Should you repair, restore, or preserve your antique or vintage watch

Vintage Omega moon phase wrist watch
Vintage Omega moon phase watch

You have a pocket or wristwatch in disrepair or poor condition cosmetically. Should you restore it to a like-new condition? Should you refinish the dial and hands and polish the case? Should the piece be serviced and repaired mechanically? To help answer these questions, we need first to define these terms:

Service and Repair: Generally, when you have a watch serviced and repaired, it is returned to a functional state so it can be used daily. This service includes complete disassembly of the movement and case, cleaning, oiling, and timing. Repair or replacement of parts may be required.

RestorationA 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.

Antique verge fusee pocket watch

Antique verge fusee pocket watch

PreservationA 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, and advise if any restoration will devalue the piece
  • 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.

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