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Uncovering the true costs of owning a watch

More costly than meets the eye
by Chester Lau on September 3, 2016

The costs of watch ownership begins with the purchase. But if you were thinking that it ends with it, think again. Similar to cars, watches too need regular oil changes, servicing and maintenance. And the more expensive the watch, the more costly the service. That is pretty intuitive, considering that the more expensive watches are usually more complicated to service and require more labour hours. Dealing with this topic is not an easy one, considering the many turns and corners that are associated with servicing a watch. Most manufactures were secretive about servicing costs, and reserved most prices as estimates. Parts replacement is also a major variable and usually the most costly in watch servicing.

With the information that was accessible to us, we will take a brief look at common maintenance costs (regular full servicing) among three major brands, Patek Philippe, A.Lange & Söhne and Rolex. The prices quoted in this article are valid at the time the article was written and serve as estimates rather than full representation of actual costs.

Patek Philippe

 

The Patek Philippe 5370. Another classic chronograph that features an alluring black enamel dial.

The Patek Philippe 5370. A split seconds chronograph with an enamel dial. Find out more about the details and price about the watch here.

 

Patek Philippe has a good product mix, from the base quartz models to the ultra complicated timepieces. Battery change costs start at CHF 130 and quartz watch maintenance costs at CHF 550. That is approximately SGD 180 for a battery change. Mechanical watch maintenance costs begin at CHF 700. These are regular maintenance services, with movement regulation and lubrication.

 

Patek Philippe 5396 Annual Calendar. New for this year, and now fraturing Breguet numerals, which until now have been reserved for special executions or ultra high end watches.

Patek Philippe 5396 Annual Calendar. New for this year, and now featuring Breguet numerals, which until now have been reserved for special executions or ultra high end watches. Find out more about the details and price about the watch here.

 

Read also:   BaselWorld2014: Belles of the fair: Patek Philippe 5990 Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph

For automatic movements, time only, the fees begin at CHF 800. Watches serviced will include iconic sports watches like the 5711 Natilus with the 324 SC movement, the Aquanaut, as well as the classic Calatrava automatics, like the 5227 for instance. So far we have only covered the lower range models, which are exponentially simpler to service than the more complicated modules. One tier up and we begin to look at Complication models, like Annual Calendars, Travel Time, Moonphase calibres. The cost for this category starts at CHF 1050.

 

Patek Philippe Ref.5327.

Patek Philippe Ref.5327. Servicing costs for a Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar watch starts at CHF 1500.

 

The next segment is termed Advanced level Complication. This consists of the Perpetual Calendar and Chronograph watches like the 5140 Perpetual Calendar and the 5170, 5070 Chronographs. Servicing for these watch types begin at CHF 1500. As the more perceptive of you may have realized, there are still the tourbillons, minute repeaters, split second chronographs, grand complications and ultra complications. Servicing prices for these watches are on a case by case basis, which are only revealed uniquely upon examination of the timepiece. Or perhaps the costs of maintenance for watches in these range are simply too astronomical for disclosure. Or maybe not so, for owners of these timepieces.

 

A.Lange & Söhne

 

The Lange Datograph. Seen here in the original platinum case, and movement.

The Lange Datograph. Seen here in the original platinum case, and movement.

 

Perhaps the most iconic chronograph in the Lange collection, the Datograph is also among the most costly Lange watches to service. A complete service and overhaul of the movement would be roughly US$1,600. That’s for a working movement with no major damage. Costs vary depending if there are more issues with the movement. Also, there are optional add-ons like case polishing which can start at US$350 and go up from there. Any other costs would be figured on an estimate after an inspection of the timepiece. Costs incurred could easily go into the $3000 to $5000 range when more extensive case patch repair work is required. That said, owners of Lange watches are frequently found lauding the brand’s servicing capabilities, that “makes the watch return brand new”. Although sentiments do differ when the issue of time efficiency is raised. Lange has possibly one of the longest turnaround time for watch maintenance jobs.

Read also:   Baselworld2015: Bremont Boeing Titanium GMT models

 

Caseback view of the Lange Datograph. Apart from technical mastery, the level of finishing on this piece remains an undisputed benchmark in watchmaking.

Caseback view of the Lange Datograph. Apart from technical mastery, the level of finishing on this piece remains an undisputed benchmark in watchmaking.

 

Rolex

 

The new Rolex Explorer, featuring some upgrades such as the inclusion of lume for the numerals on the dial.

The new Rolex Explorer, featuring some upgrades such as the inclusion of lume for the numerals on the dial. Read more about it here.

 

Easily the most famous brand in the world, and the most owned luxury watch on the planet, it is not surprising that Rolex has the largest service center network among luxury watch brands. An interesting point to note is that while the two brands we discussed prior have a good mix of complications which make their service pricing directly correlated to the level of watch complication, Rolex very much has only 2 different complications. The time-only and the chronograph. Consequently, their base price levels for watch servicing are set based on the material type the watch is cased. Most steel time only models begin at US$600-700 for a standard servicing, without the replacement of parts. The Daytona chronograph begins at US$800. Precious metal models typically cost a premium of US$200 for the same model. That said, it is noteworthy that Rolex has increased its warranty period to 5 years, up from the usual 2, which makes it much more attractive in terms of service guarantee.

 

rolex

A collection of Daytonas, a Sea Dweller and an Explorer II.

 

Watch ownership comes at a cost, and more often than not, a lifetime cost of maintenance and servicing that should be factored in by watch owners. On maintenance, many have issues about when to service and if delaying a service would be even more detrimental for the watch. Do remember that machines have a lifespan that require regular maintenance to function properly. And in the case of watches, such costs should not be scrimped.

Read also:   Throwback Sundays: Six Recommendations for a Rectangular Watch, from Our Archives

 

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9 Comments
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  • James Tan
    September 4, 2016 at 1:07 pm

    Disappointing article to say the least…

    There is not enough depth in the content to commensurate with the title. This article should be more aptly named “Basic Servicing Costs of PP, ALS, and Rolex” instead in order not to mislead readers.

  • Langla4
    September 4, 2016 at 11:02 am

    For those who wear high end watches on a daily basis, the insurance cost is ridiculous.

  • Adam
    September 3, 2016 at 11:29 pm

    In my opinion, the biggest cost of watch ownership, even if it isn’t a cash expense, is the opportunity cost. That is, money you are missing out on from not investing in income producing assets and instead making passive purchases such as watches. This can get especially high the longer you own your watches. Consider investments ranging from 6-25+% a year, (depending on leverage & asset performance) and you quickly realize the true cost of watch ownership is much higher than initially meets the eye. Compounded annually, this sum of money adds up very fast indeed. As a side note, this is why watches (in my opinion) can’t be considered investments. Unless you buy at a deep discount and hold for very short periods and sell very high, (short periods because this inflates your yearly counpounded returns) you aren’t going to “make” money owning your watch.

    • Evan
      September 4, 2016 at 12:26 am

      This is very true. And nobody but a seasoned professional should expect to make money on buying and selling watches. If you want an investment, buy an index fund. But if you want to enjoy your money, a watch isn’t the worst way to go. (Though research shows that experiences produce more lasting happiness than owning objects.)

  • Appan Kalpa
    September 3, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Chester in your article you write: “Most steel time only models begin at US$600-700 for a standard servicing, without the replacement of parts. The Daytona chronograph begins at US$800. Precious metal models typically cost a premium of US$200 for the same model. ”
    Missing zeros makes me wonder if you are referring to grade 1 fakes???
    The quality of writing on this website is poor.

    • Ray
      September 3, 2016 at 10:24 pm

      Missing zeros? So it should have read US$6000-7000 for standard SERVICING of a STEEL watch? If that’s the case instead of servicing it I would throw it away and buy a new watch!

      I don’t see anything wrong on the quality of writing on this website.

    • Jake
      September 3, 2016 at 10:26 pm

      Appan, what are you on about?

    • vitalsigns
      September 7, 2016 at 10:21 am

      It’s your reading comprehension that’s poor.

      A $200 premium means it would cost $200 over and above the base price for a service.

  • September 3, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    I rarely own a watch long enough to need service. But more than the cost is the time. You mention Lange. However, for many brands it’s not unheard of for a “simple” service to be 3 or 4 months. At one point Hubkot would send a loaner.

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