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Consumers and Watch Parts

by Jordan Ficklin

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The topic of watch parts has been heavily discussed among the membership of AWCI recently, so I feel I understand how watchmakers feel about the subject. We’re frustrated because we can’t always get the parts we need. Read more about parts here, here, and here.

I would really like to hear from any of you who are not watchmakers. What do you, the consumer, think would be an appropriate distribution for watch parts from high-end watch companies. Companies like Hublot say that their strict parts policy (selling only to factory trained watchmaker’s at their authorized retailers) helps them “preserve the high quality and integrity of [their] watches.” Respond with comments.

Here are some possible policies:

  1. No watch parts sales, all watches fixed by the factory.
  2. Watch parts sold only to watchmaker’s trained by the factory and who work at Authorized Dealers.
  3. Watch parts sold only to watchmaker’s trained by the factory regardless of where they work.
  4. Watch parts sold only to certified watchmaker’s.
  5. Watch parts sold to any watchmaker.
  6. Watch parts sold to anyone including parts houses and consumers
  7. Other, your own idea. Feel free to expand

On another note. Where does your watchmaker fit in the scheme above. Is he trained, by whom? Is he certified, by whom? Does he use genuine parts? You can learn more about certification here.

7 Comments

  1. Prem
    Posted April 21, 2008 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

    Hi JP,
    Seems to me this question will go on forever. I cannot bring to describe you what is REALLY going on in the annals of watchmaking and what silly and stupid games manfacturers play. Yes even Rolex is included in this list of culpables. You can read some comments of end consumers here…
    http://www.horomundi.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4858
    I hope you do not mind, it looks like sharing ideas of similar nature can abound when a more bigger net can be made, and what better advice than to look at the www for inspiration and reporting…
    Cheers,
    Prem

  2. Posted April 23, 2008 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    I can see the reasoning behind all of the many points of perspective on the subject. Ultimately, I would like to see better measures set in place to properly serve the end consumer when it comes time to service their timepiece. Turnaround times and overall customer satisfaction is unfortunately quite low. Due in part, mostly I think, to the consumeristic nature of our 1st world society. Today, customer service seems to be a mere nicety. It is more profitable for companies to churn out new timepieces than it is to troubleshoot old ones, that is why far more resources get poured into R&D and advertising than into effective and streamlined after sales service – not to mention training/promoting well trained watchmakers to do the servicing. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the dollar. Unfortunately, I think stringent spare parts policies have more to do with thwarting counterfeiters than they do with “ensuring a quality customer experience”.

    Those thoughts aside, I would like to see a more warm and open relationship between independent watchmakers and the brands.

    That Horomundi thread sums up some good points. I see you’re from Canada, Prem. Mind me asking which city you work as a watchmaker in?

  3. Prem
    Posted April 26, 2008 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Hi Jon,
    I presently live in Victoria, BC, on Vancouver island. I am not working as of the moment, due primarily to my moving here fairly recently. I will be putting up my website soon, and would love to keep Jp informed about more ‘darker secrets’ of the Swiss manufacturers.
    Sometimes, it is BS walking! I prefer for the reader to make up his own assumptions. I liked the ‘Alliance Horlogere’ idea and could help you in many subjects. So if you wish to communicate with me via phone or e-mail, not a problem mate.
    Prem Chainani

  4. rob
    Posted April 26, 2008 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    with all the fakes coming out who wouldn’t want to protect their parts. from what I have seen, I am happy with a high end fake with a eta movement just like the real ones.

  5. Posted May 12, 2008 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi -

    Nice blog. :-)

    I’m an economist by training and a rather amateur watchmaker by hobby, very amateur (I do have an occasional watch that survives, though…).

    What watch manufacturers want to do is to maximize their profits. Nowadays, that means vertical integration (hence the increase in the number of manufacturer-owned retail outlets…). Since mechanical watches need to be maintained (or very expensively thrown away…), this is a revenue stream that is guaranteed to recur. Further, by controlling the availability of parts, watch manufacturers can control, as well, the life cycle of a watch: this means that your valued watch will only continue to function at the whim of the manufacturer.

    We see this already with Rolex: bring in a 30-year old Rolex and you will most likely be told by Rolex themselves that there no parts available and don’t you want to buy a new one?

    I blame it on having too many non-watchmakers involved in decision-making: while Swatch may have “saved” the Swiss watch industry, he may well kill it off entirely when high-end consumers realuze that their $15,000 purchase was an exercise in planned obsolescence…at their cost.

    John

    PS: I mod the WUS Vintage forum…

  6. J.Peter
    Posted May 12, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    John,

    I am sure that for some brands denying parts to watchmakers is in fact an economical decision, but not for Rolex.

    I have been trying to put myself in these watch company’s shoes and this is what I have come up with: The smaller brands limit their parts distribution to authorized dealers because there are so few of their watches out there they know that I would only call up and order parts 1 or 2 times a year. Since maintaing an account requires resources on their end it isn’t worth it for them to sell me parts (it would be a money losing proposition). — It would however increase their customer service reputation which might help them sell more watches. If selling me parts let them sell just one more watch a year it would easily cover the costs of maintaing my parts account.

    Some watches really are extremely complicated and require specific training. These brands truly wish to protect their product because they know that if a customer’s very expensive timepiece gets destroyed their customer is going to be upset (whether the person who broke it is affiliated with their brand or not.)

    In the case of Rolex, I have spoken with some individuals who rank pretty high in the Rolex hierarchy and I have it on good faith that vertical integration of service is not a part of their long time mission. It is the desire of Rolex, USA to eliminate their internal service department if possible because it does not make any money. They would like every Official Rolex Jeweler to have an in house watchmaker. The service centers only exist as a customer service necessity because of the lack of qualified watchmakers in the retail environment who can maintain their customer’s products.

    Rolex can hire ordinary individuals (not trained as watchmakers) and with six weeks of training have them on board as watch technicians for a specific caliber, yet they choose to educate full fledged watchmakers (at LWT, TWT, and Mumbai) and encourage them to work for retailers repairing their watches. Why would they do this if they wanted to perform all the repairs themselves? Answer is, they don’t. At least for Rolex, outside service by qualified individuals is a better financial decision than servicing watches in house. I don’t have the figures, but they have calculated them and their long term mission indicates that eliminating service is the best decision for them financially.

    So, why does Rolex limit parts distribution? Insisting that only qualified and trained individuals work on their watch adds to the prestigious nature of their brand. They have made gabazillions convincing individuals that their watch is the measure of success and stature. Insisting that only qualified technicians work on the watch adds to this level of exclusivity.

    This model can work for Rolex because there are so many Rolexes on the market that their can be multiple repair individuals in each market making it easy to find a qualified repair person. With smaller brands (like Hublot for example) however, most markets cannot support a repair person, so the closest repair person may be hundreds (or thousands) of miles away. Exclusivity for their brands also means inconvenience — and inconveniences comes at a price. Do these brands really want to limit themselves to customers who can be inconvenienced by the added time and cost of locating a repair person half way across the country? Looks that way.

  7. john reese
    Posted February 1, 2009 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    It’s only a matter of time before someone starts manufacturing high quality spare parts for all brands in every form such as is done in the automotive industry. Then the customer will have more of a decision if they want their watch sent out for 6 to 8 weeks or repaired on site for 2 weeks or less. These watch companies are only screwing themselves and the problem is only going to get worse as seen in the last issue of Watch Time. Let’s face it just because you don’t have a WOSTEP degree or CW21 doesn’t mean you can’t perform competent repairs. Most people that have these certificates never use the skills such as vibrating hairsprings, making stems etc. when they leave school. Most of the time repairs in the field consist of your basic disassembly checking of endshakes, worn parts, proper regulation to manufacture specs. The Schools don’t even prepare you for half the stuff you will encounter as an independent watchmaker. Most people I know work for specific companies and work on the same movements all the time unlike the independent who works on almost everything. I
    propose that the watch companies should set up a system that if you want to work on their merchandise you bench test for them and pay your own way for the bench test as this would be in your or the independent jewelers best interest for future profits. This way they could see the quality of your work and be assured that you are capable of servicing their watches.

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