We get this question quite often, and thought it would be helpful to provide a behind-the-scenes walkthrough of what happens during the various watch repair and service stages. Typically, this process takes about four weeks, and includes the following 12 steps.
Stage I - Visual Inspection
When the watch first comes in to the watchmaker, he starts with a very detailed visual inspection. We conduct a cursory exam of the watch when you drop it off, checking for obvious damage to the watch, however the watchmaker checks the watch under magnification looking for things like small chips on the crystal, gouges, unusual wear, form and fit, etc.
Stage II - Disassembly
After the visual inspection is complete, and the condition is notated, the watchmaker removes the case back with a special key. The movement is then extracted through the back of the case. With the movement now exposed, the watchmaker will remove the hands and de-couple the dial from the movement.
Stage III - Pre-Clean
With the dial and hands removed, the watchmaker places the complete watch movement in a computer-controlled cleaning station to do a pre-clean. This removes all major oil build-up, dust, and debris.
Stage IV - Complete Movement Disassembly
After the movement has been pre-cleaned, the watchmaker completely disassembles the watch movement. This process is very time consuming as every single gear, spring, and screw is separated from the watch movement plate. There are more than 220 parts in a high caliber automatic movement and typically 30 jewels or more, all of which are removed and/or inspected for wear, fit, and function.
There are certain parts that are automatically replaced during a routine service due to normal wear and tear. To put this in perspective, consider this: A high-quality, Swiss-made movement beats 28,800 times per hour and 691,200 beats per day - that’s more than 252 million beats per year! That means that by the time the watch is scheduled for service, the movement has beat more than 1.2 BILLION times!
Stage V - Detailed Inspection
As part of the inspection process the watchmaker checks the crown and case tube for wear. He will usually recommend replacement if the threads on the crown and case tube are over 40 percent worn. We want to make sure that all parts of the watch will last until the next scheduled service.
Once the movement is inspected and the necessary parts have been replaced (only with original manufacturer’s parts), the watchmaker polishes the pivots and jewels to ensure the most friction-free operation. The hairspring is adjusted as well as adjustment of the balance complete.
All of the loose parts are now put through the cleaning machine, which uses a computerized process and three different solutions. The first solution is a cleaning solution that removes any residual oil, residue, or dust. The second and third solutions are rinsing solutions that ensure that the parts are free from any cleaning solution residue. The parts are then dried completely of all moisture. This entire cleaning process typically takes around an hour to complete.
Stage VI - Case Disassembly
While the movement is going through the cleaner the disassembly of the rest of the watch case begins. The bezel is removed that exposes the crystal which is also removed along with the crystal gasket, case tube, crown and bracelet.
Stage VII - Polishing
With the entire case and bracelet disassembled, the polishing process can begin. The external parts that are typically polished are the case, bezel, and bracelet. Polishing is a multi-step process and done using a different polishing compound for each stage.
First a special polishing paste is used in conjunction with a harder polishing wheel to take out the heavy scratches that are typically present on the case and bracelet. The watch that we are following is made out of 904L stainless steel that is so hard that it generates intense heat during polishing requiring the watchmaker to wear special protection during this polishing process.
After the heavy scratches are removed, a second polishing wheel with a lighter polishing paste is used to brighten the case, bezel and bracelet.
With the heavier paste residue removed, the watch case, bezel, and bracelet can now be polished with the softest polishing wheel. This third step uses the lightest polishing compound that produces a mirror finish. These parts will now be completely free of scratches.
The polished parts are then placed into the ultrasonic cleaner, this removes the polishing compound residue from the first three polishing stages.
Some watches have a dual finish. This means that parts of the watch (most typically the bracelet) are bright polish, and parts of the watch are satin finish (a dull finish). At this stage, if a watch has a dual finish, the watchmaker will mask off the newly applied mirror finish and use a special abrasive polishing wheel to apply a satin finish.
The watch parts are once again placed into the ultrasonic cleaner to remove all polishing compound residue and then placed in a dryer to remove all moisture.
Stage IX - Movement Re-Assembly
When the loose watch parts are finished in the computerized cleaning station and dry, the watchmaker applies Epilim (a special compound) to select parts and jewels to prevent the oil from spreading.
There are five different types of synthetic oils that are used to lubricate the different parts inside of high-quality Swiss watches, with different viscosities depending on the amount of friction that each part is subjected to.
The movement is then completely reassembled. During this very tedious process the watchmaker checks to make sure that all parts have freedom of movement, and adjusts the height of the jewels to ensure that the movement has the lowest friction co-efficient possible.
When the movement has been assembled, the watchmaker adjusts the rate of the movement (how many seconds fast or slow the watch runs per 24 hours) in six different positions. Watches can run faster or slower depending on whether they are face up, or face down, due to the effect of gravity on the movement, so it is important to adjust the rate of the watch in all positions.
Stage X - Re-Assembly of the case
Now that the movement is reassembled it is time to reassemble the case. The crystal gasket is a friction fit type gasket and is pressed into the case. This can only be done during a complete service. The case tube is installed into the case using a special Loctite (an adhesive or sealant) to ensure it does not back out, and the crown is attached to the stem also using Loctite.
The dial is reseated onto the movement and the hands are reattached to the respective pinions, and the entire assembly is reinserted into the case.
At this point a machine is used to de-magnetize the movement. Magnetic fields can affect the performance of automatic movements by disrupting the rate and causing the movement to run erratically.
All the remaining gaskets are then installed including the back gasket, crown gasket, and case tube gasket. These gaskets ensure that your watch will remain water resistant to the depth specified by the manufacturer and will prevent dust and dirt from entering the movement.
The rate and amplitude is re-checked to ensure it is within tolerance and any adjustments that are needed are made. The watch is then ready to be sealed and will not need to be opened until the next service. A special key is used to seal the back of the watch.
Stage XI - Pressure Testing
Now that the watch is sealed, we need to test the watch to ensure that it is water resistant. The watch is tested in a dry pressure tester for both positive and negative pressure. This means that we apply negative presure to the watch to make sure that air cannot escape from the watch case, and then apply positive pressure to make sure the air cannot penetrate the watch case.
If the watch passes both tests, the watch is then taken to the real water pressure tester. The watch is submerged in real water and pressure is applied to simulate different depths of submersion. Different watches have different depth ratings, the watch we are following through this process is pressure proof to 330 feet (100 meters).
If the watch passes this final pressure test, the bracelet is reattached to the case and the clasp is adjusted.
Stage XI - Final Monitoring
With the watch finished and completely assembled, the watchmaker winds the watch fully (in the case of our watch 40 winds) and sets the time and date.
The watch is then placed on a watch rotator that simulates a watch being worn in the real world. The watch is rotated in all positions for 8 out of 24 hours, and the watch is monitored for 5 days with no winding. If the watch is keeping time within spec, it is ready for you to take home!
Your watch has gone through quite a journey! It will now look and perform like it did when it was purchased. With this type of maintenance your fine timepiece will last for generations to come.
At Joe Escobar Diamonds, our goal is to ensure that your watch will perform perfectly until your next scheduled service. Because of this, we rarely do partial repairs. In most cases, we need to do a complete service so that we can guarantee that your fine timepiece will be problem free. In fact, our watch service comes with a warranty that is equivalent to the warranty that you receive when you purchase a fine timepiece brand new.
Your timepiece is in excellent hands at Joe Escobar Diamonds, and will be pampered throughout the process until it is back on your wrist.