Style / World of Watches (WOW)

The Immortality of a Luxury Mechanical Watch

With the right care and proper servicing, your mechanical watch will last a lifetime…and then some.

Jun 14, 2021 | By Abram Yum
Image Credit: Crown and Caliber Blog

When it comes to the appeal of luxury mechanical watches, Patek Philippe’s iconic advertisement says it best, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” Mechanical timepieces are famous for their longevity and their place as heirloom pieces in many families. While they may not be as technologically advanced as modern smartwatches with their built-in wifi connectivity, Bluetooth, and mobile apps, it is precisely this adherence to tradition which contributes to the immortality of mechanical watches.

Comparing the designs of modern mechanical watches and those of yore, we find that the basic design of the movement that powers these timepieces remains relatively similar. Yes, there have been some design innovations in the last few decades that have allowed watch movements to be slimmed down, enhanced their performance, and improved their durability but they still function in much the same way, using the potential energy of a tightly coiled mainspring which drives the movement of many tiny gears, cams, and levers. The beauty of this completely analogue design is that should any of these components break or wear out, they can be replaced by a skilled watchmaker, restoring the watch to its former glory.

Franck Muller’s Aeternitas Mega with 36 complications and 1483 individual components was dubbed the most complicated watch wehn it was first released; Image Credit: Courtesy of Franck Muller

Sounds like a simple solution doesn’t it? If a part breaks, just swap it out. In reality, however, it’s a much more complex task which is why watchmakers require years of training and a lifetime of learning. Within each movement sits over 100 different components, with more complex designs this number can climb beyond 1000, like in the Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega, so servicing a watch is no small task. In addition, servicing doesn’t just involve the internal parts but those on the outside as well, such as the case, bezel, and crystal. It’s thus no wonder that watchmakers are on a never-ending journey of learning to perfect their craft.

We recently did a piece that goes in-depth on the process of servicing a Rolex. For those more pressed for time, here’s a brief rundown of what goes on during the servicing of a typical watch. First off, the watch’s movement is carefully removed from the case and then separated from the dials and hands. Next, the various components are systematically removed to dismantle the movement, typically starting with the balance, then the barrel (which holds the mainspring), and then the gear train. All of the movement’s individual components are placed into a specialised cleaning machine to remove any dirt and gunk that might have accumulated while the watch’s case is typically cleaned separately. Once cleaned, all components are meticulously assembled and lubricated, and the movement is placed back in the case with the dial and hands before the serviced watch is put through a series of tests to ensure that they still meet the same standards of accuracy, water-resistance and more.

A watchmaker carefully disassembles the watch’s movement; Image Credit: Courtesy of Ape to Gentleman
And meticulously separates them to avoid mix ups; Image Credit: Courtesy of Ape to Gentleman

That’s the basic process of servicing a watch. At every step starting from reception, the watch and its components are carefully examined to determine if there are any existing problems. Damaged or worn-out parts are replaced, and your favourite piece of wrist candy is as good as new. Where it gets complicated is when parts become are unavailable for a specific model, which happens fairly frequently with vintage watches. This is a topic that pops up fairly frequently during debates about whether to send a piece to an independent watchmaker or back to the manufacture. But that’s a discussion for another time. Suffice to say that despite the greater prices and longer waiting times, a watch manufacture would possess the specific skills needed to service their own watches and is more likely to have authentic parts on hand for repairs. If unavailable, they would also be more likely to have the necessary knowledge to fabricate the missing component (for a price of course).

This vintage Record Chronograph belonged to photogapher Doron Ritter who inherited it from his grandfather who lived through WWII; Image Credit: Courtesy of Fratello Watches

In short, mechanical watches have a great appeal among watch enthusiasts for two main reasons. The craft of putting together a functional and highly complicated watch, which runs accurately and reliably without the need for electricity, is an art form that has been honed over hundreds of years. More than that, every mechanical watch tells a story. Not just the story of a brand but of the artisans who literally had a hand in creating the functional art on your wrist. And the beauty of it is, this piece of art, with the right amount of TLC, can be handed down to future generations so that the appreciation for this craft never dies out.

It might be a little troublesome having to send your watches for servicing every few years, but that just comes with the territory. Buying a luxury timepiece doesn’t stop at the transaction, it’s a lifetime of care and commitment. Now, we might be biased here, but in our opinion, the undying historical and emotional connection with every mechanical timepiece, makes all the effort well worth it.

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