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The Difference a Full Refinishing Makes: The Watch Edition

Jun 18, 2020

The following article is written part of our series titled On the Bench With Master Jeweler Eric Sanchez. 

I recently posted about how much of a difference a full refinishing can be for a piece of jewelry like an engagement ring or a pair of diamond earrings. Not many know that watches fall into this category too though, and I would add that it is even more striking of a statement when you walk out of Samuelson’s after a full refi service with your own watch—something you bought ten years ago—feeling like you just bought yourself a new one. Owners of fine watches are mostly aware of the maintenance involved in keeping their timepieces running smoothly. This usually involves what is called a “complete overhaul” which basically has a watchmaker take apart the movement for cleaning, recalibration, and fresh oils for the gears. The case and bracelet may or may not get a full refinishing depending on the watch and location, but it is always good to ask if it is part of the service because many times it might just not be. But did you know that you can bring your watch in just for a full refinish?

The process of polishing an entire watch involves a bit more planning as many watches have many subtle design elements throughout the case and bracelet. Much of which consists of variations in metal types (steel and gold) and finishes (high polish and brush). The end result gives a look (depending on the age of the watch) that is quite close to factory spec. Every angle of the case and bracelet is touched on, from the sides of the bracelet links to the case-back itself. Anything that can be done to bring the fine details back out again. 

Rolexes tend to get the most attention as they are quite numerous and are designed with regular refinishings in mind. Much like a car, watches need regular tune-ups to have the chance to run forever and be passed down generationally. Having said that, it is important to note that—much like fine jewelry—watch refinishings should not be done too often, and should always be done by a trained professional. Depending on the wear of the watch, an all-steel watch refinishing would be ideal about every 2-4 years, a steel-gold every 4-6 years, and an all-gold every 5-10 years. For obvious reasons, softer metals shouldn’t be over-polished as they will lose their edges if taken in too often. 

Online, many opinions will be expressed ranging from:

“Zero risk do it as many times as you like!”

…to…

“Never.”

It’s a debate many have had, and mine is an overall opinion as well. But take it from me as a trained and experienced jeweler (born from a family of watchmakers) who has polished thousands of watches. I have seen every watch in the Maryland/Virginia/DC area more than once, and let me tell you that most watches (99% of the time) are ruined by simply wearing the watch too hard. In other words, perhaps you are a serious diver or marine biologist who actually uses a Rolex Submariner for its actual purpose and takes the watch down on dives all the time, or knocking it around the shark cage, all while constantly being exposed to seawater. Believe me that watch will be pushed to its limits. It is very obvious when a watch comes in that has been over-polished by another watchmaker/jeweler, and it is rare to come by. 

In conclusion, is it a good idea to take your watches in for refinishings? Absolutely, and you should bring them to Samuelson’s and let a Rolex-trained professional use all the best techniques and experience to bring that watch back to its original state. With the right amount of time in between, and taking care of your watch, it is always good to know there is a full service for your watch, inside and out. Is there a wedding or graduation coming up that warrants your finest watch to look its best? Perhaps you are ready to hand your Patek Philippe down to the next generation. Bring it to a trained professional at Samuelson’s and let that watch relive its glory days!

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