber to over $1,000 for a time-only Rolex movement. If we’re talking about chronographs, figure $500 for a run-of-the-mill movement from the 1960s or 1970s and much more for something modern from the likes of a modern Swiss brand. (Probably $1,000.+) For a pocket watch, you might pay somewhere in the realm of $500 for repair, including machining/sourcing of new parts where necessary. (But maybe much, much more.)

Keep in mind that vintage watches require either vintage parts or brand-new parts machined to match vintage parts. These are difficult and expensive to source, so factor this into the purchase price of an older watch — especially if it’s not running perfectly.