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How Often Do Automatic Watches Need to Be Serviced?

Automatic watches are supremely convenient, because they wind themselves. But like all other mechanical devices, they occasionally need servicing and repair.

Most automatic watch manufacturers recommend that their products should be taken to a professional watch repairer for service every three to five years. While this is a general guideline, there are some situations in which an automatic watch will need to be taken in for service sooner. And there are also signs that you need to take your automatic watch in for service before the recommended service interval is complete.

Service every three to five years is the most common recommendation for high-quality automatic watches, but it’s not the only recommendation out there. Rolex has famously announced that its new models will only need to be serviced every 10 years! (That makes the cost of owning a Rolex a lot more affordable, since repairing a Rolex is quite expensive.)

Almost all other manufacturers recommend getting them serviced no more frequently than every three years and at least every seven years, although it’s not hard to find satisfied owners of high-end automatic watches who have owned their watches for over 50 years without taking them in for service.

When you are choosing a watch, it is important to take the manufacturer’s service recommendations into consideration.

What Is Involved in Servicing an Automatic Watch?

Automatic watches have numerous parts. as many as 200. Most of the parts of an automatic watch are very sensitive. These tiny parts can suffer friction and wear out, requiring them to be replaced. Every automatic watch will occasionally need to be opened up, so their parts can be taken out, cleaned, re-oiled, and put back inside the case. If any parts are broken, the repair person must replace them.

The repair person will make any needed adjustments to the inner workings of your watch. Your automatic watch should not lose more than a minute every two years, and periodic adjustments can make your watch even more accurate than that.

Service for your automatic watch may also involve demagnetization. This keeps it from interfering with smart cards and electronic devices.

Not to be overlooked is polishing your watch case and bracelet to return them to their original, pristine condition. Your automatic watch should not only keep time with extraordinary accuracy, but also look great as a fashion accessory.

One consideration in choosing when to have your watch serviced is the manufacturer’s warranty. The warranty period is the bare minimum you can expect your watch to perform as expected until something is considered wear and tear.

Breitlng offers a five-year warranty. The international warranty for Cartier watches is eight years. And as we have previously mentioned, the warranty for new Rolex models is a full 10 years. The length of the warranty is a good indication of how long you should be able to go without service without risk of failure.

When You May Need Service More Often Than the Manufacturer Recommends

Sticking to the manufacturer’s recommendation for how often to take in your watch for service is the safest way to make sure that it will run perfectly for a lifetime. Timely maintenance can help you avoid costly repairs down the line. It’s always OK, of course, to send your watch away for service more often than manufacturer recommendations, especially when one or more of these conditions apply.

You Wear Your Automatic Watch Everyday

People who cycle through a collection of automatic watches, wearing different watches with different outfits, usually do not need to accelerate the service cycle. If you wear the same automatic watch every day, however, it may need service more often than every three years. On the other hand, if you wear your automatic watch only occasionally, it may be OK to delay service for a year or two.

You Put your Automatic Watch Through Heavy Use

If you wear your automatic watch when you play racquetball or squash, or you take it along on hiking and camping trips, or you use your watch for diving, swimming, and other outdoor activities, frequent service is a good idea. The rubber gaskets and O-rings on dive watches, in particular, can wear out very quickly. Keeping them fresh helps maintain the water resistance that is critical for the performance of your watch.

How Often Do Automatic Watches Need to Be Serviced?
Caring for your watch properly often requires more than what the manufacturer recommends.

You Frequently Wear your Watch Outdoors in the Summer

There was a time when the delicate parts inside automatic watches were lubricated with whale oil. Now they are lubricated with synthetic oil. The newer synthetic oils, however, eventually dry out. The pivots of the gear train of your automatic watch can wear out as they dry out and collect dust and debris.

You Own a Vintage Watch

Valuable older watches need regular service. Of course, you could always decide that it is less expensive to replace a vintage watch than it is to have it serviced.

How Often Do Automatic Watches Need to Be Serviced?
Vintage watches require much care and repairs.

But there are also performance issues that tell you it is time to send your watch off to be serviced.

Signs It Is Time to Have Your Automatic Watch Serviced

Automatic watches are very predictable. If you just pay attention to its performance every day, you won’t have any trouble recognizing when it needs service.

Here are some common signs it is time to send your automatic watch to the shop:

  • Lack of accuracy. When your watch starts running fast or slow, it is usually time to send it off for watch repair. However, if your watch is just a few seconds slow, the solution may be as simple as wearing it more often. (We have more to say about this below.)
  • Lack of power reserve. Your watch’s power reserve is the length of time it will run without being worn or wound. If you wear your automatic watch frequently but it is frequently stopped, it needs servicing.
  • Condensation under the crystal. This is a reason to have your automatic watch serviced immediately. Do not use a dive watch with visible condensation underwater again before you have it serviced.
  • Physical damage to the case. No matter what kind of case you have, chances are that it will eventually accumulate dents and scratches. Many times, however, the watch repair service can make them less noticeable.

It is important to remember that automatic watches only wind themselves when they are being worn. They are only “automatic” in the sense that they wind themselves with the mechanical force generated by the motion of your wrist.

If you don’t wear your automatic watch very often, and it loses time or stops working, try this simple repair trick at home. Wind your watch for yourself! If it starts running normally again, great! An early trip to the repair shop is not necessary. But if your automatic watch still does not run after you have wound it, then it probably needs gear train repair.

What About Just Getting Your Watch Repaired When It Stops Working?

How Often Do Automatic Watches Need to Be Serviced?
Watch repair is a delicate and in-depth process

Service for fine watches can be very expensive, especially if you send the watch back to the manufacturer in Switzerland. Almost any service will cost US $500 or more, with repairs by the manufacturer in Switzerland sometimes costing as much as $5000.

Over a lifetime of wear, you can easily spend as much on service as you spend to buy the watch. However, getting timely service can prevent the complete failure of the watch, especially when there is undetected water damage.

If your watch was manufactured since 2000, it is almost always less expensive to send your watch to an independent watch repair service than to the original manufacturer. They can usually replace any worn-out parts at no additional charge, and they can get your watch back to you much faster than sending it overseas and getting it back through Customs. However, if your watch was made before 2000, and needs replacement parts, the only way to get it serviced may be through the manufacturer.

If you can’t afford service for your automatic watch every three to seven years, it is not the end of the world. Just be sure to get repairs for water damage and for any failure of the watch to wind itself when you wear it.