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Watch Repair Shops (From CHECKBOOK, Fall 2013/Winter 2014)
Go to Ratings of 62 Washington Area Watch Repair Shops

Watch Repair

There are watches—trendy, plastic, disposable—and then there are timepieces: favorites that have a (sorry!) timeless quality. When these mechanisms go on the fritz, you need a repair shop you can trust. 

Fortunately, we found plenty of area shops that can help. At the time of our last full, published article, 20 of the 62 shops evaluated on our Ratings Tables were rated “superior” for “overall performance” by at least 90 percent of their customers we surveyed. But not all shops do so well: eight of the shops got such favorable ratings from fewer than 60 percent of their surveyed customers. (Click here for further discussion of our customer survey and other research methods.) 

When selecting a shop, ask about the guarantee it offers. Most will guarantee overhauls (disassembling, cleaning, lubricating, and regulating) and other major repairs for between six months and one year. Most guarantees apply only if the watch’s movement is involved in the repair; replacement of a crystal, for example, is unlikely to carry a warranty. Guarantees typically cover either stoppage or failure to run accurately. 

Because some shops send out their watch repair work, find out whether the shop has a watchmaker on the premises. Communicating directly with a watchmaker makes it easier to get answers to questions, determine whether repairs are feasible and worth the money, obtain an accurate estimate, and get simple repairs made on the spot. 

Also find out whether the shop employs watchmakers who have passed the written and hands-on tests for certification offered by the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (www.awci.com). While certification indicates that a watchmaker is capable of good work, it is no guarantee, and many capable watchmakers have never become certified. 

To help you compare prices, our Ratings Tables report price comparison scores for the shops that were evaluated in our last full, published article. To calculate these scores, our researchers (without revealing their affiliation with CHECKBOOK) called the shops for price estimates on three sample repair jobs. We found big price differences. The highest price comparison score ($183) is nearly five times higher than the lowest score ($37). Table 1 shows examples of the big price differences for specific repairs. For example, to replace the crystal on a women’s watch, prices ranged from $20 to $185. 

Table 1—Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Shops for Illustrative Watch Repairs

Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Shops for Illustrative Watch Repairs1
JobLow priceAverage priceHigh price
Overhaul (clean) a Hamilton pocket watch that has early 1900s movement $75 $190 $525
Replace crystal on a women’s Tiffany & Co. titanium wrist watch $20 $54 $185
Replace stem and crown on a men’s Wittnauer dress watch $30 $49 $80
1 For each of these jobs, the shops were given additional, detailed specifications.

Using a shop that charges low prices doesn’t mean you won’t get good work. In fact, in many cases the opposite is true. When shops are divided into two equal-sized groups based on price comparison scores, the lower priced shops score about the same, on average, on the “doing work properly” question on our customer survey as the higher priced shops. 

Your watch will last longer if you follow a few basic guidelines in caring for it. 

  • Be wary of water. “Water resistant” means the watch is protected from accidental wetting. Don’t wear it in the shower or when swimming. If it gets wet, dry it as soon as possible. With watches specially designed for underwater use, comply with the conditions specified in the manufacturer’s instructions. 
  • Even if your watch is “shock resistant,” as most are, don’t press your luck. Take it off before operating a jackhammer, rushing the quarterback, and similar activities. 
  • Even if you are very handy, don’t try to repair your watch yourself. Leave it to a professional. 
  • Have a dead battery in your watch replaced immediately. It might leak or corrode. 
  • Replace a cracked crystal right away. Even a tiny crack can allow dust or moisture to get inside and interfere with the mechanism. 
  • Have a mechanical (as opposed to battery-powered) watch serviced every couple of years, unless the manufacturer suggests a longer interval. Tiny particles of dust can get inside, increasing friction on moving parts. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the watch, the more it will be affected by dirt or lack of lubricant because the parts—including the mainspring—are smaller and more delicate. Women’s watches generally need more frequent overhauls than men’s watches. 


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