Vintage Seiko 5

How Often Does a Mechanical Watch Need to be Serviced?

I was wearing my beloved vintage Seiko 5 the other day, and was wondering, how often does a mechanical watch like this need to be serviced? After doing some research, here’s what I found…

The short answer is: there’s no exact time frame when any particular mechanical watch needs to be serviced. Watch companies will often suggest you get a service every 4-5 years, but that’s not always necessary. The only times you absolutely need to get a mechanical watch serviced are if you either damage the watch or when it starts losing accuracy. There are other obvious signs of a watch needing a service, such as a watch part physically breaking.

Now that we know you don’t always need to get a watch serviced, the follow-up question is… When should you get it serviced?

When Should You Get Your Automatic Watch Serviced?

Not all watches are created equal. How often you need to get your watch serviced will depend on a lot of things, like how often you wear it, if you wear it during any physical activities, if you’ve ever dropped it, etc.

Regardless, over time, the oils in a watch will dry up, causing friction in the metal parts. This will make the crown of your watch stiffen up and become harder to turn than it once was. A watch will eventually need a service once it gets to this point, as continuing to move the hands will grind the machined parts against each other and wear them down.

However, this isn’t exactly a common concurrence. Some watches have been known to go decades without this ever being a problem. It’s one of the reasons why watches like the Seiko SKX are so highly regarded. Their 7S26 movement, while technically outdated by today’s modern standards when it comes to features, has stood the test of time and is known for being able to take a beating for years and years without needing a service.

Watchmaker inspecting a watch for a service
Credits: relojeiro_suico73

What about Rolex and Other Luxury Watches?

If you have a luxury timepiece you really want to keep in tip-top shape, regular servicing every 4-5 years will help maintain that watch and keep everything in the best condition for years to come. If it’s a luxury timepiece you eventually plan to sell, keeping records of regular professional servicing will help the watch maintain more of its value than a watch that hasn’t been serviced. It’s always a good idea to keep all receipts and documentation of any professional servicing done.

Quick note: if your watch suddenly starts gaining lots of time each day (I.E. one hour or more, at the end of the day) it’s likely a symptom of your watch being magnetized, rather than losing accuracy and needing servicing. This is a much cheaper fix and can even be done at home with a cheap demagnetizer you can buy online.

Aside from that, you’re usually fine just waiting until your watch starts to lose accuracy, or you somehow damage your watch, before getting it serviced.

Simple Ways to Prevent Needing a Watch Service

There are a couple of best practices you can follow to regularly maintain your watch, and keep it in tip-top shape.

  • Cleaning it regularly. The best way to clean a watch is with a simple solution of soap and water. Fill a bowl with warm water and some mild detergent or dish soap. Dip a soft-bristled toothbrush and gently brush around your watch. Make sure to clean around the crystal and all around the watch case, especially the back, where lots of dirt and grime are likely to build up.
    • If you have a diving watch or any watch with a trusted water resistance rating over 50m, you can fill the bowl itself with some warm water and dish soap, and drop the entire watch in, leaving it for an hour or two before washing it off with some warm water from the tap. You want to be sure your watch is fully water resistant before attempting this, or risk damaging it through water leakage. Any good watchmaker or jeweler should be able to test the water resistance of your watch before you attempt.
    • Metal bracelets can also be cleaned using this same method, but certain types of straps, such as leather, can be damaged this way, so always be mindful. Regular cleaning will make sure the dirt and oils from your skin (gross, I know!) will not get inside your watch, causing rust or corrosion of the parts.
  • Another important tip to regularly maintain your mechanical watch is by wearing it. As obvious as this sounds, wearing your watch regularly keeps all of the mechanical parts and gears inside well lubricated by the oils. If you don’t wear your watch for a while, you should give it a shake and wear it for a day or two, every single month.
    • A watch winder can also automatically simulate this by keeping the watch in motion and the parts inside will constantly be lubricated, but cheap watch winders can actually overwind your watch and damage your watch even further.
vintage seiko 5 caseback
The indestructible Seiko 7S26 Movement

What Happens During a Watch Service?

I’m sure you’ve heard of a watch service before, but what exactly does a watchmaker do to service a watch? A full watch service usually consists of a complete strip down of the entire watch, down to each and every tiny part of the movement. They then clean the parts of the movement and the watch case with specialized machines such as an ultrasonic cleaner, and sometimes by hand with particular brushing tools when working with delicate parts like vintage dials.

If requested, a watchmaker will polish a watch and/or bracelet, giving it that “brand new” appearance. Though some watch owners prefer to not have their watch polished, as they feel the added scratches and blemishes add character and tell a story unique to their individual wristwatch. Polishing can also reduce the resale value of a luxury watch. More about that later.

Once the watch is cleaned and polished, they will diagnose any issues or broken parts, ordering new ones if necessary. The watchmaker will then reassemble the watch, adding fresh lubrication and likely brand new rubber gaskets to help provide a tight seal for the watch, preventing any water from getting in, if it’s meant to be water resistant.

Once assembled, they will measure the timekeeping of the watch and regulate it as necessary, making it as accurate as possible. This is a timely process, usually taking at least a couple of hours for even the most experienced watchmakers, and it’s all done by hand. Because of this, getting a watch serviced usually isn’t cheap.

How much does a Watch Service Cost?

The cost of a watch service depends on a few things. The watch brand, the number of movement complications, damaged parts that need replacing and overall labor going into the service. Through an independent watchmaker, it’ll usually cost at the very least $100 for a simple service on a basic watch. This will usually include cleaning, lubricating and regulating your wristwatch.

This price can vary greatly, if, for example, the watch is a higher end watch, has a complicated movement, or is a vintage piece that requires very a specialized and skilled watchmaker. Vintage watches also usually contain harder to find and more costly parts that need to be ordered. Some basic services can cost up to of $500 when working with a luxury watch like Rolex due to the cost of parts, training required, etc.   

Where Can You Get a Wristwatch Serviced?

There’s a great resource called the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute that allows you to search for clock and watchmaker professionals throughout the United States. I like it because it also lists their certifications.

With that said, if you’re dealing with a luxury watch, like Rolex, that you eventually want to sell, you’ll want to get it serviced by a certified Rolex dealer, as that’ll help maintain the resale value of the watch.

2 thoughts on “How Often Does a Mechanical Watch Need to be Serviced?”

Leave a Comment