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To Polish or Not to Polish

November 22, 2016

BY Ed Estlow


Your Rolex has been running fine for several years. But you’re the responsible type. You have the oil changed in your car every 3000 miles. You rotate the tires. You have your furnace checked every two years. You paint your house every seven.

And so it is with your Rollie. Every five years you want to have it cleaned, lubricated, and regulated back to factory specs.

So you take it to your authorized dealer for service. And they do a fine job, of course. And that fine job includes polishing the case. Your watch really looks brand new – and it runs that way too.

But here’s where the controversy begins. The scenario I just described horrifies some collectors.

You see, patina – the scrapes and dings, the fading lume and bezel (on a Submariner or GMT-Master, for instance), all the marks of the watch’s life well-lived – are gone. And in the case of many vintage watches, so is the value.


Vintage Sub with Patina Markers and Leather Band

Now, the last several years, Rolex has taken design and development steps to lessen the effects of patina. Better lume in the form of Chromalight. The use of 904L stainless steel, a material more durable and scratch resistant than previously used steels. Sapphire crystal instead of plastic.

Sapphire Crystal Rolex Blackout

Sapphire Crystal Rolex Blackout

All these improvements mean that in 30 or 40 years, the watch you buy new today will have gathered less patina than the same model from 30 or 40 years ago carries now. Is this good or bad? Well, you have to decide that question for yourself. If you are a collector/ connoisseur/ aficionado, you may answer one way. If you want a gorgeous looking and running mechanical marvel on your wrist, you may answer another.

You see, the question of whether or not to polish is a difficult – and personal – one. Not unlike whether or not a person should get a face lift. Or use age-defying skin cream. Or keep the body and engine of their car in tip-top shape, cosmetically as well as mechanically.

Let’s take a closer look at that car question for a minute. If you’ve ever been to a vintage car show, you know that everybody is gathered around the ’55 Chevy or well aged Ford Sunliner that’s either all-original or has been restored to perfection. Either way, the paint is gleaming, and the engine bay is spotless. Anything else is a work in progress, and is stated as such by the owner because no car guy wants to own up to a run-down, scratched up, paint-faded, rusted out ugly ride.


Photo Credit: Hugh Llewelyn

And yet, dollars to donuts, you’ll find one of those very guys – one of those owners with a pristine 60 year old car – wearing an old GMT-Master ref. 1675 with a scratched case, a stretched bracelet, and a faded Pepsi bezel.

So what gives? Why is a Sunliner from 1955 different than a Submariner from the same year? Why would a connoisseur treat the maintenance and upkeep of one any different than the other? Well, as my therapist once told me, there is no answer to any question that starts with “why.”

Should you get that case polished when you send your prized Rolex in for service?

You, my horological friend, will have to decide.



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