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Watch Repair - Antique/Vintage Repair, Restoration and Preservation

Joel Trenalone

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You have a watch in disrepair or in poor condition cosmetically. How to you approach servicing such a watch? Do you have it restored to near perfect condition? Or simply have it serviced so it is working properly again. How far to you go (or spend) to repair your antique watch?

To help answer these questions, we need first to define these terms:

  • Repair Generally, when you have a watch repaired, it is with the goal returning it to a functional state so it can be used. Repair simply involves fixing whatever has caused the watch to stop running, or run incorrectly. This may be due to dirt and old oil build-up and a simple cleaning/oiling would suffice. Other common repairs include replacement of the balance staff due to a broken pivot or replacement of worn jewels. The case, stem and winding/setting mechanism may also need repair, as they are vulnerable to wear or breakage. A qualified repair person completes this type of work in an ethical manner, utilizing good workmanship appropriate to the particular watch. If the watch is of common grade, then spending more money that it is worth would not necessarily be advised (but of course this is up to the owner).
  • Restoration A watch that is returned entirely to its original condition is considered to be restored. This not only involves putting it in working condition, but also fixing movement and case cosmetic issues, and refinishing the dial and hands if needed. Proper restoration involves (to the extent possible) using period materials, period methods, and restoration to factory specifications. A qualified watchmaker will know the correct methods needed to restore a particular watch.
  • Preservation A watch that is rare, or has special historical significance may be a candidate for preservation. The concept of preservation is to maintain and stabilize the piece in its found condition. Work is only performed on the watch to ensure that any deterioration or corrosion that may have started is arrested, and the piece will be available for a good long time in a stable condition. It is not necessarily put back in working order, nor are parts replaced or polished. In fact, it is desirable to retain the tarnish or “patina", as the watch may loose value if polished.

So what type of service do you need? It is really up to you. If you have a wrist or pocket watch that you use regularly, then you may just want it serviced to function properly but perhaps do not need it cosmetically perfect. If you have a family heirloom that has sentimental value or a collector's watch that is valuable, you may want it restored both functionally and cosmetically. If you have come across a very special watch that is very rare, you may opt to do very little to it, and implement preservation techniques.

The responsibility of a qualified watchmaker/repairer is to:

  • Help determine the approximate monetary value of the watch
  • Explain (in non-technical terms) the options
  • Explain the ramifications of each option, and make recommendations
  • Quote the cost for the repairs

Keep in mind that not all watchmakers are qualified to make an accurate appraisal for certain rare watches, but should be able to provide a close enough value for most common watches. Once you have all of the information, then it is your decision. As with any repair service, they should not proceed with the work until you have provided direction and authorization.

Joel Trenalone is an architect working at California State University, who also operates a small business in repair and sales of antique and vintage mechanical watches. Find more about mechanical watches and services offered at


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