Did you know that mechanical watches generally require servicing after between 4-6 years of on the wrist time? As oils coagulate, friction increases and physical shocks to the case cause some of the inner workings to show wear, its good to have a professional breathe new life into your watch from time to time. A mechanical watch , if looked after properly, can literally out live it's owner. Granted a lot of people choose not to have their watches serviced for various reasons. The cost of a service, or overhaul, can be a bit shocking when its first quoted, but when dealing with a high end precision instrument, its all relative. What I seem to find is that owners of high end pieces are more likely to be open to servicing, whereas the collectors of cheaper mechanicals will either throw them away for new watches, or disassemble and service it themselves. I am a big supporter of experimenting with amateur watchmaking on Chinese made movements due to their costs being so low. It's a fantastic way to get your feet wet without the fear of ruining a priceless family heirloom.
Who: There are a couple of different routes you can go here. A lot of owners of higher end mechanical watches choose to send them back to the manufacturer to get serviced. Though this is generally the more expensive way, you do have the peace of mind of knowing that your multi-thousand dollar timepiece is in the hands of those who originally made it, and that OEM parts are readily available at their facility. A lot of high end watch retailers who have watchmakers on sight will still send many of the pieces they get in back to the original manufacturers. Many collectors also find a local watchmaker and have them do all of their servicing. A great resource to start looking is on Yelp. Started by two former PayPal employees in 2004, Yelp is a website that assists you in finding local businesses of any sort and usually includes reviews from people who have done business with them [search "watchmaker" in our area]. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a good, honest watchmaker. I do strongly urge you to find an actual watchmaker and not a jeweler, though the tools may look the same they are two entirely different types of artisans. A good local jeweler may also be able to recommend a known watchmaker. I would completely avoid mall, or chain jewelry stores...After all you wouldn't send your Ferrari to a Ford dealership, right?
Cost: This is where the cringe factor may come into play for many. Sending your high end watch back to the manufacturer for service can cost the owner quite a bit of scratch. Prices generally run between $200.00 and $600.00 for a mechanical chronograph watch depending on what type of service you are requesting. An "overhaul" is exactly what it sounds like; the manufacturer does everything it can to make your watch as good as the day you first opened the box. This usually includes; completely disassembling the movement cleaning it, replacing any and all worn parts and gaskets, reassembly, polishing the case and bracelets [if you happen to have a bracelet model] and generally an extended period of testing its accuracy. A lot of watch manufacturers will warranty the service for a year. If you go the local route its possible you could get much of the same style service. A trained watchmaker with all of the proper tools can do everything listed above, minus the "official" warranty. Their costs will run you between $100.00 and $400.00 for a mechanical watch. It's a good thing to keep in mind when purchasing a high end mechanical watch that there will be service costs every 4-6 years. Don't think of it as buying a piece of jewelry...because honestly it can be more like buying an automobile. Understand that the more complications your watch has the higher the cost will go, I used a mechanical chronograph as a reference as they are very common.
Below is video that has been floating around the web for a bit. It's an official film from Breitling [so yes, it's a bit of a "crummy commercial"] that explains what one of their watches goes through when it is sent back to Switzerland for an overhaul service. I was fortunate enough to receive a Breitling chronograph watch as a gift, and now that I know what the service entails, I am more likely to save up now and send it back to Breitling for it's overhaul when its required in a few years, as I want to keep my piece as precise as possible for as long as possible.
Breitling also produced films on their quartz watch service, and their extensive polishing procedure. All three films are available for viewing HERE.
Time: Whether you send you watch in for service, or bring it to a local watchmaker understand that it may be several weeks before you see it again. Depending on how much work they have; I have heard as long as 7 to 8 weeks. Remember, patience is a virtue, and you want this done right.
My heart breaks a little whenever I see a truly remarkable timepiece that has been left by the wayside as "just an old watch". It makes me want to scoop it up and nurture it back to life.
If you have any questions, or need help finding a reputable watchmaker in your area feel free to ask and I will use all of my resources to assist you in finding a properly trained watchmaker you can trust.