How to Read a Watch Estimate & Understand What It Means

HOW TO UNDERSTAND A WATCH ESTIMATE

We’re getting real customer focused today. One of the common questions I get from watch guys/gals is about estimates. Watch estimates are confusing for your average customer. You might not know what to look for. Hell, you might not even know what any of that shit means. I'll go over some of the nomenclatures we use such as dial, hands, bezel, middle case, bezel, etc. I’m here to decipher and explain exactly what it means.

HERE'S WHAT A COMMON ESTIMATE LOOKS LIKE:

 Here is a Patek Philippe estimate I received way back

Here is a Patek Philippe estimate I received way back

Estimates will usually detail a couple things that I’ll go over.

JOB NUMBER: It’ll always have a job number that you can reference in case you need to call them. This is so that you can call in, inquire, and give them the specific job number to help you. 

REFERENCE NUMBER: A reference number is the same as a model number. Some companies will use the reference number in the same sense as a serial number. Be very careful how you differentiate the two.   

MOVEMENT NUMBER: Some movements are serialized! Brands will input any notes that they have on the watch during take in and the movement is no exception. This helps them document what specific movement and movement serial number was inside your watch. Movement numbers can sometimes tell us the batch in which the caliber was made. 

CASE/SERIAL NUMBER: Case numbers here are used as serial numbers. Each case will be serailized to ensure a specific number of production and authenticity.  A serial number is sometimes engraved onto the case to signify the batch and tracking of the watch. Think of it as a unique ID. Brands will often serialized the case so that they can track the owner, repair, and or timeline of the watch throughout it’s life. So say you bought a Rolex (or Patek Philippe, Omega, etc.) and the serial number is XYZ. The AD that sold you your watch will send the info to Rolex. Rolex now knows that XYZ belongs to you. If someone stole the watch from you or you lost it, you can call Rolex and report it lost or stolen. We know that a watch will eventually need service so if the watch ever gets brought into Rolex or any of it’s authorized jewelers, Rolex can flag it.

PO NUMBER: P.O. stands for purchase order. Most AD (authorized dealers) will create a purchase order for the watch before sending it out to the manufacturer. It just helps them organize what goes out of the company for repair and they’re using it as a transactional figure. Trust me, it sounds way more confusing than it really is.  

MANDATORY SERVICE: Also known as necessary service. Mandatory services is exactly what the name implies. It’s the stuff that we need to make sure gets done. There’s no IFs or BUTs. Whatever is in the mandatory service need to be done. For example, if your watch has a cracked crystal and you send it to me for a service, I’ll make sure that a new crystal is under mandatory service. 

The watchmaker doing the estimate will usually put what they feel is absolutely necessary in the mandatory service section. If anything compromises water resistance, functionality, and or time-keeping of the watch, you better believe i’ll be a mandatory selection to fix. 

For your own good, try not to negotiate or complain about the necessary stuff. It’s akin to you going to the car mechanic for an oil change, only for them to realize that your brakes are completely gone. They make it mandatory to get it changed and you say no. Sure, you may have gotten your oil changed and declined changing the brakes but are you any smarter and safer for doing so? We’re the professionals. If you went to a qualified, competent, and trust-worthy watchmaker, then you should trust their professional opinion. 

COMPLETE SERVICE: A complete service is where the watchmakers take apart your watch from A-Z. We disassemble all the wheels, gears, and jewels to ensure everything is inspected and cleaned. We adjust any issues or errors that we find to make sure it’s running to factory specifications. We clean the watch through several different types of solutions to ensure that all the dirt, grime, and debris are washed away. We then lubricate and reassemble it. By the time a complete service is done, the watch should be running back to normal. 

BASIC/PARTIAL SERVICE: A basic or partial service is when we do only a minor intervention. This is more common in quartz watches than automatic watches.

For quartz watches, this would usually be changing the gaskets and battery. They would check the function of the circuit and the coil to ensure that it's running optimally. If it's not running optimally, they'll recommend a full service. But if the estimate says basic/partial service, they're not doing a complete service, they're simply doing a battery change and water resistance renewal. 

For automatic watches, they may be a regulation. This is very seldom but it does happen. Say for example, a customer just bought a brand new watch. It's not keeping time. It's running slow and or fast. Customer sends it back to the manufacturer. Assuming everything is fine and they perform all their checks, they'll opt to simply regulate the balance rather than overhaul the entire thing. Now if the watch was old and hasn't been serviced for years, this would not be the case. 

OPTIONAL SERVICES: Optional services are the stuff that we feel should get done but are not necessary. So say you have a chip on your crystal, it may not be deep or strong enough to impact water resistance but it’s still a chip on your crystal. It’s not good looking nor is it any cooler. Our job is to make your watch look as new as possible and that may include an optional crystal because of the chip. Most of the time you’ll see stuff like straps, bracelets, hands, bezel, bezel insert, and dials as optional.

CUSTOMER REQUESTS:  Some companies will have customer request boxes where the customer can input what’s wrong or input a special request such as not polishing the watch, etc. It doesn’t mean that the company/brand will listen but they will definitely take it into consideration. 

NOTES: This is the section where the estimator wll input their notes or findings about your watch. This may be a reminder or something as simple as letting you know that dents will be still be visible after a refinishing.

LINKS: Some companies will count the number of links on your watch. The industry uses this as an insurance. We've gotten plenty of customers who have complained that their watches feel tighter and have tried to point the finger at us. 

HERE'S ANOTHER COMMON INDUSTRY FORMAT FOR AN ESTIMATE

 Notice how this estimate looks different but still carries over the same concepts

Notice how this estimate looks different but still carries over the same concepts


 

NOMENCLATURES  

DIAL

The dial is what many commonly refer to the “face” of the watch. We commonly see dials get exchanged due to flaking, moisture, and water damage. A dial becomes necessary if it could potentially affect the functionality of the watch. So if a dial is flaking, the flakes could make it’s way into the movement and prematurely kill the service cycle. In situations like this, a dial becomes mandatory.

 This is an example of a damaged flaking dial. This is definitely a necessary dial change. 

This is an example of a damaged flaking dial. This is definitely a necessary dial change. 

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HANDS

The hands are what tell the time and are the primary indicators of a watch. Hands get changed out for aesthetics. It’s almost always an optional because it’s commonly seen as an aesthetic component. The real issue is when the hands have luminous. Sometimes the luminous can crack, flake, and fall off from the hands and that will almost always make the hands a necessary selection to fix.

We have a hour, minute, and second hand. In chronographs, we have the split second chrono hand, minute chrono indicator, and the hour register indicator. Whenever the split chrono hand goes around 60 seconds, the minute indicator will move over 1. Whenever the minute indicator passes 60 total minutes, the hour indicator moves over 1. 

 

PUSHERS

The pushers are traditionally at the 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock side. It’s the start and stop function of a chronograph. For quartz watches, there’re a bit more to it then just start, stop, and reset functions of it. We also use the pushers to align the hands after a battery change. When you change the hands on a chronograph quartz watch, sometimes the hands will reset. When the hands reset, you’ll need to realign them to 12 o’clock via the pushers. 

Pushers commonly get changed out because of water resistance issues or because it's damaged and dented. It's not uncommon for customers to ding or snag their pushers at the right angle when they're wearing a watch. Pushers are also one of the big culprits of a chronograph failing a water resistance test. 

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CRYSTAL

I commonly hear this referred to as the “glass” of the watch. The crystal is the “glass” that covers the front of the watch. You’ll commonly see sapphire, acrylic, plexi, and mineral glasses on watches. Most modern watches today use sapphire for its toughness. Even though sapphire is strong, it can still crack and shatter.

Any issues with a crystal in regards to water resistance would mandate a new crystal. If a crystal is chipped, cracked, shattered, etc. it will mess with the water resistance of the watch. If a crystal is shattered or cracked, it will also mandate a complete service immediately. Small shards will always make their way into the movement and affect time-keeping.

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 This is a plexi crystal that’s been destroyed at the edges. 

This is a plexi crystal that’s been destroyed at the edges. 

 Sapphire crystals will feel completely different than a plexi/acrylic/mineral crystal

Sapphire crystals will feel completely different than a plexi/acrylic/mineral crystal

 

CROWN

The crown is what we use to wind the watch and set the time. It’s commonly the little “knob” on the 3 o’clock side of the watch. Crowns are usually changed for water resistance or because it's damaged. Crowns commonly come in either bent or snapped off. Don't forget, the crown is one of the most commonly used parts of a watch for a customer. Most crowns are changed because of water resistance. If water can get in, so can air, dirt, dust, and other debris. This will factor into the overall picture of an estimate.

 

CROWN TUBE (ALSO KNOWN AS CASE TUBE)

A crown tube threads into the case for the crown. It’s a opening of the case where the crown is inserted hence crown tube. Crown tubes are one of the biggest reasons for a failing water resistance test. The crown tube is also one of the most used parts of a watch for customers because the crown is constantly working within it. Think about where the crown is when you're winding a watch, setting the time, setting the date, etc. The crown tube literally encompasses and safeguards the crown's actions. 

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BEZEL

The bezel is on the outer edge of the case. Sometimes it’ll have a 10-60 indicator and other times it’ll indicate a full 24 hour bezel. Bezels are often aesthetics and are not often on an estimate. It doesn't mean it doesn't happen though. Most of the time bezels are mandated because it's either bent or affects the crystal in some shape or form. 

 

MIDDLE CASE

The middle case is what many refer to as the “case” of the watch. It’s not often that we see a case exchange but it does happen. Most of the time I find that cases need to be changed because of unqualified, incompetent, and unauthorized work. I’ve seen case lugs destroyed, case threads completely grounded off, cases that were polished to the end of it’s life, incompetent lasering and jeweler work, and much more. If you don’t get your watch polished often and you bring your watch to a qualified, quality, and trust-worthy watchmaker, you should be fine. 

Here is a great example of what a middle case looks like. This was a Rolex that was in for a service. Yes. The watch came in that dirty.

 

GASKETS

Gaskets are generally rubber sealants that makes a watch water resistant. This can include a crystal gasket, case back gasket, crown gasket, crown tube gasket, and pusher gaskets. They’re common shaped like an O-ring but there are other shapes as well (square, rectangle, octagon, etc.) Gaskets are almost always part of a complete service if you sent the watch to an authorized dealer or to the manufacturer. If you're having a watch serviced by an independent watchmaker, ask whether or not the gaskets are part of the complete service. 

 

SERVICE CONFIRMATIONS

 

WHAT IS A SERVICE CONFIRMATION?

Service confirmation is exactly what the name implies. It’s a confirmation of what they’re going to do or did on the watch. Companies will send this after you approve the estimate or when the repair is done. All it states is that they received your approval for the service and sometimes they’ll include what was done on your watch. Just think of it as a receipt.

HOW DO I GET MY SERVICE CONFIRMATION?

It depends on how you sent your watch in. If you brought your watch to an authorized dealer, the brand/company will send them the service confirmation. Most of the time the authorized dealer will throw that out or keep it themselves for their own records. If you sent your watch in through an authorized dealer, you have to make sure you specifically tell them that you want the customer copy service confirmation that comes with it. 

HOW DOES IT LOOK LIKE?

Here’s a sample service confirmation that you will receive from some companies such as Rolex, Breitling, etc. Each brand and company will have different looking service confirmations but they generally state the same things. 

It’ll state company’s reference number or job number in relation to your repair, model and serial number of your watch, conditions, and notes. Sometimes they’ll include what was done to your watch.  

 
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COMMON QUESTIONS ASKED REGARDING ESTIMATES:

MY WATCH IS UNDER WARRANTY, WHY DID I RECEIVE AN ESTIMATE?
Watches that have violated the service warranty will not be covered. This may be impact damage and other user introduced errors. The service warranty only guarantees the working function of the movement inside from normal wear and tear. The warranty will not cover your ass when you slam your watch on the floor and crack a crystal.

MY WATCH IS FINE, THERE ARE NO DENTS/DINGS/DAMAGES
I'm sure you definitely feel that way. Don't forget, we deal with small parts on a regular basis. We're looking at these watches with a 4x, 8x, 10x, 25x, and even 50x loupe and microscope. You're comparing your naked eye sight to our state of the art tools and imaging systems. We'll see things that you won't even fathom.

MY WATCH IS RUNNING SLOW/FAST ONLY, CAN'T YOU JUST FIX IT WITHOUT DOING A COMPLETE SERVICE?
Unfortunately, no. If we do not know the history behind your watch, we will not do a "quick fix." Anybody who does a quick fix is someone that is asking for future problems. You're looking at the problem from a micro perspective. We're looking at the problem from a macro perspective. The context of your watch is king. 

If the watch was recently serviced 4 months ago and there's an issue with it, sure. Regulating the watch may be an option. But if your watch has never been serviced for 5 years and you want a quick fix, it ain't happening. 

HOW LONG DOES A COMPLETE SERVICE TAKE?
Services may take 2-8 weeks at a time. Of course, it’ll depend on the season and the workload of the watchmaker(s). If they’re not as busy, you can really expect about a 2 week turn around time. If you’re sending it to the manufacturer, you may be looking at about 4-8 weeks.

Some times they have to order parts! Jobs that require movement parts from Switzerland will take longer than jobs that don’t require any parts at all. Some times the work load is just that long. Remember, there aren’t that many watchmakers in the world to begin with. Again, the time frame is more or less. It could be faster than 2 weeks and it could even be longer than 8 weeks. This isn’t fast food people.

WHY DOES A COMPLETE SERVICE COST SO MUCH?
Taking apart a watch isn't easy work. It's extremely specialized. It's kind of like saying why does the hospital cost so much? The people there are trained and specialized in their craft. You're paying for their expertise. It's as simple as that. If you're paying thousands of dollars for a watch, the very first thing you should have anticipated was routine maintenance. You don't buy a car without thinking about service up-keep. Remember, buying the watch is relatively cheap in the grand scheme of things compared to regular maintenance for the life of the watch. 

DO I HAVE A WARRANTY ON THE SERVICE?
Most companies will offer you a 1 year service warranty. Some places like Rolex will offer a 2 year warranty. It'll depend. Industry standard is about 1 year. 

WHAT VOIDS MY WARRANTY?
Any sort of impact damage or what we deem "user-introduced error" will void the service warranty. Just in case you were wondering, yes- there are ways we can find impact damage within the watch. 

 

 

LIKE WHAT YOU READ? YOU'LL LOVE THE BOOK

I go over stuff about service warranties, how to read a timing machine readout, how to do your own quality control checks, and much more.