Want to keep your watches looking great for decades to come?
Here are some maintenance tips that can teach us how to ensure our collections and the next era of watches remain well-kept.
Photos by Eric Dush
As condition becomes more important for watch values, it’s good to understand the proper protocol to protect your investment no matter where you fall on the collector-enthusiast spectrum. Bracelet stretch is one thing that can hurt the value of a piece and it comes from two main sources. One is wearing a bracelet loosely on the wrist, causing the watch head to move and exert extra pressure on the pins over time. The other is from sweat and dirt getting into the bracelet pins. The stretch of a bracelet is typically caused by the pins being worn down from this grime (even on two tone bracelets where the pins are steel and the links are gold).
The best action for preventing bracelet stretch is to pick up an ultrasonic cleaner. It’s a good rule of thumb to run the bracelet and end links through the cleaner once every couple of months, and especially during the summer when more debris accumulates. Note that you should never actually put the head of the watch into the basket as the intense vibrations could damage the movement.
List of recommended tools:
1 - Ultrasonic cleaner and cleaning concentrate.
2 - Bergeon 6767-F spring bar tool. Good for being on the move and needed for Rolex or Tudor “holes” type cases.
3 - Bergeon 7825 spring bar tweezers. These are great for most sport watches and help to prevent scratching the case. You can put a pieces of Scotch tape on the back of the lugs to keep them protected from any nicks.
4 - Microfiber cloth for cleaning/drying. Try not to wipe your watch on a your shirt, especially a solid gold piece. Sure, patina is nice but it will come naturally, and this prematurely breaks down the finish of the watch. It’s also best practice to only wipe the watch down when it is fairly clean. If it is dirty, take a soft toothbrush with hand soap and lightly brush it under warm water before wiping down. Be sure the crown is snug to the case before submerging and remember that only modern watches should be waterproof. Vintage watches aren’t waterproof unless they were designed to be and pressure tested. Even so, a high value Submariner dial probably isn’t worth risking. Anything neo-vintage should be fine but get it pressure tested first.
The watch that got me hooked on the hobby: A Rolex Date from 1976 that I inherited from my grandfather after he passed. He got a fair amount of use out of it and the rivet bracelet eventually needed a service to preserve its integrity. Again, this is mostly due to the pins themselves being dirty and wearing down as opposed to the gold links being bent. I didn’t want to ship the watch head so I took that to Grand Central Watch for an overhaul. The bracelet I did take a bit of a gamble on and shipped it all the way to Classic Watch Repair in Hong Kong. Michael, the “Bracelet Magician,” is known for being one of the top re-builders of vintage Rolex bracelets in the world, and as you can see from scrolling through the before and after above, he did and incredible job re-tightening it to “like new.”
It’s worth noting that I did initially have the watch inspected and did some minor updates but didn’t have the movement of this watch serviced until it felt stiff to wind. Although Rolex recommend a service every 5-7 years with models from this era, we believe in many cases that service intervals of that frequency can do more harm than good. Even with some of the best watchmakers, servicing does induce some wear on parts and can potentially hurt their value if any tritium lume is lost on the dial or hands. As long as the watch is running well on a timegrapher, and there’s no visible dirt or lack of lubrication inside the movement, a watch should be good to go for a couple more years before a full overhaul. If you find something old like this and don’t know the service history, it’s best to at least have the watch inspected and perform any preventative maintenance such as oiling the movement and adding new gaskets to stave off moisture damage.
Another rookie mistake is leaving watches on winders. This only causes unnecessary wear on the movement and increases service intervals for both modern and vintage pieces. Note that one can absolutely use vintage pieces for daily wear but it’s best to have a couple to rotate through the week and thus decrease service intervals. The only time a watch winder really makes sense to use is for a complication like a perpetual calendar that is too much trouble to reset whenever the watch is worn. Personally, I find resetting the time or winding a manual movement to be a therapeutic experience and a time to appreciate the mechanics of a piece when it comes to actually putting it on.