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Spare Parts Restrictions

by Jordan Ficklin

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Thanks to Rryan for suggesting this great area of discussion. It is one I have discussed a bit in the past but as time goes by my opinion of the matter is constantly maturing. You can check out Rrayn’s suggestion and make your own here. You can also check out some of Rryan’s own work on Rryan’s Watch Blog which was just added to the sidebar.

I’ll start off by posting a few links to past discussions on the topic. Be sure and read the comments too when they are available.

If you actually read through the above posts or remember them from their original postings, Kudos to you. The gist of it is there is a continuing issue where watchmakers cannot get spare parts to properly service timepieces from many of today’s manufacturers. Why is that and how does it affect the consumer?

Some brands will supply parts to anyone who wants them. Some brands supply parts to qualified individuals based on certification and shop equipment. Some brands only supply parts to stores that sell their product. Some brands only supply parts to stores that sell their product and have a trained watchmaker. Some brands don’t supply parts to anybody.

This is an issue I encounter frequently and as a result it becomes one of the things I do while I work. I have concluded that it is unfair to compare the parts policies of most brands to those of Rolex because the economies of scale are so different. Rolex makes a lot of watches and there are enough of them on the market that need servicing that they could alone support hundreds, if not thousands of watchmakers in the U.S. alone. Rolex accounts for about half of the complete watch services I perform. As a result when I order parts I order $500 worth at a time and it makes it worthwhile for Rolex to maintain an account for me. I expect the situation is very similar for most of their parts accounts.

When I, and others, complain about companies parts restriction we forget to take into account the overhead required for maintaing a parts account. The manufacturer has to employ somebody to take the orders, fill the orders, invoice the orders, etc. This can become very taxing if your accounts only order a part here or a part there.

Supplying parts to watchmakers is a delicate balance of managing profitability and maintaining customer service. It is my experience that most consumers will return to the place they purchased the product for service. That’s why I see mostly the brands we sell in our service shop and so few of other modern production watches. A problem can arise when the store stops carrying the product or the customer purchases the watch while on vacation. Where do they go for service then? Another problem arises when a store sells more product then they could possibly service. How do these individuals get quality service?

My store falls into the second category. If every watch we sold came back to us for service as prescribed by the factory we would not be able to service anything we didn’t sell and we would probably need another watchmaker as well. One thing is for certain we strive to provide this service for at least the watches we sell, but we also work on many other watches. Clearly many of these watches are either: going unserviced or getting serviced elsewhere. I’m sure there are many other stores in the same situation.

I contend that a watch company should be free to use whatever principals they choose for distributing spare parts but I think the following makes sense:

  • If you make more watches than you can service you need to make parts, tools, and training available to others.
  • If you make more watches than you and your retailers can service you really, really need to make parts, tools, and training available to others.
  • If you sell your watches in retail locations that do not have watchmakers on site (like in a department store) and you intend on it being serviced, you need to make parts, tools, and training available to others.
  • If you sell your watches in very exclusive and limited amounts you need to make it perfectly clear to the client that the watch will need to be returned to the manufacturer for service and you need to have adequate personnel to perform these services in a timely fashion or you need to provide parts, tools, and training to others.
  • If you sell quartz watches with proprietary gaskets you really should make them available. Nobody wants to wait six weeks and pay insane amounts of money to ship their watch insured just to have a battery replaced.

Watch companies which follow these rules should be able to provide quality service to their customers. You may notice that I included tools and training in with parts. There are however many brands for which specific tools and training are not required in order to perform a quality repair. These brands should recognize this and expand their service network even further to provide the best service experience to their customer.

I am a fan of training and certification and I believe that both are fine requirements for a company to have before extending a spare parts acount to an individual or company. After all, if quality customer service is the goal it should only be fair that the service technician be qualified.

So, to wrap it all up, who fits into these categories. Big companies like Rolex, Omega, Tag Heuer, Citizen & Seiko probably all fit into the category of companies who produce too many watches to be serviced by themselves and even within their retail network. For the most part, these companies have recognized it and make parts available to qualified individuals with professional workshops and tools. Many Longstanding Luxury brands would fit into the category that cannot service their brands in house but could service all the watches if they extended to their retail environment and many of them do. Most of the new luxury brands fit into the category that has limited distribution but still cannot service their brands in house. These are the brands that will have serious problems in the days ahead when their product needs to be serviced. Most of them do not have the capacity currently to service their product in house and most of them do not make parts available to independent watch shops.

One last thing for this rant. We’re not really talking about movement parts here. The majority of watches on the market use any of a handful of watch movements produced by ETA or a handful of other suppliers. These parts are generally available. We are talking mostly about crowns, gaskets, crystals and the like. You may think your product is exclusive but if it has an ETA inside, it’s really not. Help out your customers by helping their watchmaker.

4 Comments

  1. Michael O.
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Great post.
    I would be furious if I spent thousands of my favourite dollars on a watch, then found out it couldn’t be serviced.

    Fortunately, I can’t afford those kinds of watches.

    Yay recession!

  2. Posted January 27, 2009 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    This is an area I would really like to see improve, but at the same time I do have to say that I think a lot of positive progress has been made in recent years through the efforts of the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute and others. CW21 certification is definitely a step in the right direction.
    It’s a shame to see damage done to watches that otherwise could have been avoided if parts like crowns and gaskets were simply made available to all watchmakers. Whether via traditional supply conduits or directly from the manufacturers.
    It would be really great to see a supplier step up with a standardized form of crown design that could easily be swapped in and out of any covering of the manufacturers’ choosing. A sort of intermediary, water resistance system, that acts as a bridge between the stem and what the client sees as the crown.

  3. Engineer
    Posted February 7, 2009 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    I am a precision engineer, not an actual watchmaker. However I come across this problem in all aspects of life, even electronics. So I am not speaking specifically about watchmaking.

    While I have a certain sympathy with manufacturers wanting to ensure their parts only go to their selected clientele and their stated policy of protecting customers from unauthorised and potentially badly-carried out repairs. It potentially leaves an after-taste of market protectionism.

    Worse still, I see many people who are deeply disappointed in their purchase being irreparable without sending it away or a very long trip to an authorised repair facility. In Europe, there is often only one authorised repair facility for the whole of Europe, meaning you have to send it away to another country as well.

    Vehicle manufacturers are having to release service codes in America to the smaller independant garages.

  4. J.Peter
    Posted February 8, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Engineer, It’s nice to hear its a problem in other fields as well. All too often we make the comparison to automobiles and it just seems so unfair. I’m sure its a problem in many fields and many nations. I still wish it wasn’t.

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