An Inside Look At Rolex World Service
Taking care of business also means taking care of your watch.
Like a car or house, when you purchase a fine watch, it’s understood that you need to invest in its care and feeding. That means regular servicing. And depending on who you ask, that means a service every five to ten years. But having a tried-and-true service provider is still a matter of much concern for collectors.
Finding a trusted watchmaker can be tricky. The truth is there aren’t as many folks trained to take care of mechanical watches as there used to be. On top of that, it’s harder to source certified repair centers, which adds to the cost of upkeep. Taking your timepiece to a dedicated service center or official retailer is usually the simplest solution.
If you choose to take your timepiece into an authorized dealer, however, there may be someone who will scare you with stories about your watch being sent to Switzerland to get work done, which means you may have to wait from months to a year to get your baby back.
To educate consumers about their concerns, Rolex recently pulled back the curtain on its after-care commitment. Here’s a step-by-step account of Rolex’s World Service.
Making the Call
Rolex prides itself on the durability of its timepieces. And it credits a lot of this longevity to the global after-sales service network of official retailers and service centers. Whether a customer buys their timepiece in Vancouver but lives in Atlanta, the beauty of this network is they can bring it into any service center or retailer in the world and expect to receive the same Rolex-standard level of care.
The baseline of upkeep requires that a watchmaker or technician completely disassemble the timepiece, clean and inspect all its mechanical components, replace any damaged or worn parts, clean and polish the case, replace the gaskets, and measured for accuracy.
The first step is contacting your local service center or retailer to inquire about costs and timelines. Based on your model number and location, they should be able to provide some direction on costs and timelines. Some collectors may want to preserve the battle scars of their watches, so if you don’t want hands replaced or cases polished, this is the time to make those requests known.
Parts and Labor
One of Rolex’s goals is to have service be as much of a positive experience as buying a watch is.
Rolex World Service has centers around the world, so chances are, your watch won’t have to travel too far for upkeep. And one of its most impressive centers is its eight-story facility in the Harwood District of Dallas, designed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Although opened just two years ago, in 2018, the company has been committed to the Dallas community for much longer. In fact, the new structure is beside the building where the brand had operated since the 1980s.
And while the company has just launched a new campaign to raise awareness of its worldwide facilities, global service centers have existed since 1915. Founder Hans Wilsdorf instilled a philosophy of perpetual excellence into the DNA of the brand. That meant establishing a network of watchmaking workshops around the world to preserve their technical performance and appearance. The goal was to ensure that each Rolex could live several lives.
And while repair work for a Rolex generally starts around $600 for modern timepieces and $1,100 for vintage models (again, barring any unfortunate accidents), a small price to pay for something that will work hard for generations.
Following servicing by a Rolex World Service workshop, each watch also benefits from a two-year international service guarantee covering the parts and labor.
A Specific Set of Skills
All watchmakers working in the brand’s after-sales service workshops are trained in-house. These Rolex watchmakers – at least one in every shop – take regular courses to keep updated on the latest product innovations.
Since 2018, the company has offered specialized instruction at the Rolex Training Centre in Geneva to focus on advances in teaching and technology. Rolex also provides an eighteen-month program – Rolex Watchmaking Training – to its affiliates. Once this is complete, the watchmaker can carry out full servicing on Oyster movements.
Having your Rolex serviced requires special skills and specific tools. These instruments have been tested and sometimes even developed by the brand to, again, ensure consistency of care.
Basic repairs happen at the retailer, ensuring a pretty quick turnaround. At most Rolex points of sale, certified watchmakers may offer several same-day services such as changing bracelets, adjusting links, and refinishing the case.
More complicated procedures, like a complete overhaul of the watch movement, are done at the nearest Rolex World Service center. The brand has workshops on all continents (except Antarctica), and they are based at official retailers or the regional affiliates’ offices.
Historic timepieces that need repairs get sent to Rolex World Headquarters in Geneva.
Once a watch is received, assessed, and the service estimate approved by the customer, Rolex watchmakers begin to disassemble the timepiece. First, the bracelet is separated from the case. Then the movement, still fitted with its dial and hands, is removed from the case. At this stage, the movement, case, and bracelet go on separate journeys.
The dial and hands are detached from the movement, which is, itself, completely dismantled. Then, each component is carefully examined to determine whether it still meets Rolex requirements. If this is not the case, the movement component gets replaced with a new part from the manufacture in Bienne, where Rolex movements are produced.
If everything is kosher and nothing needs replacing, the components are cleaned in an ultrasonic bath to remove all traces of dirt. Then they are delicately dried before being reassembled piece by piece in a set order. The next step is adding fresh lubrication then readjusting and timing the caliber. And finally, the watchmaker refits the dial and hands.
The case is taken apart so that, whether made from Oystersteel, 18-karat gold, or 950 platinum, the parts can be re-polished or satin-finished by hand. This process calls for a deft touch because some collectors prefer to keep scratches and nicks.
Next, gaskets are replaced, and the crystal, bezel, and middle case are reassembled.
The bracelet receives similar treatment as the case in that each link is polished or satin-finished to restore the original finish or to the customer's specifications. The bracelet is also thoroughly cleaned. You would be surprised (and disgusted) to learn how grimy links can get. Plus, accumulated soap and lotion residue can severely dull the luster of stainless steel and gold.
Once everything is reassembled, the watchmaker measures the timepiece’s accuracy, making any adjustments necessary to achieve the expected chronometric performance. The accuracy test is followed by a precision test that lasts a minimum of 24 hours. Next, the case is pressure-tested in water to make sure those new gaskets are doing their job.
Then comes the last step: checking the rate, functions, and aesthetics of the watch to make sure they meet the company’s exacting standards. When it passes all the control stages, the timepiece goes into a protective pouch.
For the exceptional historic watches sent to the Restoration Atelier in Geneva, master watchmakers provide case-by-case historical research and combine traditional and state-of-the-art techniques to keep collector’s timepieces ticking. Components that no longer meet Rolex’s quality criteria can be restored or perfectly recreated using techniques of the period. These extra steps protect your investment (financially and emotionally) by adding to the provenance of your Rolex. Each restoration service comes complete with traceability of the work realized. And the restored watch is returned in a special presentation box, accompanied by a personalized booklet recounting its service history.
For Rolex enthusiasts, it’s nice to know there are options and trust. After all, each serviced Rolex comes with a two-year international guarantee covering the parts and labor.
(Images © Rolex / Denis Hayoun)