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January 2, 2015 at 11:45 pm #49380
Here’s a post that I wrote on January 2, 2014 on a site I came across describing the Hamilton 992b. Some of the folks in the comments section were whining about how all the watchmakers in the area wanted $200 -$250 for a new mainspring and complete overhaul. They thought it should’ve been $65! I can’t believe it, and I was so peeved that I posted…nicely…in support of paying watch and clockmakers SIMILAR wages to what your average plumber or electrician would get if there were only 5,000 of THEM!!! Wait: they get that already!!! Here’s the link:
And, my post cut and pasted here. I hope you don’t mind, Paul, I linked to your site to the page titled, “Why I won’t be overhauling your clock for 40 GBP…”
****QUOTE****Hi Everyone. With all due respect, I think $200 – $250 for a complete overhaul could be reasonable to overhaul a watch, depending on the service performed. A complete overhaul usually includes a new mainspring ($25-50 with shipping,) and is always taken completely down, cleaned – most likely by ultrasonic cleaner – inspected, timed, and greased and oiled in all the right places. There are many, many hacks out there who would open the back case and spray it down with WD-40 and STILL charge you that $65.00. You get what you pay for. I don’t know any watchmaker (I am in training) who would take less than three to four aggregate hours in total dealing with your watch servicing. Keep in mind that most watch makers only work on one watch at a time, and cleaning and drying, as well as proper inspection and handling ALL takes time. In 1980, there were 30,000 watchmakers. Today, there are less than 5,000. So, while the watchmaker may have clocks to service in between the time it takes for a machine to clean and dry your watch and parts, suffice it to say that there is A LOT of time spent in the care and handling of your watch. Oil something in the wrong place, or put too much (I’m talking miniscule amounts here, that require heavy lighting and magnification)? Be prepared to service that watch maybe 50% sooner than you would have, if it was done correctly. 65 bucks won’t get you much at all in the way of quality, and no, I wouldn’t replace a mainspring without overhauling the timepiece either – and it’s NOT because of money or anything. Shortcuts on these beautifully put-together time pieces are a disservice to the watch AND the customer – again, you get what you pay for! I’d be very comfortable charging a solid $150 to do a watch that included a mainspring, but $65? No way, I’d be making maybe ten bucks an hour, and while watchmaking is a passionate endeavor for many of us, selling ourselves short is not only wrong in the sense that we’re not being fairly compensated, but come on folks, what do you think plumbers or electricians would be charging if there were only 5,000 of them? We are proud technicians – and not the overblown kind…we are genuinely proud to say that we do good work that hardly anyone do that’s worth a darn. Also, remember this: watchmakers very often have to make their own parts because of a total lack of them on the open market. I would readily admit to not being able to do that at my stage of training and exposure, but I know several guys who can, and do, and MUST because there are no parts. These guys are nothing short of artists in their own right. So, in closing, I do not post this to argue or prove to anyone that they’re wrong and I’m right, I’m just trying to interject a little knowledge from the other side of the counter. Even though he doesn’t talk about watches, check this webpage out for a good friend of mine, Paul, who explains why he won’t overhaul a clock for 40 British Pounds. Paul has the heart of a teacher, and if you read it, you may also understand why this line of work is so special, in demand, and yes – worth the money! Here’s the link, and I’m sorry if I’m not supposed to do that here: https://clockrepairs1969.wordpress.com/why-i-wont-be-servicing-your-clock-for-40-how-to-service-a-smiths-clock/ Also, sorry for choosing the Anonymous button, I couldn’t log into my Google account because we’re having power outages and I wanted to get this out. My name is Tim. Take care everyone! ****QUOTE****
TimJanuary 3, 2015 at 6:42 am #61149chris mabbottParticipant
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I think it’s like anything, people want a deal, I know I do 😆
We look for a deal everywhere, on fleabay, when we get an auto repaired, vacations, a plumber, groceries, whatever.. we always look for the best deal.
This is society, and whereas I can see the point of your comparison to a plumber, it is a little different in situation, I mean as you watch yesterdays lunch flowing out of your toilet and onto your floor you tend to panic a little more than if your watch stops 😆
Emergencies, threat of a huge water bill and leak damage are firmly in mind when you try to get a plumber, any plumber, to fix the problem, and you simply know that it’s gonna cost you, big time. You have no choice, with a watch repair, the consumer has a choice.
A pocket watch, or clock, and I’m referring to the vintage types we deal with, are a none essential items, really. If it was my granddadies watch that wasn’t running, sure, It would be great to hear it tick, but I wouldn’t break the bank to pay for the fix, because it’s a none essential item to me.
Now if it were a very expensive wrist watch, over 10k, that I wore daily, then I would grudginly have to pay the extortionate price of a service by a qualified service tech, one that is certified by that maker.
It really depends on the individual client. I know people that would spend the money needed to restore an hierloom, others wouldn’t.
It also depends on the service person. I’ve met some really rude ones who explain nothing and just snap out the price, take it or leave it.
There are no absolutes and each case is different, that’s just how it is..January 4, 2015 at 10:40 am #61150
All good points – maybe servicing isn’t what a watchmaker should make as his bread and butter – but perhaps buying cheaper watches for “parts or repair,” repairing, and reselling? It would seem to me that unless that customer who understands the labor involved walks through the door (or can be educated,) maybe that’s the line that needs to be walked.
BTW, totally gross, your overflowing toilet scenario, ahaha…
TimJanuary 4, 2015 at 10:53 am #61151
Here’s the reply I got. All good points. T
HandyDanJanuary 3, 2015 at 8:54 AM
Thanks for your well thought out post. It’s an interesting economic case study, really. How much should an overhaul cost? There is no easy answer. Like most things, the likely answer is “it depends”.
I agree $65 – $75 is on the low end, but I know established watchmakers with low overhead that charge that amount for a basic overhaul. The key terms are “low overhead” and “basic overhaul”. Additional parts or service work is extra.
Pocket watches are not complicated… in fact beginner courses usually use a pocket watch movement to teach the basics to new students. If everything is in good order, it takes no more than an hour for a competent watchmaker to tear down, clean, dry and reassemble a pocket watch. Material costs are insignificant so only overhead and labor are really at play.
Post-1950 watches usually have a “lifetime mainspring”. Replacing an otherwise good white alloy mainspring just “because that’s what I do” is a debatable process. I can understand how it could be a prerequisite for offering a 1 year warranty though.
It’s been my experience that fine watches (like Hamilton) are more often than not just in need of a thorough cleaning. However, older watches (pre-1940) that are non-runners often need additional work like polishing pivots, replacing mainsprings, or replacing a cracked jewel. Not to mention fitting a new crystal or other case-related work. That all adds up quickly and is beyond what a basic overhaul requires.
So let’s say you have grandpa’s 1949 992B that’s not running. It’s very dear to you and you’d like to get it running again. So you send it to a watchmaker for an estimate.
It could require just a good cleaning – $75 and possibly a new mainspring $35 – that’s $110 on the low end.
But if it needs a new balance staff – $75 and the train wheel pivots polished due to corrosion – $75, that could add another $150.
Now add a new crystal – $30 and you’re up to $290 or thereabouts.
You can buy a nice 992B on eBay any day of the week for less than $290. So you’d be investing more to restore the watch than it’s worth. But it’s an heirloom, after all.
I don’t disagree that there are some very talented watchmakers out there who can make ALL of their own parts, hands, dials, etc. They truly are artisans and their skills are unique and valuable. But those aren’t the skills needed to overhaul a watch.
A surgeon may make $1,000 an hour in a hospital but you wouldn’t pay a surgeon $1,000 to mow your lawn. It’s the complexity of the job that dictates the costs, not the skills of the laborer.
Any watchmaker charges $250 for a straightforward overhaul should assess the basis for their rate. If they can charge that amount and stay busy, then more power to them. That’s price elasticity at work.
However if they’re not busy then that’s a problem. Do their rate include a lot of overhead? Could they reduce their overhead and charge less?
Modern watch companies require their “certified” watchmakers to have specific equipment, shop conditions, etc. and those requirements are VERY costly. If you aren’t “certified” you can’t buy parts. Seems unfair and perhaps unlawful but that’s the predicament today’s watchmakers are in.
Those additional costs need to be passed on to customers. So if you buy a Rolex (et al) factor that into why your service cost is so high.
In addition, when watches have additional complications they require additional skill and customers should expect to pay more for an overhaul. Chronographs are probably the most complex and a service cost of $300- $350 isn’t unrealistic.
I recently saw a 1950’s memo from Hamilton to its customers that said Hamilton charged approximately $2.50 to overhaul a watch. in 2014 dollars that would equate to $50 or so. Parts were extra, of course.
So how much should an overhaul cost? My advice would be to find a watchmaker that does good work at a rate you think is reasonable and stick with them.January 4, 2015 at 11:51 am #61152randyParticipant
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Not bad info..but a few assumptions;
“Pocket watches are not complicated… in fact beginner courses usually use a pocket watch movement to teach the basics to new students. If everything is in good order, it takes no more than an hour for a competent watchmaker to tear down, clean, dry and reassemble a pocket watch. Material costs are insignificant so only overhead and labor are really at play.”
He’s lumping all styles/grades into one group.
And even if the watch is in good repair, a competent and caring watchmaker is going to do a few little extras as he stumbles across minor issues that could cause issues later on.
And the older these watches get..the more issues that you see after the teardown..like rust.
“Post-1950 watches usually have a “lifetime mainspring”. Replacing an otherwise good white alloy mainspring just “because that’s what I do” is a debatable process. I can understand how it could be a prerequisite for offering a 1 year warranty though.”
Pure BS..there is no such thing…even these take a set after awhile, and even if they don’t, there’s a loss of “elasticity” in all metals that will keep the spring from driving even power at the low end of it’s winding .
Some pricing will always have to do with overhead costs, rising parts costs, reputation, etc….
Just my $.02January 4, 2015 at 1:46 pm #61153
Good catch there, Randy, I thought the same thing about the spring, and in my mind, there’s no way it’ll take one hour to completely tear down, clean, lubricate, and reassemble a watch – unless you’re rushing and not doing those “little things” you mentioned that I’m sure all of us here would do. Good stuff.
TimJanuary 4, 2015 at 4:49 pm #61154namonllor1953Participant
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Respectfully I’ll offer this:
You said “and in my mind, there’s no way it’ll take one hour to completely tear down, clean, lubricate, and reassemble a watch – unless you’re rushing and not doing those “little things” you mentioned that I’m sure all of us here would do.” Actually it probably can be done and I say this because….
When I first started working on Leicas it would take me 1 1/2 – 2 hours to do a thorough clean, lube, adjust to good working order (this company takes their cameras real serious, thus their prices). Towards the end I was banging out 8 – 9 cameras in a 7 hour day without flinching. I could do a complete teardown, where every piece of the camera was on the bench, replace an entire shutter mechanism, slow speed mechanism, clean, lube, adjust to precise running order, all in under an 1 hour. Alot also has to do with how much experience you have with a certain mechanical piece. Muscle memory, practice, finger placement, familiarity with the piece…it all plays a part into the time it’s going to take. And I’ve also seen it where, I worked for a guy who was a great con artist and a customer would come in with a dead camera. He would charge a minimum of of $85.00, replace a battery, hold the camera for a week and give the customer some sort of BS story in order to justify the price.
Be wellJanuary 4, 2015 at 9:40 pm #61155chris mabbottParticipant
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Hmm, now I feel I’m lacking, an hour, it takes me that to prep my coffee 😆
I’ve heard many tales of people removing the balance and then plopping the whole movement into a cleaner, put the balance back on, and boom, your watch is done.. I’ve also taken my vehicle to minute lube for an oil and filter change in ten minutes but a proper service and inspection I would not consider it to be. Although my favorite place in Vegas was Terrible Herbst, I especially liked the wonderfully shapely, scantily clad persons that would perform the cleaning at the end
Ok, off track 😆 the older the watch, the more wear will be present, I’ve yet to see a pocket watch that didn’t need at least one set of pivots that required touching up. I’m referring to either the points or the circumference as they normally show wear which effects performance. Also the pegging out of jewel holes, removing cap jewels etc that can take 120 mins.
There is a difference though between making a living at something, where you are obliged to sustain income via volume, over a person doing it for a hobby. That should also be remembered.
Again, I state that each person has their own ways, my ways and standards are not another persons. So, with PP firmly in mind, if I took a watch to someone and they told me it would take an hour to strip, clean, inspect, service and then re-time it.. I would say thanks but no thanks because in my mind it would be a rushed, under par job.
As per my post regarding the watch I had to send to an authorized dealer for this make of Swiss watch to be repaired and kept under warranty. It took two 2 months for a simple battery change, and I’m sure that to be certified, he must have met the stringent Swiss competency regulations, ya think 😆January 5, 2015 at 7:02 am #61156namonllor1953Participant
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I know what you mean when you say “Lacking”. I had never before seen men do things with their hands like the boys from Wetzlar, Germany. It literally blew me away. I’ve never been to Europe so, I don’t know how feasable it would be for to make this suggestion but, if you could, I think you’d probably enjoy a tour through the E. Lietz Inc. companies repair department. To watch the workmanship that takes place at the speed it takes place at, is mind blowing. These guys don’t mess around. Granted, for me it took years to get to where I was. It seems that for these guys, there’s just a natural knack for manipulation of small objects and precision workmanship. It’s really impressive.
Be wellJanuary 5, 2015 at 7:34 am #61157bernie weishaplParticipant
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I take a lot of this as assumptions and with a grain of salt. The best thing to do is to have a business plan so you know what you need to keep the doors open. If it is purely a hobby then it is a different story. I agree with Randy on the mainsprings. Most pocket watches I have worked on before 1950 don’t have the white alloy springs in them and most are pretty set or weak. I can normally do about 2 watches a day spending about 4 hours per watch. I just quoted a Elgin 17j 16s broken staff at $245. It will have a new staff, mainspring, any repairs needed, cleaned and lubed. I am comfortable with that and know that I can give a full year warranty with confidence. Sure you can probably buy one off ebay for less or at a auction for less but you are right back where you started. It most likely will still need to be cleaned, repaired, and oiled. Plus it is not the watch grandpa’s or dad’s carried for many years.
So Tim in the HandyDan answer I don’t even pay attention to it. I agree with Chris if I took my pocket watch or my pulsar wrist watch to a guy and he told me it would take a hour and cost me $65 I would pass.January 5, 2015 at 3:04 pm #61158
All good responses, I took something from all of them.
Bernie, thank you for the real-world example…I mean, we can do a point and counterpoint thing, which can be very valuable, but hearing you tell us your reality – with decades under your belt in this field of work, to say things like timeframes, pricing, etc., is extremely valuable, and I thank you for that. I just received a very good ball park timeframe and cost parameter, and for that I’m truly thankful.
Ren and Chris – You guys also shed some very good light and information, as well as debate points that added to the conversation (Chris, minus that “yesterday’s lunch on the floor” remark HAHAHA.)
TimJanuary 5, 2015 at 3:09 pm #61159aruthaParticipant
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Just to add my 2 pence worth, I am with Bernie on this too, If a pocket watch is clean and running perfectly before you service it there is a good chance it will be a simple tear down, clean, re-assemble and lubricate. Now I have an old manual watch cleaning machine, 2 mins in the cleaning solution, 2 mins spinning off, 2 mins in the first rinse, 2 mins spinning off, 2mins in the second rinse, 2 mins spinning off, 2 mins in the heater to dry. So that is 15 minutes (adding in another 60 seconds to move the basket from jar to jar plus raising and lowering into each jar etc) which now only leaves me 45 mins to tear down inspect, re-assemble and lubricate. If I was working on the same model of watch day in, day out then maybe?
It would be interesting to see the guys workshop, you can tell a lot from a fellas tools!
PaulJanuary 6, 2015 at 1:42 pm #61160
Thank you Paul, and by the way, I really love your site where you title a section, “Why I won’t be servicing your clock for 40 pounds,” ahahaha. That’s a good one. But, BROTHER, you did a great job of EDUCATING the masses who have no freaking idea the work, time, and yes care, that goes into this kind of thing. Here’s to you, Pal.
Ren, I’d have to agree with the statement that the one hour thing could be accomplished if we worked ONLY on Illinois, or ONLY Waltham, etc. I know I couldn’t do an hour, no way, no how. Really, there’s another thing, though, that comes into play. I love the journey. If I wanted a quick $65 bucks, there wouldn’t be a nickel’s worth of care and interest in doing those special little things that often come with a teardown. I like your story about the cameras, and I also wonder if it was easier due to the size – but I’m not taking anything away from your talents, Ren!
This has been an interesting thread. The thing I get most out of it? Interestingly enough, not how to price watches…
…No, this thread shows how much we all CARE about watches and clocks, and not just about the quick buck.
Take care, gents,
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