23 May 2024

The Art of Watch Restoration

Restoring luxury watches to their former glory is both an art and a science. It takes years for our team to learn the skills needed to repair and maintain horological instruments precisely, so they maintain their function in line with the manufacturer’s exacting standards.

Watch restoration is a fascinating topic, and best practices will vary slightly between brands. Plus, some older watches will be more desirable if their parts show slight signs of wear – so it’s not always a great idea to restore a watch to the point where it looks brand new. This means our restorers need to strike the balance between doing what’s necessary to keep the watch performing at its best and allowing it to maintain its unique and historical features.

Here, we’ve outlined some of the areas that will often need to be addressed when restoring watches from the world’s most famous luxury watchmakers, including Omega, Rolex, Breitling, and Cartier.

Remember, though, that restoration recommendations will vary depending on the age, model, and condition of your watch – and this is why it’s always best to get a professional opinion before making any changes to your item, cosmetic or otherwise.

Maintaining the crown

The watch crown (or winding crown, as it is also known), is the small, knob-like component on the side of the case that allows you to set the time and date, and wind the watch’s movement to keep it running. If it’s been damaged or removed entirely, there’s a risk that dirt, dust, and other agents will enter the watch and affect its mechanical performance.

In most cases, any crown can be inserted into the watch as a temporary measure to prevent this from happening – but to maintain the watch’s value, you’ll need to source an original.

Looking after the glass, dial and hands

Perhaps the most visually important parts of your watch, the glass, dial, and hands need to be preserved so the piece looks its best. It’s true that every scratch tells a story, so if your watch has particular sentimental or historical value, it will be more in keeping with its heritage to leave slightly damaged glasswork be. If you want to wear your watch from day to day, however, replacing the glass screen for a smoother, more appealing finish might be the best way forward.

Dials are fragile, and repainting or restoring them is tricky business indeed. Sometimes, evidence of the dial’s ageing can work to your advantage; it’s testament to the piece’s legacy. Our team will assess every dial repair requirement on its own merit and advise to what extent it needs to be restored. The same goes for the hands, as suitable replacements can be difficult to source. If they are exceptionally dirty, it’s often more advisable to clean the hands ultrasonically rather than polish them, as the latter could change their shape or cause noticeable damage.

Restoring the bezel

Collectors often go out of their way to find faded bezels that will match the age-worn aesthetic of their pieces. They are one of the most important parts of the watch from a structural perspective, so functionality and suitability often win out over a glossy look. Grooved markers can be repainted if necessary.

Optimising movement

Mechanical parts should be replaced in a way that doesn’t damage the integrity of the piece. However, anything worn or damaged will always be replaced, during the service. When it comes to Rolex watch restorations, key components like the mainspring are replaced as standard every time the piece is serviced.

Polishing the case

Every watch owner wants to wear a sparkling timepiece with pride – but did you know that over-polishing could actually devalue your investment in the longer term?

Abrasive polishing compounds are used to give the piece that desirable shine, and the methods used during the polishing process will remove a thin layer of metal. Eroding too much of the surface could soften and reshape the lugs and other edges that are distinctive to the model, changing the design irreversibly. For this reason, Cartier, for example, recommends that polishing is only carried out twice during the lifetime of its white gold watches, and three times during the lifetime of its yellow gold watches.

The bottom line is, not every scratch needs to be removed if this means damaging the aesthetic integrity of the piece. Make sure your watch is polished lightly and sympathetically, and rest easy knowing that vintage investments are often at their best when they show signs of character!

The above is just a small snapshot into the significant amount of work that goes into every watch restoration. Whether you’re looking to revitalise your Rolex, bring your Omega, Cartier, or Breitling watch back to its former glory, or breathe fresh life into your Tissot, Hublot, or Tag Heuer timepiece, you can rest assured that the experts here at Luxury Watch Repairs will treat your project with care. We approach every watch restoration on a case-by-case basis and will only suggest work that will maintain or improve your precious watch.

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