Over the last 30 years or so of being in this trade, I’ve found it interesting to observe the trends of watches and their size, going from small to large and possibly reverting back to a more wrist palatable size… thank goodness!
Back in the day, and I’m speaking of WAY before my time, a gentleman of the 1850’s could be sporting a watch (in his vest pocket) of generous proportions, measuring roughly 2 1/2 inches in diameter and ¾ inches thick. It is no wonder that somewhere along the line, these watches garnished the derogatory term of “turnips”. The bulge in the vest pocket was not quite so great as to elicit a greeting “happy to see you, too”...but these timepieces were robust, hefty and prior to the industrial revolution, mostly handmade. This was the style, manly.
Long about 1915 or so, WWI ushered in a new era. Genuine ingenuity spurred on by chance, necessity or a combination of both, created the wrist watch. Prior to this, a man would not be caught dead wearing a “bracelet watch” as it would have been deemed far too effeminate. But in matters of war, one must risk masculine persecution in an effort to save one’s personal hide! So, ladies pendant watches were adapted to be fitted with a strap and could be worn by soldiers in battle more effectively than stuffing a turnip into one’s uniform trousers. On the wrist, the timepiece proved to be more effective and accessible.
The above stylistic change was mostly, in my view, by necessity and less a product of public fashion whim. But what was also happening at the same time, was that the pocket watch was becoming more refined. This included stylistic and characteristic changes in the dimensions of the American pocket watch. Initially, the 18 size was the standard, with a case that weighed in at 2-4 oz. The new favorite was the 16 size and even 12 size (1915 era). Compare the difference of these two.
The newer watches were becoming slimmer and more elegant. Elements of the dial graphics were changing too. Roman numerals and Arabic appeared to be almost equal in use, but Arabic was slowly taking over.
Jump forward 40-50 years and pocket watch use was in decline. The wristwatch had become the timepiece of choice among the general public, who viewed the watch as a tool - not in the pocket but proudly adorning the wrist of a gentleman, refined and manly. They became slim, elegant and in some instances, offering more than just the time of day.
As we approach 2020, I have come to observe over the last 30 years, that watch sizes have, on occasion, achieved proportions that could only be described as gargantuan; testosterone infused horological madness on the wrist. The worst part is, most of these oversized tire chain timepieces house nothing more than a dime sized quartz movement costing 1/20th the price of the watch!
What’s more, the designers and manufacturers of these “timepieces” care little about the serviceability of their product. This is not to say that finer brands have not gone “big”. Even Rolex and other prominent brands have created oversized watches to follow the trend. And in some cases, I think they missed the boat.
When I first opened the Last Wind-Up in 1990, nobody, and I mean nobody, ever asked “is this a 38 mm case or a 40?” This is something that I’ve only experienced in the last 10-15 years and it perplexes me. Please excuse the overtones, but if the watch looks and feels right on your wrist, what more do you need? I have a metric dial caliper if you need one.
What you wear is a matter of your own personal taste. Men’s watches of the 1960’s and 70’s are now adorning the wrists of women. Men’s watches have grown and I predict that the proportions of these horological hockey pucks will diminish over time to a more “gender-neutral” size. In the end, it is what YOU want to see on your wrist that matters, and it is much more polite to look at your wrist than your cell phone. Call me old fashioned, but I am!
Spring has finally sprung in the Gallatin Valley. And business has been picking up, as usual. Kids are out of school and the foot traffic has been a welcome sight!
Some interesting thoughts about the last few weeks. I’m seeing an upsurge in enthusiasm for the wrist watch, be it in a nostalgic or utilitarian way, I’m not able to accurately ascertain. As some may have thought that the iPhone and other “smart” devices would supplant the use of a wrist adornment to offer the time, I beg to differ based on my field observations.
One particularly poignant example of such is the recent reissue of a 1979 Timex Q wrist watch. Three pieces were delivered to my shop on Friday morning and were sold within two hours. To be fair, one purchaser was, and has been, a very enthusiastic customer of mine for a number of years. He committed to two pieces before we even had them. The other was a customer with a Pepsi GMT Rolex. When one of my staff noticed the watch on his wrist, he rightfully offered our “Pepsi” Timex. Sold! Sold out in TWO hours! The call into Timex that afternoon was to order 18 more pieces. Some have already been reserved. Who knew?!
And on the other end of the spectrum, I received an email from a client who sent in a family piece, a lovely Universal Geneve steel cased watch that was likely from the 1940-50’s era. I’d restored his inherited watch and was thoroughly ready to start my Monday with a bang after reading his email. This is why I do what I do.
You do incredible work. My grandfather's Universal Geneve looks and runs out-of-the-box new. Absolutely incredible high-quality craftsmanship!
Can't thank you enough for bringing the function and shine back to this meaningful treasure.
Also - Thank you for keeping items from yesterday alive in the present and moving into tomorrow. The restoration work you do is so important in the all-to-often disposable culture that surrounds us today. And I really appreciate it.
Next time I'm in Bozeman, I'd love to stop into your shop and thank you in person, until then - happy trails!
Matt, thanks for your patronage. I trust the watch of your grandfather will be passed down to equally enthusiastic members of the family to treasure for years to come.
As I approach 9000 working days since I opened The Last Wind-Up, these stories never get old. For this I am grateful.
With as harsh a winter as an easterner might expect a Montanan to live through on a regular basis, one might think that I’d had time to pen a new entry to the journal. Not so. Everything slowed down to a crawl, slower than a tow truck can make it to your home during a snowstorm, slower than you can take the hydraulics off your plowing vehicle in the dark at nearly 20 below zero. But then there’s respite for those who persist. For some it is the first sign of crocus poking through the last dusting of snow. For this body, it was the comfort of the crinkling sound of starched palm fronds on the Mayan peninsula of Mexico with my family, a limited supply of clothing and three carefully selected books in my carry-on, to relish spring break!
I’m one who would prefer to remain a non tourist. I like to leave all of my work at home when visiting such places and then I get the uncontrollable urge to go into the only watch store in town…. Rolex, Breguet, Breitling, Rado, Omega etc…. I speak with the manager, I have to! I feel obliged to inform and commiserate with him (like he does not already know) what Rolex and the other brands are doing to the independent watchmaker. Not only that, he’s fully aware and likewise relatively stoic (in a rollie kinda way) that his display is nearly devoid of anything made of steel in a kinda sporty way. There is hardly one sport model Rolex in his showcase. One GMT and a Yachtmaster. Everything else was meant to impress your martini drinking country club members. I offer some conversation about the industry and we part. He’s doing his best.
Back to the shade with a book I retreat and I’m saving the best for last…. or at least I hope so. First - A guy who eludes the law into the wilds of Maine for 25+ years. Second a murder mystery by a local Bozeman author titled the Kiss of the Crazies (liked the local connection). Last one, shrink wrapped and handed to me by J.L.K. Davis, widow of David E. Davis Jr. (see last journal entry), titled “Thus Spake David E.” I told Jeannie Davis that it was saved for this occasion (vacation) about the only time I ever get to read 3 books cover to cover in under a week. This morning, shrink wrap removed, I delved into the world of a guy who lived and breathed automobiles. Sure, he liked outrageously fantastic Italian, German and some British cars but his passion for what he was able to offer his readers was more that just high-ticket Robb Reporting glossy images of four tires on a stunning European roadway that one of modest means could only dream of attaining. David offered to his readers everything from the humble to the extravagant in a way that would make us all appreciate having asked him to dinner.
This week long reprieve has offered me an opportunity to reflect that it does not matter what four wheels are under your butt or what’s strapped to your wrist. All have an emotional connection, be it personal, historical, technical or functional. David E. Davis, Jr. reaffirmed that loving what you do is what’s most important. Whether it be your first Seiko dive watch, a gifted graduation Omega or your dad’s grandfather’s pocket watch, they all pull on the emotional heartstrings; the way you felt the first time you got behind the wheel of your parent’s second hand car and pushed the limits or buried the family Subaru in the snow bank. In a timepiece way of thinking, did you soak in the hot-tub, recklessly and not intentionally, testing the water resistance of the heirloom timepiece?
Enjoy the part of your wrist (or pocket) that hosts a timepiece…whatever it may be. You will look at it many times a day so it should be something that pleases your eyes and other emotional senses at least. If it offers you other features that pertain to altitude, water depth, timing or phases of the moon, so be it. It’s your wrist, your timepiece, and you will find and gain pleasure from glancing at it every time… no pun intended.
I’ve handled my fair share of watches from iconic manufacturers, Patek, Rolex etc. But when there is provenance, how does the value of that watch become more than just the sum of the parts?
This past year, a Rolex Daytona, owned by and years later dubbed the “Paul Newman Daytona”, sold for a record $17,000,000. The watch was gifted to him by Joanne Woodward and inscribed “Drive Safe, Me” He wore that model watch, made it famous and it became known as the Paul Newman Daytona. But this was Paul Newman’s Paul Newman Daytona! OK, I’ve not handled this caliber of watch but in my mind, all watches have a story. The ones that come with some level of provenance can and often bring to the prospective buyer a sense of history or association with a time and place to elevate its value beyond “just a watch”.
Albert Einstein's Longines - $596,000, Eric Clapton’s Patek Philippe - $3.6 million, Babe Ruth’s Gruen pocket watch - $717,000, Dave Scott’s Bulova (Apollo 15) $1.3 million. These have all inspired a wonderment that can only pluck a heartstring of emotions to the enthusiast of watches and the famous.
Two particular watches in my collection that have historical significance by virtue of who owned them are treasures to me. One of the watches might not even bring $500 on the open market without this connection. But it is this connection that makes this watch important to me and maybe to someone in the future. A Gallet World Timer Chronograph, a tool watch with a model name of Flight Officer. This one having the name of David E. Davis Jr. inscribed on the back.
Saying that David E. Davis was an automotive enthusiast is like saying that Fred Astaire liked to dance. Albeit not a “car and driver” watch with a tachymeter scale on the periphery of the dial, this one appealed to me because I took part in the very first Going to the Sun Rally and got a chance to meet the man, a prolific writer in the automobile industry, founder of Automobile Magazine, contributor to Car and Driver and founder of the online magazine Winding Road.
On the other end of the scale of horological treasures, sits humble Timex Marlin, the first watch Timex has made in almost 20 years with a mechanical, hand wound movement. After a convoluted series of events that culminated in the Last Wind-Up getting the account, I received this watch as a token from the CEO of Timex, Tobias Reiss-Schmidt. For a watch that retails under $200, this watch means way more to me and will mean more to those who appreciate provenance in years to come because of this connection and the preservation of its history.
Assembling provenance can be challenging especially if there are gaps in generations. I’ve experienced this with some watches and yet find it a terribly fulfilling goal. There is always more to garnish and help establish a foundation for the piece, more color to add and more of a completeness to solidify. Get it while you can because there is more value to a piece than just the sum of its parts. Afterall, if the Rolex Daytona that sold for $17 million had not been Paul Newman’s, it might have only brought $50,000. Just my 2¢.
Where the most of my business on a day to day basis is assisting customers with relatively simple jobs of replacing batteries and fitting new straps, there are a number of jobs that are clearly more of the passionate, heirloom variety. Collectors will sometimes send me their long overdue watch for service or a father will ask me to restore his father’s vintage wristwatch or pocket watch to be passed on to the next generation. Once and a while I’m offered something special… not the watch necessarily, but the story.
I started thinking about this a year ago when my father, now in his early 80’s, came into the shop and handed me a watch. No fanfare, no gifting episode…. He just handed the watch to me and said “do what you want with it”. OK, maybe it wasn’t quite so off the cuff, but my dad is not known for his pomp. What he gave me was his graduation watch, gifted and engraved to him by his parents. After a few months, the significance of this watch awakened my mind to something intrinsically distinct about a watch. My dad always wore this piece, he looked at it multiple times a day, his schedule was determined and regulated by this humble yet amazingly, intricate machine. The tick that he heard 60+ years ago is the same that echoes in this stainless steel case today. The engagement of his fingers on the winding crown is the same as when I offer it to my wrist for a special occasion. There are very few items in one’s life that can hold these similar features and sentiments.
A few weeks ago, a gentleman sent in a watch from Malta, Montana. The watch was passed down to him from his mother. When I first looked at it, I had a feeling… this was going to be a challenge. The watch, a fine example of the factory of Hamilton, was a 992, a railroad grade pocket watch, made to keep very accurate time. Upon initial inspection, I was suspect. The enamel dial had a corrosive material and the hour hand was partially there. Once I opened the case to peer into the movement, it was evident that the watch was a rust bucket. The hairspring was nothing more than a blob of deteriorated steel. Much of the rest of the works were in equally rough condition. I called the owner and asked what he specifically wanted done to this disaster. He told me he wished I could make it run but wanted nothing done to the case or dial… leave the evidence there. Being curious, I inquired. He then told me the story. His grandfather, whom he’d never met, was out feeding his cattle sometime in about 1920, and did not return. A search party was sent out to find him to no avail. The next spring, nothing. Four years later, a skull was found and it was identified by the widow as her husband. Not far from the skull, a small pile of bones and a Hamilton pocket watch was also found. This clearly identified the deceased.
The watch is now back with the grandson, happily ticking away and keeping time as it did when his grandfather ventured into the canyon to feed his livestock. I find it immeasurably gratifying to know that although my customer never heard his grandfather speak in person, he can now hear the same ticking of his watch.
A terribly long winter and wet spring has and is still enveloping Bozeman and most of southwest Montana this year, and has offered ample time to ruminate on the direction of the business, its buying trends, and its future. The most highly attended show for watches and all sub industries in the world, the Basel Fair in Switzerland, offered some insight this year, and the global trade reports likewise actively indicated a healthy market for not only new watches, but vintage pieces as well.
But where is the Last Wind-Up in all of this? On our end there’s been a strong influx of watches that have been inherited, passed down from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters alike. These treasured heirlooms are then brought in with the sole idea that they should be preserved, and are met with open arms. All too often most of the recipients of these hallowed pieces have never handled or been taught anything about the mechanical timepieces they receive, and their questions illuminate the newness of the experience. How do I wind it? How often should I wind it? How long will it run? Can I set the hands backwards? I have to remind myself constantly of the words of Barry Marcus, featured in my first entry in this journal, that, “it is not about the watch, it is about the customer.” Sometimes it does seem like these customers can’t see the forest for the trees, but on the other hand I too at times can’t see the trees for the forest. These questions raised to me tell me I’ve been part of this industry and craft long enough that it boggles me to think that this knowledge so basic to me could be completely unheard of to them. Though transversely, I’m not excusing myself from that same pattern of behavior - when technological issues arise in my world, I seek those at least half my age for solutions based on what is to them equally pedestrian knowledge. I like to think the pot and the kettle need to give each other and themselves more slack, and that perhaps exchanges like this instead of being discouraging are just the perpetual give and take that has to happen with unique knowledges. How can any of us expect others to know what they have not been taught, especially if we are not willing to teach them ourselves?
Just this evening I was forwarded a news article about how schools are changing over to digital clocks in classrooms because they are finding that students are able to tell the time easier with numbers rather than with hands. This was slightly disheartening to me, to say the least. Yet a number of years ago a customer came into the shop who still wanted analog watches to offer her students so that they would learn to read time with hands. We gladly offered her twenty-some silicone “slap watches” that had numbers and hands. I was pleased that they were headed to a local elementary school, and that not all schools were following the trend claimed in that article.
George Keremedjev, long time friend and director of the American Computer & Robotics Museum here in Bozeman, told me a story some years ago about a young high school couple who came through his museum. They were observing the Apollo 15 lunar mission watch, an Omega Speedmaster worn by Dave Scott in 1971. They were apparently disgruntled because they couldn’t read the time due to the of the lack of numerals…. and too many hands! Granted, I’ll give them a little room for the number of hands but really, one could say that reading a watch face without numbers isn’t exactly rocket science!
On the optimistic side of things, in the last month we’ve sold a number of vintage Omega watches to young men who are easily 30 years their watches’ junior ...and who had no trouble telling the time regardless of the lack of numerals. That they are buying watches that were made when their parents were kids definitely made my heart smile. When the world and the happenings of mankind seem to be being marked only by the click of a mouse, there is some solace in the idea that there are still those - young and old alike - who deem the tick of the mechanical watch worthwhile. For those of us who do, it is not only a preferred means of marking the passage of time, but also a means of engaging and reinvigorating an appreciation for things that tick rather than click regardless of what era they are from. Most can expect the intrusion of a text from a family member or friend at some point during the day, but there is something intrinsically nostalgic and gentle about being able to choose roll over one’s wrist to check the time of day and take that split second to re-orient. Even more engaging is the concept of winding one’s watch in the morning - feed the dog, take out the trash, and wind your watch before you have to go and tackle your day. Whether some believe it or not we have time for this - we should have time for this - and we should strive to make time for these simple and elegant rituals. They are what keep us connected, engaged, and mindful of our place and our time in this ever hastening world.
As we ring in the new year, I thought it appropriate to offer my thoughts about 2017, as well as attempt to keep abreast with the industry and reflect on the significance of the watch and its part in our lives.
The past year saw some highlights in the auctioning of watches, which predicate my overall sentiments. The first incident was with the Rolex Bao Dai, a very rare and complex model with known provenance which, selling for 5 million USD, earned itself the highest price paid for a wristwatch at auction. Not a few months later that record was shattered with the sale of Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman” Daytona, bringing in over 17 million USD. These two pieces, albeit iconic, re-established much more than just the possibility for such investments or record-setting pieces of horology. They affirm to me that the legacy a timepiece holds is intrinsically important. Whether famous or not, the watch itself has an endearing quality that has, does, and should continue to be deserving of heirloom status.
I am constantly asked if a humble 100 year old, 15 jewel Waltham or Elgin pocket watch is worth the charge of an overhaul. My response is generally something akin to, “is it worth it to you?” Responses vary, but facts often inform the final decision. These extremely well-made pieces of American and Swiss watch manufacturing are built to be serviced - they are designed to be disassembled and reassembled many times. Well maintained, they will last for generations. Having serviced watches that are easily 3-4+ generations old (1700’s – 1800’s), I can attest to the abilities and craftsmanship these early horologists put into their timepieces. Because of that same care, they are functional heirlooms that ideally should be used and serviced to extend their longevity as a family piece.
There’s another question that I am asked frequently: Are watches on their way out? I say no. The cell phone (which some call the modern-day pocket watch) may have made an impact on the number of watches worn on the wrist, but I can attest to the lingering popularity of the wrist watch. The mechanical watch survived the quartz watch crisis of the 1970’s, and has rebounded healthily. Admittedly, trends, as they always have been, are a rotating door. Ladies watches that were popular in the 1940’s-1960’s are not in favor today - their diminutive size is not in fashion, even aside from the fact that they are terribly difficult to read! On the opposite end of the spectrum, modern men’s watches have grown to seemingly gargantuan sizes. Most Swiss or American brands would never have considered making watches of such great size even 40 years ago, and the shift away from that standard is evident in new watches that come from contemporary manufacturers. Even further back, in the early 1900’s there was a strong trend for gentleman’s watches to be thinner and smaller in diameter, which brought size 12 dress watches to be favored in the vest pockets of many gentlemen in the 1920’s. But by the 1930’s, men’s watches started to move from the pocket to the wrist.
As the old adage says, what goes around comes around. It is not uncommon for a female customer to bring in a gents watch of the 1960’s or later – their father’s or grandfather’s timepiece that they are now wearing. But given all this, I cannot imagine a complete lack of attachment for an object as important as a wrist or pocket watch, be it a family heirloom or a personal accessory. We’re all guided by time and its passage. Seeing the passage of time by means of hands is far gentler and more significant to one’s place in the world than the changing of digits, perhaps especially when those hands have marked time for others before us and may even continue to do so after us.
So happy 2018 to all of my customers near and far, and may your timepiece, be it a family treasure or a new treasure in the making, remind you of not only the years passed, but also of those yet to come… and may all the years to come fare - and be kept - well.
For those old enough to remember the advertising campaigns of the 1950’s and 60’s, the Timex brand was reborn with the assistance of John Cameron Swayze. The company had its roots in Waterbury, Connecticut where it was founded in 1854. Over the years, names and products changed, but by the mid 1900’s, Timex was a brand synonymous with affordable, quality wristwatches.
A number of years ago, I was searching for something related to Timex when I found a collectors group that was focused on the early Timex watches. Like most collectors groups, these folks had an avid and formidable following. And as serendipitous as it might be, there is the “holy grail” of all Timex watches. It was their last hand-wound mechanical timepiece. It was issued as a limited edition in 1996 and was aptly called “The Last Wind-Up”. Well, it didn’t take me long to start searching for one of these.
A couple of months later, an eBay search notified me that such a watch was just listed for sale. Within minutes, I purchased it. Then moments later, another. Bought it too… from the same seller! I reached out and asked “How many have you got?” I bought four of them… three with consecutive serial numbers. For the collector, this was a major coup!
Some years later, an employee of mine suggested that we should consider selling the Timex line. I looked over the models and thought that there were a number of pieces in the collection that would certainly find favor in the store. We could say “from Timex to Rolex… The Last Wind-Up has watches for all”. Needless to say, with a bit of work, we managed to secure the account, and as a token of appreciation I sent the one non-sequential “Last Wind-Up” model from 1996 to the CEO with a letter extolling my passion for watches that “tick” and a recommendation that Timex get back into the ticking business.
A couple of months had passed and I’d heard nothing. Strange, I thought. Then one day last month, we discovered that Timex was issuing a new hand wound timepiece again. It was a throw-back to the 1960’s called the Marlin. Simple, elegant lines and, not to be too cheeky, an engaging timepiece of modest proportions. I immediately contacted my representative from Timex and asked if I could stock the model. In the spring of 2018 the watch will be available to brick and mortar retailers. I was hoping to catch the wave… but will have to wait for the next one.
A few weeks passed, and then a package arrived in the mail from Timex. One Marlin… and a gracious note from the CEO thanking me for the last “Last Wind-Up” and assuring me that Timex has a lot of great things planned for the future. I can’t wait!
Below are just a few tidbits borrowed from Wikipedia… interesting horological trivia:
-In 1962, the Timex brand held the number one market share position in the United States where one out of every three watches sold was a Timex.
-United States Time (Timex) was the exclusive manufacturer of all Polaroid cameras worldwide through the 1970s, totaling more than 44 million cameras.
-In 1992, Indiglo made headlines as a result of the 26 February, 1993 World Trade Center bombing, in which an office worker wearing a Timex with an Indiglo night light used its light to guide a group of evacuees down 40 dark flights of stairs, causing sales to immediately take off, leading to an increase in Timex's U.S. market share.
I’m often puzzled by the trends of watches. In the 1950’s, men’s watches were humble, a delicate 30-32 mm in diameter. Ladies watches were diminutive. Today, we live in the Texas way. Bigger is better. But I think the trend is shrinking. We often service watches that were designed by someone with very little forethought. Imagine putting lug nuts that were designed for a 1920 Ford on a modern Subaru WRX. Under scaled. Even in the 1940’s, Rolex and Omega were putting spring bars to secure the strap or bracelet that were very adequately proportioned. All too often I find watches with HUGE 40+ mm diameters secured with spring bar pins that are 1.2 mm in diameter. Where did these designers learn their trade? In short, you get what you pay for.
About 6 months ago, we saw a post of a new Oris model of great retro design. Not only is this watch a great representation of what a watch would have looked like in the early 1900’s, but it also encompases all of the mechanical attributes that makes the watch a true heritage piece for any collector or aficionado of true historic timepieces. Built and designed with great historical and mechanical integrity but with all the characteristics to make a great everyday wearing watch for someone who appreciates the finer things in life… the ticking of a mechanical, self winding timepiece.
Many early Swiss pocket watches were stem wound and pin-set. By depressing the pin on the perimeter of the case, while simultaneously turning the crown, the hands can be set to the correct time. Simple, elegant and engaging. In an effort to be true to the historical integrity of this limited edition model (1917 pieces worldwide), Oris captured the essence of true a true 1900’s timepiece without sacrificing any modern advancements.
The Last Wind-Up has been offered two Limited Edition 1917 pieces. Numbers 10 and 11. I thought it nice that we were offered number 11 as we’re at 11 East Main Street in Bozeman. These two pieces are embellished with traditional leather straps… those that were often transitional ladies pendant watches converted to gentleman watches as a result of WWII. When in the trenches, who would want to fumble around in a pants pocket to produce one’s timepiece? How much more efficient would it be to be strapped to the wrist? Prior to WWI, wristwatches were considered effeminate, but not this re-issue. It’s an impressive and handsome sized watch. The leather strap, secured with formidable spring bars also has a removable “undergarment” leather fitting to keep the watch slightly off the wrist. With only an hour and minute hand, the watch speaks of a time long ago….a simpler time, when one’s day was not measured by seconds. When it all boils down, what parts of your life are measured in seconds?
I’m often asked how frequently a watch should be serviced. This kind of depends upon the watch. In the early 1900’s, watches were lubricated with natural oils, often refined whale oil or porpoise jaw oil. Due to their organic nature, they would break down a lot quicker than modern oils that are synthetic. Consequently, watches had to be serviced on a much more regular basis….every year was not uncommon. Additionally, many watch cases were not nearly as dust resistant as they are today. So between dust and lint particles getting into a watch mechanism as well as natural oils breaking down, the watchmaker was kept pretty busy with a regular flow of watches.
Knowing that many of my customers don’t have a watchmaking background, I often opt to the analogy of the car. Most manufacturers recommend changing the oil and filter every 3000-5000 miles. This is because the viscosity of the oil starts to break down and the oil also begins to take on engine particulate. A car will not run as efficiently or maintain a long healthy life if the oil is not changed on a regular basis. The same holds true for a watch.
Below is the center wheel from an American pocket watch, ca. 1900. The pivot (bearing surface) in the image on the left is what happens when the watch has not been cleaned regularly. This pivot was running in a brass bushing (much softer than the hardened steel pivot) for so long with inadequate lubrication, that the steel pivot was worn down significantly enough to almost render the watch unusable without repair or replacement parts. The image on the right shows the same pivot after it has been burnished down in a lathe to attain proper shape. Consequently, the bushing for that pivot also had to be closed to accept the now smaller pivot.
The tick of a mechanical watch is a jewel hitting the escape wheel. In many watches, that happens more than 80,000,000 times a year. If not properly lubricated, there will be wear and tear and the cost of servicing the watch will begin to rise.
As a general rule of thumb, I recommend that a watch be serviced every 5-7 years. More regular maintenance would be assure a longer life to the watch but is not absolutely necessary. And some manufactures suggest this. And certainly, if your watch starts to exhibit erratic timekeeping, it's a good idea to have it looked at and possibly serviced.