“Built like a Swiss watch” is a metaphor that’s used to denote something that’s made with the utmost precision and skill, and because of that is expected to last a very long time.
However, the reality is that no matter how expensive the watch or where it’s made (even if it’s Switzerland), every watch will need either cleaning or repair if it’s been around long enough. Watches have a lot of tiny precision parts and things can go wrong inside them, so there’s a need to open them up once in awhile and fix the problem.
Repairs can be costly, and some watch manufacturers actually make a bigger profit on repairs than on selling new watches. The cost is an important consideration when you are faced with a watch that needs repair – it is sometimes less expensive to buy a new watch than to repair the broken one. Of course, if the watch is a family heirloom, or has sentimental value, the price tag for the repairs may mean a lot less to you. It’s better to take the long view if you have a watch that’s a family heirloom – even if you don’t care about it that much, get the repairs done anyway. The watch may mean a lot to someone in the next generation, so it’s important to keep it running.
One thing to remember, however, is that it’s actually easier to repair a 100 year old watch than one that was made yesterday. That’s because in the old days watches were expected to need repair once in awhile, and watchmakers were trained to do the necessary repairs, but the theory behind modern watches is that people will just throw them out when they break, and buy a new one.
Another consideration is that if your watch has the characteristics of jewelry, like diamonds on the case, watchmakers prefer to leave those types of repairs to jewelers.
What about cleaning or servicing your watch? Is that really necessary? It depends. Water resistant watches will last 3-5 years, but some experts say you should have the seals checked once a year to maintain the water resistance. Then too, if you consider that a watch is every much a precision machine as a car, you could take the attitude that it needs regular checkups just like an automobile in order to function properly.
Just like with a car engine, the performance of a watch can suffer because of exposure to too much dust and dirt, and it can even need an oil change once in awhile. A newly cleaned and oiled watch will work better because it will have less corrosion and dirt on the parts. Years ago watches needed cleaning once a year, but we live in a cleaner environment these days and that’s not necessary in most cases.
There are differences of opinion about whether a watch needs regular cleaning, and some say that it’s not worth the risk of something going wrong when the watch is opened (losing or breaking parts, for instance). Also, some cleaning agents can actually dull the finish of the watch, or even damage it. Plus, of course, you have the watchmaker’s bill for cleaning, which can be hefty.
There is no debate about cleaning or repair if your watch gets wet, however. If you can see moisture inside the crystal, or if you know the insides have gotten wet, you should immediately get the watch looked at by an expert. Don’t believe the “waterproof” label on a vintage watch if you know it’s been exposed to moisture – get it checked out right away. And water resistant watches can be a problem too, because they trap water inside, where it will do the most damage.
Older watches are especially susceptible to dust, which wreaks havoc on sensitive gears and surfaces. Dust abrades the metal, causing friction, and even changing the shape and performance of the gears. Once this happens the machinery of the watch will never work as well, and it will need to be replaced or repaired.
A good watch is a piece of precision machinery that will work well if you keep it clean and well maintained. You can’t just put the watch on your wrist every day for years and forget about it, if you want to keep it in good working order for years to come. It’s an investment that pays dividends, however, in preserving a precision timepiece for yourself and even future generations of loved ones.
If you do that, then your timepiece will be a timeless treasure!