Think of the most valuable things you use regularly. Now think about how long you expect them to last. With no electronics, many moving parts and the ability to remain in good working order for decades—if not significantly longer—mechanical watches are different from pretty much everything else in our lives. This unusual longevity is one of the things that makes watches such fascinating objects, but as magical as they may seem, mechanical watches require a few basic things to keep ticking reliably.
No one understands this better than Rolex, whose network of workshops are dedicated to preserving, maintaining and repairing their products as they are passed down from one generation to the next. Here’s an inside look at how it’s done.
Rolex World Service
It’s hard to overstate the influence of Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf on watches as we know them today. In addition to creating the Oyster, the world’s first waterproof watch, he also ensured that every Rolex sold could be serviced by specially-trained watchmakers for its entire life. To do this, he created the Rolex World Service, a network of Rolex-trained watchmakers in every country where the brand’s watches are sold. Today this network remains the cornerstone of Rolex’s after-sales service.
Every watchmaker working in the brand’s after-sales service workshops is trained-in house at the Rolex Training Centre in Geneva, whose eighteen-month Rolex Watchmaking Training program teaches them everything they need to know to service Oyster movements. These Rolex watchmakers—at least one in every workshop—also regularly update their skills by taking additional courses, which allow them to keep up with new models, movements and components as they are introduced.
Choose Your Treatment
Like a high-end spa, Rolex World Service workshops offer a menu of servicing operations for Rolex timepieces. A full service, which Rolex recommends every ten years for new watches, involves the complete overhaul of the watch movement, case and bracelet. In between full services, these technicians can also adjust bracelets, polish cases and perform other smaller tasks.
When you bring your watch in for a full service, it gets deconstructed into its main parts (the case, bracelet and movement), each of which will be disassembled before being examined, cleaned, tested and reassembled. First, the dial and the hands are separated from the movement, which is then completely dismantled. Each piece of the movement is then carefully checked to ensure it still meets Rolex requirements, and replaced with new parts from the manufacture in Bienne (where all Rolex parts are made) if needed. The movement’s components are then cleaned in an ultrasonic bath and dried before being reassembled, lubricated and adjusted.
For the case, components are individually polished and satin-finished to remove scratches, returning them to their original shine. The seals are then replaced, and the crystal, bezel and middle case are reunited with the freshly-cleaned movement. The bracelet receives a similar treatment of polishing, satin-finishing and ultra-sonic cleaning before being put back together.
Once the movement is reassembled and placed back in its case, it undergoes a barrage of tests for accuracy, resilience and chronometric performance, including a 24-hour precision test and an underwater pressure test. Once all of these tests are passed, the watch is then given one final inspection for aesthetics and performance, before being returned to its owner in a protective Rolex pouch.
Exceptional and Rare
Vintage and historic watches are sent to Rolex’s Restoration Atelier in Geneva for assessment by the brand’s master watchmakers. Specially trained in collectors’ timepieces, these watchmakers combine in-depth historical research, traditional methods and state-of-the-art techniques in their work. Here, components nearing the end of their life are either restored or recreated using period-correct techniques, ensuring the utmost authenticity. While most Rolex owners may not require this level of attention, it is a perfect illustration of the lengths to which this brand goes to stand behind its watches. If only more things in our lives came with that much longevity.