Is there any way to tell whether or not a watch needs to be serviced?

Thread: Is there any way to tell whether or not a watch needs to be serviced?

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  1. #1
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    Is there any way to tell whether or not a watch needs to be serviced?

    I was wondering if there was any way to tell if a watch is clean and worry-free, or if it needs to be serviced.

    I've recently started collecting pocket watches, and bought a few vintage Elgins and Walthams off ebay. The sellers' descriptions all state that the watches were recently serviced, but from previous threads on this forum and plain common sense I know how unreliable their word can be (I try to look extensively for indicators that the seller is reliable before buying, but even that can be a crapshoot).

    Other than the watch not working at all or obviously looking like it was dunked in WD40, is there any way to tell if a watch was actually recently serviced?

    Any info would be appreciated. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: Is there any way to tell whether or not a watch needs to be serviced?

    I don't buy watches off eBay. I have three gold vintage pocket watches (two Walthams and Ball) which I bought from the flea-market, which is basically the same thing as buying watches from eBay.

    Unless you're getting the watch from a reliable watchmaker or online watch-seller, do not believe that the watch has truly been 'recently serviced' or 'just serviced'. Always assume that the watch needs servicing and factor the service-cost into your watch-budget. An expert watchmaker should be able to tell if the watch has been serviced recently (and is therefore, not in need of a servicing anytime soon), or whether it should require a proper servicing ASAP.

    It's best to err on the side of caution and pay for a standard servicing anyway, unless you're ABSOLUTELY certain of the seller's honesty, expertise and/or credentials.
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

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  3. #3
    Member jedanzoom's Avatar
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    Re: Is there any way to tell whether or not a watch needs to be serviced?

    Personaly,in most cases I can tell by lookin at the movement is servicing needed.But I had to take a look on couple of dozen watches to be able to do that.Mostly I dont assume,I just take a watch to the watchmaker.Just in case.

    Other way is by listening.Resonance of serviced watch is quite different from the one that is not serviced.
    “Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings - always darker, emptier and simpler.”

    Friedrich Nietzsche

    http://www.portalsatova.com/forum/

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  5. #4
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: Is there any way to tell whether or not a watch needs to be serviced?

    Hey Jedanzoom,

    How does a serviced watch differ from an unserviced watch, in terms of how it sounds?
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  6. #5
    Member JohnF's Avatar
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    Re: Is there any way to tell whether or not a watch needs to be serviced?

    Hi -

    Fundamentally, there is a really good way to determine whether a watch needs to be serviced or not: isochronism.

    Or, more simply, the time-keeping qualities of the watch. You can determine this by simply observing and maintaining a written record, or hook it up to a timing machine to directly observe this.

    Either way, if a watch keeps a set constant time differential over time (i.e. it is always, for instance, 5 seconds fast) then it usually does not need to be serviced, even if it might be visually "unclean". If you do not have a timing machine, then simply wind, use, and check until you can find out the intricacies of the watch's isochronic attributes.

    Visually you have to take a lupe and inspect the lubrication points to see if the watch has been properly lubricated, even if the movement appears to be very clean: a common trick is to clean the entire movement without dismantling it in relatively aggressive chemical/ultrasonic bath, leaving a movement that sparkles, but lacks any lubrication whatsoever: the seller might even give 6 month's guarantee on the movement. Since problems with such a movement might first appear in a year or so, this is a great way of spiffing up the watch movements with little or no risk, as the problems will appear much later on (this is particularly true for higher-jewel count movements, as these will merrily destroy themselves much slower than low-jewel count movements.

    A special place in one of the lower circles of hell is reserved for those who do such things.

    JohnF

    PS: "Serviced" may mean many things to many: you should always ask exactly what was done. If the watch was cleaned, was it also lubricated? If it was cleaned and lubricated, was it timed? If it was cleaned, lubricated and timed, were timing errors corrected (simply timing the watch doesn't mean that it was fixed!!!). If it was cleaned, lubricated, timed and fixed, was the dial cleaned, the hands cleaned, etc? If you don't ask, they won't tell you...
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  7. #6
    Member jedanzoom's Avatar
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    Re: Is there any way to tell whether or not a watch needs to be serviced?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shangas View Post
    Hey Jedanzoom,

    How does a serviced watch differ from an unserviced watch, in terms of how it sounds?

    Its easier to notice that on pocket watches. The sound that escape wheel made in contact with pallet lever is much cleaner and distinctiv after servicing.Try to listen that sound on some watch before service and try to listen after-you will notice distinction.You can put the watch on stone background,like marble for example.

    I have mostly pre and WWII watches,and after some of them were not serviced for decades,visual and acustic distnictions pre and after service are pretty significant.
    “Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings - always darker, emptier and simpler.”

    Friedrich Nietzsche

    http://www.portalsatova.com/forum/

  8. #7
    Zenith Forum Co-moderator
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    Re: Is there any way to tell whether or not a watch needs to be serviced?

    Hah! - I have the same problem at present. I want to see whether my Zenith PW needs a service. The trouble is that the only sure way is by using a really good electronic timing machine (which only a good watchmaker has - and my local one doesn't, his only gives the gain/loss per 24 hours). The first thing that this will show is the timing in different positions. Too great a difference between positions (e.g. loses 10 secs/day crown up but gains 20 secs/day dial up) is suspect. The second thing is the amplitude of the balance. This should be around 270-300° - drop down to 180° and you should think very hard about a service. The third thing is the trace which is the exact timing of each individual beat - string the little dots formed by each "ping" together and they should form a straight line. If this wanders around like a drunk, the watch is certainly filthy. Unfortunately, I don't have this little gadget - and I suspect you don't either. Therefore, my main advice is to find someone who has (i.e. a professional watchmaker who you trust to tell you the truth, rather than automatically recommend a service in the hope you'll commission him).

    Hartmut Richter

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