In the world of watch repair obtaining spare parts is extremely important & often problematic. The american watchmaking industry invented the production of interchangeable parts in the late 1800s but parts weren’t really interchangeable until the 1940s. By the end of WWII watches could easily be repaired by identifying faulty parts and ordering replacements. For all but the most exclusive watches this is still the case today. Modern computer controlled machinery allows tolerances to be so tight that modification of parts is rarely necessary when fitting them in a watch.
Many people are aware that parts for antique and vintage watches are becoming hard to find. When I see an antique watch, if it looks like it is going to need lots of parts I am very careful to make sure they will be available before I agree to do the repair. Sometimes finding the needed part involves calling multiple supply houses and/or scouring the internet until the part can be located. Manufacturing parts is very time consuming and therefore an expensive operation, but it can be done if the customer feels the watch is deserving. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it.
The spare parts problem to which I refer in the opening of this post doesn’t have anything to do with vintage watches, I am referring to modern (still in production) timepieces. Many watch companies do not make spare parts for their watches available to most watchmakers. They want to control the quality of work performed on their timepieces. I can understand some brands taking this stance, but for some brands, it is just overkill.
Let’s look at some brands and how they deal with parts distribution.
Rolex — The 100 ton gorilla of the watchmaking world (maybe). For the longest time in order to get spare parts from Rolex all you needed was to maintain a clean and professional workshop which meets their criteria. This is still the case, but it also helps if you have some training or a certification recognized by the industry (like a WOSTEP certificate, or AWCI Certified Watchmaker). It wasn’t (and still isn’t) necessary to be a Rolex dealer, contrary to popular belief. Your local Rolex dealer does maintain some advantages over the shop down the street however. Your Rolex dealer can purchase special Rolex specific tools which other watchmakers cannot. ( This appears to be changing) Your Rolex dealer has access to technical literature and training directly from Rolex that the average watchmaker does not. Your Rolex dealer can get certain parts that Rolex requires an exchange of an old part (like dials & clasps) that the guy down the street cannot. — In conclusion if you are a qualified professional watchmaker with professional tools and a professional shop, you can get parts from Rolex.
Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Audemars Piguet, et al — These are widely accepted to be among the finest and most prestigious watch brands and to the best of my knowledge spare parts are only available to watchmakers who have been trained directly by the manufacturer. I don’t know how one gets training from them, it would appear that it is necessary either to work for them, or at one of their dealers at least.
Swatch Group — has to the best of my knowledge signed on to the AWCI CW21 system, allowing Certified Watchmakers access to parts for at least some of their brands. I can get parts for Hamilton, Longines, Omega, and Tissot parts. Parts for some of their higher end brands (like Breguet, Blancpain, & Glahutte) may be more difficult to obtain.
LVMH has a very friendly parts policy. Parts for Tag Heuer are available to watchmakers, end of story!
Richemont group has a stingy parts policy. Parts for their brands (Cartier, Piaget, Vacheron Constantin, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Panerai, IWC, Montblanc) are difficult to come by. Even some stores which carry their brands are instructed to return all goods to the factory for servicing (and power cell replacement). This is slated to change pending the judges decision on the Fleury v. Richemont class action lawsuit.
Now for the ridiculous part: There are some brands which just think too highly of themselves. I can understand Patek Philippe wanting to maintain their image and insuring that only highly qualified technicians work on their watches, but what about these next brands.
Breitling doesn’t sell parts to independent watchmakers.
Maurice LaCroix doesn’t sell parts to independent watchmakers.
Movado makes some parts available but Ebel (also of the North American Watch Group) doesn’t sell parts to independent watchmakers.
Seiko sells parts to parts houses who will do business with anyone, even the consumer.
Citizen sells parts to watchmakers for everything except for some dive watches which they request be returned to the factory for service.
So, what does this all mean? Sometimes a highly qualified watchmaker cannot service timepieces simply because he cannot get the parts he may need. Some watchmakers make do with generic parts, or by cleaning and oiling the watch without replacing worn parts. Other watchmakers just turn work away needlessly. The AWCI Certified Watchmaker for the 21st Century provides the industry with a standard by which they can qualify watchmakers to work on their product. I encourage all brands to expand their spare parts network to include AWCI CW21 and CMW21. I encourage consumers to support brands which support watchmakers, after all it means more choices for service and we all know competition inspires excellence.
I would like to keep this information update, accurate, and as complete as possible. If you have first hand knowledge of parts policies for specific brands, or if there are any errors above that you are aware of, please leave a comment and I will update the information. Thank you.