Blog: Not Worth Repairing?
Date: 19 November 2020Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2023 all rights reserved.
Like all mechanisms with moving parts, a mechanical watch movement needs lubricants, oils and greases, to reduce friction between parts that slide against each other. Over time these lubricants dry up and stop doing their job. Or even worse, they absorb dust from the atmosphere and turn into a grinding paste. Because of this a movement needs servicing from time to time to clean out the old oils and greases and replace them with fresh. If you don't have a watch serviced, it will continue to run for quite a long time, but friction will be causing internal wear. When the watch does eventually stop, which it inevitably will, it will be very expensive, or even impossible, to get it repaired.
I am often contacted by people who know this but have been told that their watch is “not worth repairing.” I have heard the following horrific experiences:
- “I took my watch to a local jeweler for a repair estimate. He didn't give me an exact quote, but he did say the repair would be more than $500 and much more than the value of the watch.”
- “the dial has so much damage and hairline fractures the value would be very little, you could end up with a cost of £250 or more, not worth it” (this about a very early, pre Great War, wristwatch chronograph!)
- “The watches are poor quality and do not work. I have been professionally advised that they are not worth repairing.”
- “it’s only a 7 jewel movement that’s not worth fixing, because it is at the low end of the quality and, hence, too hard to fix.”
I cannot express how angry these instances make me. All watches can be repaired, although obviously some repairs will cost more than a simple clean and oil. But it should be down to the customer to decide how much money they want to spend. The attitudes of the watch repairers are completely unprofessional and totally wrong. Watch repairers and self styled “watchmakers” with an uncaring and unprofessional attitude like this should be ashamed of themselves.
The watches in all of these instances are family heirloom that have been passed down through the generations. One of them belonged to my correspondent's grandfather and saw active service at the front during the Great War, and the others are all treasured items of family history and hold valued memories of people no longer alive.
How can anyone say that any cost of repair or restoration of one of these watches is “not worth it” to a person wanting to care for and preserve an heirloom and piece of family history? I know that if it was one of my grandparent's watches, whether the cost was more than the watch was worth wouldn't come into it for me at all, I would want to restore it whatever the cost - in fact that's what I did with mine and is why, 16 years later, I am writing this blog!
Many of these watch repairers are from the “old school” and have been in the trade for many years, since a time when customer's watches were regarded as commodity items that were either worth repairing or “not worth it” - not worth it to the watch repairer that is, rather than to the customer. Younger repairers with this attitude are usually afraid of working on an old watch because they have only been taught or trained on modern watches that they can get spare parts for when they break something.
I find this all very worrying; who knows how many family heirlooms and other interesting watches have been condemned by such a cavalier attitude, which unfortunately prevails in some parts of the trade. I thought that such ideas would not exist in members of professional bodies, but I have even been told of BHI members with the same attitude. Because of this I now cannot recommend the BHI list of accredited repairers without caveats.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. All watches can be repaired, although obviously some repairs will cost more than a simple clean and oil. But it should be down to the customer to decide how much money they want to spend. A trustworthy and competent watch repairer should simply appraise the job, explain what needs to be done, and quote an honest price for doing the work. If they can't, or don't want to do the job, they should say so rather than quoting a silly price or saying that the watch is not worth repairing - it's not their role or position to pass such a judgement.
If someone tells you that your watch is “not worth repairing”, just completely ignore this advice and get away from that charlatan as quickly as you can. There are many honest and decent watch repairers who really do want to do a good job of keeping your watch working no matter how old and battered it is, you only need to find one of them. The most important thing is don't give up, keep trying until you find someone who knows what they are talking about, understands your watch and that you have confidence in.
Soon after I became interested in watches I started learning how to clean and oil them, and now I have a workshop where I can do most of the repairs I need, so it has been many years since I used a watch repairer and I don't know anyone I can recommend. Some thoughts about how to go about finding such a repairer are detailed in the section below, which is from my page about Watch Care and Repair. If you can recommend someone, even if it's yourself, then please let me know!
If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to get in touch via my Contact Me page.
Finding a Repairer
I have learnt to service, repair and restore my own watches. It takes time and a little money to accumulate the skills and tools to do this, but if you have inclination, patience and good dexterity you can learn to do it. There are two ways to learn, either by trial and error, best done on scrap bare movements which can be bought cheaply from e.g. ebay, or by taking instructional courses. Taking courses is the quicker route, you will be shown how to work effectively and avoid mistakes. I can recommend the courses run by the BHI at Upton Hall. In either case you should get a good book and read it thoroughly, one of the best is Hans Jendritzki's “The Swiss Watch Repairer's Manual”. Sorry, I don't have the time to work on watches for other people.
If you don't want to do your own servicing and repairs, you need to find a competent watch repairer. Before you hand over your treasured watch you must, and I can't emphasise this strongly enough, you must make sure that the person who is going to work on it is competent in servicing and repairing the type of watch. You might think that all mechanical watches are much the same, but there is a big difference between post-WW2 watches, which are easy to work on and where spares and spare movements can be available, and watches made before WW2, which almost inevitably require that replacement parts are custom made. Watches that are older still, e.g. from the Great War era, or the nineteenth century, present their own challenges.
A local watch mender who can change wrist straps and batteries is very unlikely to be familiar with old mechanical watches, despite what they might say. Even someone who is capable of servicing a modern, post WW2, mechanical watch may be only used to fitting manufacturer's replacement parts, which are simply not available for older watches. I have seen some real disasters from going down the high street route. If you do choose to try a local person, or someone recommended or used by a high street shop, be on your utmost caution, and do not automatically believe everything they say. Here is an amusing anecdote from one of my customers.
When the watch was to be passed on to me after my grandfather's death, my mother first took it in to the most respected local jeweller to be checked over. A "hushed whispers" sort of place - I'm sure you know what I mean. She was told that it was completely worn out and they could only suggest they take it off her hands for its scrap value. Fortunately my mother was no mug, and took it round to a trusted local jobbing watchmender, who said it was in really good condition for its age and only needed cleaning!
If you can find a “trusted local jobbing watchmender” like this, then you are in luck and do let me know their details! On a typical high street you are more likely to find the first type of place.
Many years ago I entrusted a watch of mine to a jewellers in a nearby upmarket town who describe themselves as specialists in elite jewellery and prestige Swiss watches. They persuaded me that it was not necessary to send the watch to the manufacturer's service agent because their own service department could do it just as well, and more quickly and cheaply. They didn't change the case seals before testing the watch for water resistance, which it naturally failed and they noted on the invoice. But in the process water had got into the case and that evening I saw droplets of water condensing inside the glass. Even though I immediately took the back off and pulled the movement out, the dial, hands and movement were all ruined. They were replaced by the manufacturer's service agent, who also changed the case seals and guaranteed that the watch was waterproof. It was a very expensive lesson.
Watch repairers who are prepared to spend the time and have the necessary skills to work on older watches are few and far between. Make sure you ask questions and are confident in the abilities and willingness of the person to take on the job. Don't be afraid to post your watch to somebody qualified and competent using a tracked service such as Royal Mail Special Delivery.
If you have had a good experience with a repairer, especially with a trench watch, an old wristwatch (by which I mean at least pre-WW2) or a pocket watch, please let me know so that I can add them to this section.
BHI Registered Repairers
A good source of qualified and competent watch repairers are the lists of accredited wristwatch and pocket watch repairers to be found on the BHI Web Site (they keep moving the page so I can't link to it directly – look for the link ‘Find a Repairer’). However, although all the repairers on the BHI list have taken and passed exams at the BHI, not all of them have experience of, or are willing to work on, very old watches like trench watches, or even much more recently made watches.
The BHI courses and exams are mainly about modern watches for which there are spare parts available, which usually means watches made in the last twenty or thirty years. Parts for older watches, aside from generic items such as crystals and mainsprings, are often no longer available. This makes some people reluctant to even attempt to service an older watch, although in many cases such watches can be serviced perfectly easily.
It shouldn't happen with members of a professional body, but I have had reported to me BHI listed repairers who have told people that their treasured watch or inherited heirloom is “not worth repairing”. As a Fellow of the BHI I am always trying to stamp out this sort of behaviour; no one in the profession should pass such an opinion on a customer's possessions. It is usually given because it is not worth it to the person giving the opinion rather than to the owner of the watch, or because they don't have experience of repairing older watches and don't want to risk trying.
If you contact someone on the BHI list, make sure you ask whether they have experience and are happy to work with watches like yours. If they don't pass muster, or they tell you that it is not worth repairing, move on to another person on the list and also please let me know. You will find someone; any watch can be repaired.
The BHI lists covers all areas of the UK as well as some other countries, but don't just try to find someone local to you. If you restrict yourself to someone local you might not be using the best person for the work.
If you can recommend any other watch repairers in the USA, or anywhere else, please let me know.
If you have any comments or questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch via my Contact Me page.
Copyright © David Boettcher 2005 - 2023 all rights reserved. This page updated June 2022. W3CMVS. Back to the top of the page.