“Should I have my vintage Swiss watch restored?”
To the collector, this is a controversial question that can be difficult to answer. Even then, what restoration options do you choose? Restoration can be anything from a simple polish and tune-up to refinishing the case, replacing the crystal and changing the hands.
Restoration is an important process in watch repair that can keep the timepiece valuable and in good working order. Perhaps you found a watch a family member previously owned and you want to restore it to its former glory and keep it as an heirloom, but significant wear and tear will require repairs. In this case, you want to keep the same characteristics of the watch rather than replacing large parts with new materials.
Maybe you have come into possession of a vintage Swiss watch and you want to resell it to a collector, but to get a fair asking price, it will require some polishing and repair.
What Makes a Swiss Watch Vintage?
Swiss watches are popular for their standards of quality, even in older models that are considered vintage. These watches are almost all handmade with high-grade steel, making it resistant to corrosive substances, and a sapphire crystal face, giving it one of the hardest watch faces with scratch resistance. Unlike the common modern watch, Swiss watches are made to last a lifetime or longer.
The superior standards in Swiss watches mean they will sell at a higher price to collectors, and if you want to continue wearing the piece, they will last a long time given the proper care.
Wristwatches are considered vintage when they reach 20 years or older. Any time before that is simply considered old, but it will not necessarily increase the value as a collectible timepiece. These watches are typically hand-me-downs or old heirlooms that were once forgotten or lost.
A watch is considered antique when it is 100 years or older, but until that mark, they are only considered vintage.
There are very few antique wristwatches available in the world today. The first wristwatch was made in 1868 as accessories for women in higher society, but the first known model of modern men’s wristwatches was suspected to have been invented on the battlefield during World War I.
Why (and Why Not to) Repair or Restore Your Vintage Watch
“Should I have my vintage Swiss watch repaired?”
Yes, we believe that you should have your vintage watch repaired if there is extensive damage or wear to the internal mechanisms or visible wear that devalues the piece.
Unfortunately, it is becoming more difficult to find a true watch repairman, with less than 6,000 watchmakers in the United States according to The Inquirer. (1) Watch repair doesn’t seem like it is going out of style anytime soon, but with the birth of technology and cell phones quickly replacing our need for a watch, the watchmaking industry has taken a hit. Tradition, sentimental value and status symbols keep the watchmaking industry alive.
“If you have a piece that’s sentimental […] you will spend the money it takes to have it restored. But you have to trust the person who’s doing it.”
Allison Steele, The Inquirer
Why Have Your Vintage Swiss Watch Restored?
You should have your vintage Swiss watch restored if you find a timepiece that has undergone severe environmental wear. While Swiss watches are much more resistant to environmental factors, time is a cruel mistress that even these works of art are not invincible to.
Significant wear to the outer case of the watch can lead to internal damage. It is important to at least ensure that the case is sealed tightly and all the mechanisms inside are in proper working order.
You may also find a watch that has some damage to the numerals or hands inside the case, in which case, you will want to get replaced. If you do get anything replaced, you should make sure it is done with materials of similar weathering as to not look out of place.
When You Should Not Have Your Vintage Swiss Watch Restored
Having your vintage Swiss watch restored is controversial because the restoration process can devalue the timepiece if overdone, botching the project and destroying a sentimental piece worth thousands of dollars.
As a rule of restoration, if you have any doubts about proceeding with any method, then its best to consider other options.
If you want to preserve the characteristics and feel of the watch – say, if you find a family heirloom – then you may not want to have any body work done to the watch to preserve the small identifying marks. You should still have the watch serviced for any tuning or internal repairs that need to be done but restoring the look of the watch is unnecessary.
Benefits of Restoring a Vintage Swiss Watch
There are two main reasons that someone would want to restore a vintage Swiss watch. The first is that they found it with their great-grandfather’s belongings, or you are hoping to resell it later at a higher price
Benefit #1: Sentimental Value
Sentimental value is an intangible weight that we place on items based on our emotional attachment to a piece. Finding a late family member’s vintage Swiss watch is an incredible experience. Wiping the dust free from the watch just discovered and feeling each blemish in the casing, each imperfection telling another tale; that is something you cannot replace.
Each scratch and dent is a part of the watch, and replacing it would replace the history, but restoring it can bring out each imperfection and showcase its unique character.
Benefit #2: Resale Value
Surprisingly, the vintage watch market has been thriving under recent circumstances as collectors scramble to invest their money into timepieces they believe will save their financial future or give them a piece of history.(2)
“Vintage watches, not modern ones, seem to be untouchable for collectors. What old watches have over their newer counterparts is that they’re already out of production—they’re inherently limited and therefore typically scarcer.”
Cam Wolf, GQ Magazine
Despite technology dominating the market, wristwatches sustained in their popularity, even if their purpose has shifted over the years.
How Much Does It Cost to Repair a Vintage Swiss Watch?
With the limited availability of watchmakers today, prices have been driven up, making watch restoration an uncertain process for your wallet.
The overall cost of restoration varies depending on the condition of the watch and its legitimacy as a vintage Swiss watch.
Once you find a reputable service center, they will inspect the watch for any problems and may suggest specific restoration work. If monetary value is your goal, you can often tell whether a watch is worth restoring depending on the pieces that appear damaged.
For example, general maintenance and cleaning may only cost a few hundred dollars, but it will be impossible to resell watches with a cracked dial, which can easily range into the thousands to fix the one part.
Watch restoration is always a gamble. Self-repair that has damaged the inside of the watch can hurt the value and may require full pieces to be replaced, devaluing the piece further. Those pieces would need to be sourced from the same era and weathered to look fitting, which significantly increases the cost.
Generally, if you want your watch restored to its former beauty, with the right amount of money any restoration and repair work can be performed. The difference is in how much money you are willing to put into each piece, and what your restoration goals. It is up to you to balance the pros and cons and decide what feels right.
Options for Restoring Vintage Swiss Watches
If you decide to have your vintage Swiss watch restored, there are several options:
“As a rule of restoration, if you have any doubts about proceeding with any method, then its best to consider other options.”
Send it to the ManufacturerSome manufacturers offer watch repair and restoration services. If the brand you own is still in business, this is an option to pursue, but you often cannot walk into the manufacturer’s store and talk about what you want to be done to the watch. All correspondence typically must be done over the phone or through email.Not many people like the idea of sending their watch into an unknown repair center, however, and usually opt for one of the two other options.
Get an Estimator’s OpinionIf resale value is your goal, you should start by bringing the watch to a watch estimator. The specialist can tell you the watch’s current value, answer any questions you might have about the legitimacy of the watch, and offer suggestions for restoration work that would increase the value.
Bring it into a Specialized Repair CenterThe best option is to bring it into a specialized repair center with expert watchmakers who are already familiar with vintage Swiss watches.Watch Technicians in St. Louis offer modern and vintage Swiss watch repair and takes great care in preserving the sentimental and monetary value of your watch with every careful restoration. Walk-in or call for a free estimate.