Automatic watch is one of the unique watches available currently thanks to its mechanical timekeeping mechanism. But like all mechanical devices, automatic watch also needs to be serviced.
But how often do we need to service automatic watches? In general, automatic watch needs to be serviced once every 3 to 5 years, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendation.
While this is a standard guideline, there are some factors which will affect the service interval. In addition, there are also signs that the watch might need servicing even before the interval period. Lastly, we’ll take a look at how much a service will cost and how long a service will take.
Automatic Watch Service Interval
The 3 to 5 years service interval for automatic watches is one of the most recommended guideline out there. Indeed, this falls within most of the watchmakers own guideline of service interval.
Some watchmakers might even have a longer service interval. Most famous is Rolex when it announced that new watches will only need to be serviced once every 10 years! Now that’s definitely a sweet deal as the cost of servicing a Rolex can be quite huge compared to cheaper watches.
Either way, it’s highly recommended for you to check the manual or the retailer on what’s the typical service interval for that specific watch movement or brand. Certainly, you don’t want to be too conservative or too optimistic either.
One of the important thing to remember about service intervals is that it will ensure the watch is running in prime condition. In addition, you also want to avoid the worst case of the watch suddenly broke down which might mean a costlier repair bill in the future.
So what does it mean to service a watch? Servicing a watch means opening up the watch, taking out the movement, cleaning the parts, re-oiling it and then closing the watch. If there’s any broken parts, then the parts will need to be changed.
The service might also include demagnetization of the watch – which is quite important as there are many electronic items around us nowadays. In addition, you can also do adjustment to the movement to improve its accuracy which is something that I’d always recommend.
Other than that, you might also want to polish the watch case and bracelet to pristine condition. It’s very common for a heavily used watch to be damaged here and there so having these polished again is definitely worthwhile.
Factors Affecting Service Interval
There are a few factors affecting service interval with one of them, movement & recommendation by the watch manufacturer, has been stated above.
Without a doubt, sticking to the service interval recommended by the watch manufacturer is the safest bet that you can take in order to protect and keep your watch running perfectly for years.
Not to mention you can avoid costly movement repairs down the road (though this is more applicable to luxury watches and not so much on cheap low-end watches as for the latter, it can be cheaper to just buy a replacement watch rather than repairing it. More about this in the later section).
Another factor that affects service interval is frequency of use, or in other words how frequent you use the watch. If you’re using your automatic watch daily, then chances are by the third year, there is significant wear and tear on the movement’s parts after continuously running for 3 years.
At this point of time, the 3-year recommendation seems valid and a service is perfectly justifiable to keep the watch running in tip-top condition for many more years.
But if you’re someone that have a few watches in his/her collection and cycles through each of them once every few days, then chances are your watches will only be running for a few months in a year.
In this case, by the third year, the wear and tear of your watches is significantly lesser than the watch in the first scenario, and the recommended 3-year service interval is not something that you have to follow. In this case, you can push the service for another year or two.
I’d have to state that this is my opinion and what I’ve been practicing so far. If you look on the internet, there are many peoples with different opinion on when to service their watches. Some say that the oils in the watches will gunk up in 3-5 years irregardless of how frequent you use it.
But for me, I’d definitely try to be on the logical side of things – more so because I don’t want to spend huge amount of money to service all my watches every 3-5 years. I’d prefer to spend money on acquiring new & exotic watches instead (comment below if you agree with me lol!).
Another important factor for service interval is how heavy you use your watches for. For example, it is a good idea to be more conservative and stick to the recommended service interval for the watches that you use for diving, swimming, or any other outdoor activities.
Such activities place huge stress on the watch components so much so there is a high likelihood for some damage to be done on it. Thus, sticking to the 3-5 years service interval might be a good idea for these watches.
In addition, you’re better off with changing the o-rings and gaskets on your dive watches every 2-3 years as these rubber components are easily damaged and deteriorated over time. As these are very important for the water resistance rating of the watch, then keeping it fresh and usable is very important before you use the watch near water.
Signs That Your Automatic Watch Needs Servicing
While the 3-5 years is recommended for service interval, I’d suggest to always be attentive to the performance of your automatic watch.
Part of the charm of automatic watch is it’s very much mechanical in nature, and any change in the components might affect the overall watch behavior, which you can notice just from using the watch day-in and day-out.
Just like a car, you need to be attentive to these things so that you can intervene before its too late.
One such common issue is lack of accuracy. If you suddenly notice that you watch run too fast/slow than it is usually, then it might be a sign to bring it to a watchmaker.
Do keep in mind that a few seconds fast/slow is not a cause for concern, especially if you don’t wear the watch daily. For me, I’d look at lack of accuracy of outside the specifications listed for the movement before coming into the conclusion that a visit to a watchmaker is required (read my previous article here on the accuracy specification on some of the most popular movements currently).
Another sign that your watch needs service is if there’s moisture inside it. In this case, it’s recommended that you run as fast as possible to a watchmaker. Moisture inside a watch is very dangerous as it can wreak havoc and rusting on the mostly steel components.
The watchmaker will need to open up the watch and have it cleaned. Do have him fit new gaskets when closing the watch to keep the moisture from coming back into the watch.
You should also pay attention to your watch’s power reserve. If you notice that the power reserve is very low compared to what it has previously, then that’s definitely a cause for concern – though in this case you’re likely need to replace the mainspring with a new one.
Last but not least, any physical damage to the watch. It’s quite difficult to prevent any scratches on a watch, unless you’ve been keeping it secured in a watch box from day one for investment purposes.
But if you using your watch normally (like me and other people), then scratches on the watch’s case, bracelet & crystal (except for sapphire crystal which is very durable and scratch-resistant) will be unavoidable.
You can bring the watch to a watchmaker and have it polished again to keep it looks new though I personally never do this as my watches are still acceptable aesthetically, bar a few scratches here and there.
How Much Does It Cost To Service An Automatic Watch?
Servicing an automatic watch is not cheap and prices start from $50 to thousands of bucks depending on many factors.
First of all, who is doing the service? A third-party or your independent watchmaker is almost always going to be cheaper than send the watch to the brand. With your local watchmaker, you are only dealing directly with him/her and there’s no shipping cost involved. Sending it to the brand will involve a lot of people along the way and it will usually take longer.
Now, independent watchmakers works well if your watch uses common ETA or Japanese movements. But if you have a higher end or more expensive watches with obscure movement, its advisable to send the watch to the brand.
Not only will you be getting the best expertise in the movement, you will also have access to its official parts as well as official warranty after service.
You can easily get a quote on the brand’s service fee by calling them or dropping an email. Some brands also post their service fee online for ease of reference.
Another big difference between sending the watch to an independent watchmaker or the brand’s service center is in the scope of service. For a brand, most often there is a list of items to be done and their watchmaker will execute it without fail – even though your watch might not even need it.
This is different compared to an independent watchmaker that will only do what is necessary or as required by the watch’s owner. This is another reason why the brand’s service is always more expensive than an independent one (do expect upwards of $100 for brands).
The second factor affecting service cost is the watch movement type. It’s quite logical that a simple 3-hands watch will be easier to be serviced compared to a chronograph with much more components inside it. In this case, the chronograph will have a higher service fee compared to the typical watch.
Another thing to note is the water resistance of your watch. Having water resistance is a great insurance to ensure your watches are always protected from moisture ingress but it will also mean an increase of service costs.
How Long Does It Take To Service A Watch?
Servicing an automatic watch will take a few weeks to months, depending on who is servicing it. Your local independent watchmakers can usually do this in one to few weeks or so, depending on how much workload he has.
As these watchmakers are self-employed, it’s in their best interest to quickly get a service done, hand it over to the owner and collect payment so that they can start working on the next watch.
Although this would mean a faster service, there’s also a likelihood that the service might be rushed and low quality (which is honestly one of the downside for using local watchmakers to service your watch).
For the brand’s service center, the service time might take a few months per service, depending on the brand’s presence nearby you. If you live in a big city with a service center, then you can shave off a few weeks for shipping. But if you’re in a country without a service center, then you will have to wait for the shipping to the regional service center (or even Switzerland!) and that’s going to take a while.
Even so, the service center will usually need a few weeks to do the actual servicing as there are lots of watches being queued for service before yours can be worked on.
Should You Service Your Automatic Watch?
Servicing your automatic watch is not cheap and the decision to do it will depend on what type of watch you have, the price you paid for it and what you intend to do with it in the future.
For example, I don’t think I’m going to service my Seiko 5 watch that I bought for $50 a few years ago because it will cost roughly that much to service it. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly love my Seiko 5 to bits but paying $50 to service it when I can just buy another one just don’t make any sense.
Besides, Seiko’s low-end watches are respectable for being robust and don’t usually need servicing for years.
But if I have a more expensive watches with unique movements (for instance, one of the holy trinity of watch brands), then I will always try to keep with the recommended service interval.
Part of this is because I’m surely going to be keeping the watch either as part of heirloom or as investment in case something goes wrong. Either way, I need to keep the watch in pristine condition so that it will always work perfectly all the time.
Another reason to service is to ensure parts replacements are done as soon as possible before the parts become too hard to find. Sometimes, watchmakers will stop producing parts to their older movements and if you have a watch using it, then you’re in luck trying to find an affordable part.
Thus, keeping to the service interval makes a lot of sense in keeping the parts always maintained and replaced.
How often does a quartz watch need to be serviced? Quartz watch also needs a service but it’s interval is much longer at every 10-years or so. It will also need regular battery change every 1-2 years depending on the battery used. (You can read further about this in my previous article here).
I hope this article about how often to service automatic watch is useful to you. Do let me know if there’re any comments or questions about the article.