For an object designed to last through the generations, a luxury watch is a pretty delicate thing. To keep yours in perfect condition, you’ll need to follow regular cleaning and maintenance routines. Some of these can be performed at home - others, like the services you would regularly book for a classic or high-end car, must be carried out by qualified technicians in an authorised dealership.
There may be model-specific care instruction supplied with your watch: you should follow these as religiously. However, there are also general luxury watch care techniques, which can ensure your fine timepiece retains its beauty, accuracy and value for a lifetime and beyond.
A mechanical watch should be wound every day, preferably at the same time. Follow the manufacturer’s winding instruction, stopping as soon as you feel the slight crown resistance indicating the watch is fully wound. Forcing the crown beyond its stopping point can destroy the movement by snapping the motor spring.
Automatic movements wind themselves by harnessing the kinetic energy of your wrist and arm, as you go about your daily life. If you don’t wear your automatic watch daily, you can restart the mechanism by winding the crown. Shaking a stopped automatic watch will not reactivate the movement, and could damage delicate parts inside.
Clean your luxury watch daily, when you remove it from your wrist. Begin by wiping off any moisture using a soft, dry cloth such as a chamois. Often, you will find the manufacturer of your watch supplies cloths specifically for this purpose.
If your watch is water resistant, the head may be cleaned with a damp cloth, and dried with a chamois leather. It’s important to keep the damp cloth away from a leather strap.
Water resistant watches with bracelets made of metal can be cleaned in the same way - a damp cloth for the head, and a chamois leather to dry - but you can also attend to the strap with water. Use a fine brush to clean between the bracelet links, and rinse with warm, clean water. Use a soft cloth to dry the watch.
Watches should always be cleaned after they have been in the ocean or a swimming pool.
Care of leather and rubber straps
Leather straps are naturally delicate, and should be kept away from contact with water or humidity. Luxury watch manufacturers often recommend that a leather strap is changed once or twice a year, depending on how often the watch is worn, and in what conditions.
Note that cosmetic preparations and oils can stain leather. Direct sunlight, over extended periods of time, is also capable of discolouring and damaging a leather strap.
Rubber straps are also damaged by cosmetics and sunlight. They should be cleaned regularly with soapy water and soft brushes, then rinsed in clean warm water and dried with a soft cloth.
Never leave a spent battery inside a luxury watch - it may leak, destroying the movement.
Maintenance and servicing
There’s a difference between a maintenance service and a full watch service. Usually, a maintenance service is a check on water resistance, with a secondary check on the operation of the movement and push pieces. A full service is a total disassembly of the watch, full cleaning, and rebuild of the movement.
Different manufacturers specify different service intervals depending on model: Omega, for example, recommends a full service every four or five years, but suggests Omega owners have their watch’s water resistance checked once a year. Piaget specifies service intervals of three years, with the owner alternating between a maintenance and full service. Jaeger LeCoultre recommends water resistance checking every two years, and full servicing according to the specific instructions supplied with each timepiece.
A luxury watch is a precision instrument, which operates continuously - day and night, month to month, year on year. It’s vital to adhere to recommended service intervals.
If the watch operation seems to be failing, or the timepiece is becoming inaccurate, you should also take it in for diagnosis and repair.
Protection and storage
Luxury watches should be stored, wherever possible, in their original boxes. Manufacturers and specialist watch dealers may also supply safe storage boxes for single and multiple models.
Stored watches should be wound intermittently to retain the accuracy of the movement, and serviced as above.
Luxury watches don’t react well to shocks and extreme movements/vibrations. Protect your timepiece: take it off if you are lifting heavy objects, which could scratch the case and glass, or if you are exposed to strong magnetic fields (for example in a laboratory). You should never undertake extreme sporting activities whilst wearing a luxury watch.
There are exceptions to the above rules - like the Richard Mille Felipe Massa models, which have been designed specifically to withstand the intense vibrations present in the cockpit of a Formula 1 car. Rolex’s Milgauss, and the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 15,000 Gauss, are resistant to large magnetic fields.
Be sure you understand the tolerances of your watch to unusual conditions before you wear it.
Never take your watch deeper than its water resistance rating. Never expose a leather strap to water.
Push pieces and special functions should never be operated underwater, unless the watch model is specifically rated for this. The chronographs on Omega’s Seamaster 300m and 600m models can both be used at depth. Again, check model-specific instructions prior to use in extreme situations.
As noted above, luxury watches don’t like being hit, or violently shaken. The extreme design of some luxury sports watches is the only exception to this rule.
Magnetism will never damage or break your luxury watch, but it can seriously affect the accuracy of the movement. A magnetised watch is characterised by inaccurate timekeeping and erratic behaviour. You can check if your watch is magnetised by placing it next to an old fashioned compass. If the needle swings, the watch needs attention.
An authorised dealer should be able to intervene and de-magnetise your timepiece. If a de-magnetised watch continues to behave unpredictably, it may be the case that a different problem is causing its inaccuracy. Return for a full service.
Manufacturers often advise keeping your luxury watch away from magnetic fields. In practice in the modern home, this is next to impossible. Mobile phones, electric ovens, TVs, satellite boxes, broadband routers, laptops, smart devices - it would be quicker to write a list of things that don’t give off a magnetic signature. The best advice is to avoid physically placing the watch on the surface of an electrical item - like leaving it on top of a microwave.
Again as noted above, some watches are specifically designed to retain functionality in the presence of high magnetic fields.
Whether it’s an investment or just your pride and joy, a luxury watch is a thing of beauty. Follow the recommendations above, and it will stay that way.