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What happens to my watch when it is serviced?

by J.Peter

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So you decided to get your watch serviced, but you were shocked by the price. Let’s talk about what you get for the price.

Omega PWWhen a professional watchmaker services your watch his job is to bring it to like new condition — This isn’t always possible but we try our best. What you say? Not always possible? Sometimes a watch case has a huge dent in it and removing it would cause way too much wear on the watch to warrant it, so we pretty up that section a little bit taking care to make the rest look perfect. And, then there is the issue of parts. When parts aren’t available what does one do? Not replace worn parts, make new ones, use generic, or turn down the reapir?

So back to the service: It usually includes a complete refinishing of the case and bracelet (not to be confused with polishing.) Sometimes an individual will polish a watch case and make it “shiny.” Refinishing the case means applying the same finishes as original in a clean, crisp manner and can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour depending on the specifics of the finishes applied. Your typical Rolex case and bracelet requires 3 different polishing compounds, 5 different finishing wheels, a lathe for refinishing case backs and tape to mask off the polished center links when applying the line finish to the outer ones. It is a labor intensive process.

HammyServicing the movement requires detailed and precise work. The watchmaker shouldn’t leave any marks on anything. The dial and hands are removed, the watch movement is pre-cleaned and then every component is carefully examined under magnification for flaws as the watch is disassembled (there are well over 100 parts in most watches). All worn components are replaced and all faults are corrected at this time (except for timing.) Jewel holes are pegged out and pivots are cleaned in a block of pith wood. The disassembled watch is then put into a special watch cleaning machine which combines agitation and ultrasonic frequencies to clean the parts. The parts generally go through one wash cycle and two or three rinse cycles before being air dried. The parts have to be perfectly clean!

Once the parts are clean they are never touched by hand. The oils in the skin could damage the parts and small flecks of skin are enough to bring the gears in a watch to a grinding halt. The watch is carefully assembled and each component is again examined under magnification to be sure there are no defects. As the parts are assembled each function is checked to make sure it is working correctly and the watchmaker is careful to make sure no foreign substances are inside the watch. I find dandruff to be a real problem, I’m always finding little white flakes which I have to remove carefully. You can watch the video at this site for a feel of what goes on during assembly.

Special lubricants are applied to all the bearing surfaces in the watch in a very precise manner according to the manufactures instructions. Too little means the watch needs to be serviced again prematurely, too much means the oil runs everywhere and gets on parts that can’t have oil. A typical watch requires five or more different lubricants, all must be applied in the correct areas.

Once the watch is assembled the watch is put on a timing machine to check its rates. Careful adjustments are made to the hairspring and regulation device to ensure the watch keeps good time.

The dial and hands are again placed on the watch and the movement is placed back in the refinished case. All the gaskets are replaced and the watch (if it is water resistant) is pressure tested for water resistance. The watch is then observed for several days and any additional adjustments are made to the timing of the watch.

The end result is a beautifully restored watch which is ready for another five years of service.

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Here is a sample list of what might take place during the disassembly of the watch:


  1. Carefully examine bracelet for damage
  2. Remove Bracelet
  3. Carefully examine case, dial & hands
  4. Remove case back
  5. Examine watch
  6. Remove Stem
  7. Remove movement from case
  8. Re-install stem
  9. Remove hands
  10. Remove dial
  11. Remove date disc
  12. Remove hour wheel
  13. Remove cannon pinion
  14. Let down power on mainspring
  15. Pre-clean complete watch
  16. Check & correct balance endshake
  17. Check & correct balance interaction with pallet fork (roller jewel, fork clearance, horn clearance)
  18. Check & correct pallet fork interaction with escape wheel (total lock, drop, run to banking)
  19. Remove balance bridge & balance
  20. Verify condition of balance pivots
  21. Check & correct pallet fork endshake
  22. Remove pallet fork
  23. Check condition of pallet stones & shellac (make corrections if necessary)
  24. Verify condition of pallet arbor pivots
  25. Peg out pallet jewels
  26. Check & correct escape wheel and gear train endshakes
  27. Check freedom of the gear train
  28. Check & correct barrel arbor endshake / sideshake
  29. Remove ratchet wheel
  30. Verify condition of ratchet wheel teeth
  31. Remove crown wheel
  32. Verify condition of crown wheel teeth
  33. Remove crown wheel core
  34. Remove barrel bridge
  35. Remove barrel
  36. Verify condition of barrel teeth
  37. Open barrel and remove mainspring
  38. Verify condition of barrel arbor
  39. Pre-clean barrel
  40. Tighten barrel endshake
  41. Peg-out barrel bushings or jewels
  42. Remove train bridge
  43. Peg-out jewels in the gear train
  44. Examine all train wheel pivots for wear
  45. Examine all pinions for debris, rust, and wear
  46. Remove set lever spring
  47. Remove intermediate setting wheel examine condition and condition of post
  48. Remove minute wheel & examine condition
  49. Remove yoke spring
  50. Remove yoke
  51. Remove set lever
  52. Remove stem & examine condition
  53. Remove winding pinion & examine condition
  54. Remove sliding pinion & examine condition
  55. Install balance
  56. Check & correct hairspring for flatness & trueness
  57. Remove cap jewels
  58. Washing

  59. Put movement parts in cleaning basket and send through a wash cycle
  60. Assembly

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