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Do Old Watches Need More Love? Vintage Watch Care Tips From The Experts

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Paul Altieri

Just like anything mechanical, luxury watches require periodic maintenance to ensure that they remain in proper working order – and this is especially true when it comes to vintage Rolex watches. Brand new timepieces are freshly constructed and have zero wear on their components, meaning that they can often run for many years before they start to exhibit any issues. However, all watches will require maintenance at one point or another, and even Rolex recommends a full service every ten years to guarantee proper performance.

Rolex watches should only ever be serviced by trained professionals – either by a certified independent watchmaker or by one of Rolex’s own in-house service centers. However, if you own a collectible vintage model, there are a couple of additional factors you should consider when it comes to servicing your watch. If done incorrectly, having your Rolex serviced can actually have a negative impact on its value, so understanding the nuances of caring for a vintage Rolex watch is an important part of ownership.

So how exactly should you care for your vintage timepiece? Below are a few vintage watch care tips to help get you started.

Click here for our Ultimate Buying Guide on vintage Rolex watches.

Vintage Rolex Watches

Vintage Rolex Daytona 6239 Paul Newman

Practical Vintage Watch Care Tips

While service and repairs to vintage Rolex watches should only ever be performed by  trained professionals, there are a few things that you can do at home to help ensure that your timepiece stays looking fresh and running properly.

  1. Avoid accidental impacts – This applies to all watches, but it is especially important if you have a vintage model. While you don’t need to be overly protective, certain things (like the lume on the hands), may have decades worth of age and can often be more fragile on a vintage watch.
  2. Be careful around water – Vintage watches can often be less water resistant than their modern counterparts. Unless you have recently had your gaskets checked, take precautions to minimize the chances of moisture intrusion.
  3. Get a tube of PolyWatch – Most vintage Rolex watches have acrylic crystals, and although acrylic is softer than sapphire, you can easily remove most marks and scuffs with some PolyWatch, a soft cloth, and a few minutes of your time.
  4. Bring in your watch if it has any issues – Mechanical watches are tiny precision machines. If something seems amiss, it is in your best interest to have it checked out, because leaving issues unattended can often create additional problems and wear on components.

Vintage Rolex Submariner 5512 2-Line Dial Red Triangle Bezel

Rolex Service Center vs. Independent Watchmaker

While it may seem like a good idea to send your vintage watch back to Rolex for service, some collectors would advise against it – particularly if you have a rare or highly collectible model. Rolex’s primary goal when servicing a watch (vintage or modern) is to entirely restore all aspects of its functionality, and this may require the replacement of certain components.

Not only will Rolex replace any worn or damaged parts, including the dial, hands, crown, and bezel (along with a number of standard movement components), but it will also polish the case and bracelet during service, removing any marks and scratches that made your vintage Rolex watch unique. You can request that these things not be done when you submit your watch for a service estimate, but if your request risks compromising the watch’s functionality, Rolex may decline to service it entirely. While the replacement of most movement components rarely impacts resale value, vintage Rolex watches with replacement cases or dials can often be worth a fraction of what they would be otherwise.

The other option to consider is sending your Rolex to a private repair shop or independent watchmaker. When having your watch serviced by an independent, you will generally have a much greater say in matters such as whether or not your watch gets polished or the replacement of certain key components. With that in mind, not all independent service centers are equal and not all of them have access to genuine Rolex parts, so it’s imperative to find one that is actually up to the task of servicing your vintage watch.

Vintage Rolex Daytona 6265 Chronograph Movement

Replacement Parts on Vintage Watches

Even though it’s typically frowned upon to replace original components on vintage Rolex watches, there are some parts that may need to be replaced at one point or another in order to maintain functionality. Most movement components fall into this category, but there are also a number of other parts that might need to be replaced to preserve the integrity of the watch itself.

For example, replacing the crown may be done to restore water resistance, and the same goes with the crystal. While a watch can run just fine with a cracked crystal or a crown that does not screw down anymore, you are risking irreparable damage to important parts such as the dial, hands, and movement if you do not address the compromised components.

When it comes to many of the highly-collectible vintage Rolex watches, a significant portion of their value is often connected to their dials. Consequently, it can be almost impossible to find circa-correct replacements for these components if they ever become damaged, and replacing a less significant part such as a crown or crystal is often done as a preemptive measure to protect a collectible vintage dial that can never be replaced.

Vintage Rolex GMT-Master 1675 Gilt Dial

Functionality vs. Collectibility

Another area that you are going to want to consider is whether your primary objective is restoring functionality or preserving collectibility. A properly running watch will always be worth more than an otherwise identical one that is broken, but when it comes to other factors such as luminescence and water resistance, you may need to make a decision about what is actually important to you.

For example, Rolex watches are famous for their waterproof Oyster cases, but on a particularly old timepiece, wear and metal fatigue may have reached a point where the watch cannot be made water-resistant again without having its case replaced. However, this almost always has a negative impact on value and collectibility. Similarly, significant premiums are frequently attached to vintage Rolex dials with tritium lume. However, these dials do not glow anymore and there is no way to restore their luminescence, so you may need to decide whether your primary goal is restoring all aspects of your watch’s functionality, or preserving its value as a collector’s item.

Vintage Rolex watches make excellent timepieces for everyday wear and use; however, they can also be some of the most valuable and collectible luxury watches in the world. Regardless of whether your vintage Rolex is an investment piece or just a reliable daily timekeeper, knowing how to properly care for your watch will help ensure that it lasts a lifetime.

Vintage Rolex Sea-Dweller 1665 Double Red DRSD

Paul Altieri
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