Trials of Cheap Watch Repair

Repairable or Disposable

M902 quartz movement for a Timex

Like everything we own, if used, watches eventually need some kind of repair. But not all watches are created equal. Some watches are created to potentially last a life time and your progeny’s life time too. On the other hand, some watches are made to be discarded instead of repaired. Some may say that any watch can be repaired, and this may be true to some extent, but when the cost of “repair” exceeds by many times the original cost of the watch, it is a rare enthusiast that wants to make it happen. Watch companies want to sell you new watches, not fix old ones. Got it. Is there a price point where watches become repairable?

Cost of Ownership

When buying a new watch, I would think, most buyers are not concerned with repair. I would also say the concern for repair decreases with the price of the watch. Another factor is the knowledge of watches and their movements that the buyer possesses. Some thought may be given to the subject of future repair, but mostly we just need that baby on our wrist!

Watch enthusiasts buying a mechanical watch may consider the movement it uses knowing that in the future a commonly used, robust movent will be able to be repaired by a reputable watchmaker. Buyers of luxury watches know there will be solid, reliable, albeit expensive support when the time comes. Still, it is hard to rationally consider total cost of ownership over time, when looking at a new watch.

Many new watch buyers know ahead of time that they will not be keeping any watch long enough to need repair or off-load a watch as soon as there is a chance of repair needed, and of course, advertise the watch as being in “excellent” working condition. Regardless of the cost of ownership equation, the situations is a bit different for every price segment of watch.

For a buyer/collector like me mostly looking at new quartz watches priced at less than $300, the situation is much different. I know the support for such a watch will be much more limited and usually will mean replacement instead of repair. But, it gets worse; I really usually am buying preowned watches that were “inexpensive” and with a very limited warranty when new, but now are 10, 20 or 30 years old with no warranty and spare parts practically nonexistent. Besides the movement, we also have to consider the case, dial, hands, crown, etc. How many parts and for how long is there availability.

Condition is Everything

When buying in the ultra cheap quartz market, condition is everything. In most cases finding new replacement parts is not going to happen. Repair becomes restoration and buying three watches to make one.

With a cheap automatic movement there is at least a slight hope of possible repair. The more common the movement, the better the chance. By their very make up, they can be disassembled, and cleaned. But even automatic movements, after time, cannot be fixed for lack of parts or knowledge. With quartz movements, options are more limited. At the low end of quartz movements, the movement’s components are not replaced or fixed. The whole movement is replaced. Once production of the movement ends, the life of the watch is over. The classic watchmaker does not have access to the equipment or components for quartz movement repair.

Being fairly new to the world of watches I know of no service shop that can affordably repair/replicate cheap quartz movements that are out of production. Specialists probably exist, but they are probably confined to the high-end luxury market. I have heard of specialists restoring specific movements in vintage Accutrons, or even electric Timexes, but their applications are limited. Most quartz movements are mass-produced and not intended to be repaired. They can be “cleaned” and batteries replaced. I would say the in general, part of the intention of the quartz watch is that the product should not need as much maintenance as a mechanical watch. Eliminate the need for repair. Over time battery types can be discontinued and the integrated circuits obsolete. Occasionally I hear of situations where a movement model has can be replaced by another similar, newer, still in production model of movement. These situations are however too rare.

Cheap Fashion Watch

My posts usually concern what I call fashion watches. It is a broad and varied category that may be on the decline as we begin to grapple with the sources of global warming and environmental degradation. The industry still produces a lot of watches that cannot really be repaired. Starting in the mid 20th century, Timex and others, made mechanical watches not intended to be repaired or reused; Watches affordable to the masses. Then with the quartz revolution it became even easier to mass produce cheap watches as fashion that would never be repaired or reused. With all man-made mass produced consumer and industrial products in our history, we got away from reuse and just threw away broken things until the trash piles got too big. Then we tried to recycle but realized how hard it is to do while keeping up with production. Now we are being forced to only make products that originally use some percentage of recycled materials and will also have some amount of reuse/recycle makeup later. Some companies are starting programs to take back their expired products.

Now going on fifty years since the advent of the cheap quartz watch, collectors like me are realizing the backs of drawers and closets of the average American are filled with dead quartz watches. We still continue to make them, but every watch company is now starting to think about sustainable production and reuse and recycling. How are we going to keep the cheap quartz category alive in the future?

Vintage Watches

When the watch community considers vintage watches, its usually talking about vintage mechanical luxury watches, not neo-vintage quartz fashion watches. Most watch collecting discussion in the media, social media and watch sites/blogs is about luxury watches. There is all kinds of discussion about the costs of vintage luxury watch collecting and how luxury brands are establishing heritage departments to keep their old products going, at a cost. We are at a moment in time when it is nostalgic in looking at mechanical watches again. There is always going to be people who want to keep and fix old things even if the watch company does not.

No one is talking about the 30-yr-old quartz watch. Understandable. We are not driving Model A Fords any longer. Heck, when was the last time you saw a 1970s Honda Civic? The world moves on, and micro brands are reusing refurbished mechanical movements and recycled steel for cases with natural and recycled materials for straps. Vaer is reselling refurbished watches, but the prices are not bargains. This is great, but, what is the future of the reusable mass market quartz watch? Maybe the future is not repairing, but replacing old watches because everything is reused or recycled? Its not a new problem. If manufacturers do not want watch waste, they have to make it easy to get the dead stuff back.

My friend Timex

I have to discuss Timex here because it constitutes the bulk of my watch collection. I have to talk about the situation as I see it now. I own Timex watches made from the 1960s up to 2023. Getting repairs is not easy, across the spectrum, but I want to focus on the newer quartz watches that are only five or fewer years old. Very few people want to work on Timex watches, of any age. Again, its the cost of repair versus value calculation. On top of that, working on vintage ones is considered a “specialized” practice. The newer ones are shunned for lack of parts. The curse of the throw-away watch still haunts Timex.

I don’t know how long Timex expects its $50-150 quartz watches to last. I don’t know if they consider them disposable as they did earlier in the last century. I don’t know what they expect to happen to their watches when they cannot be repaired. (More on this later). What do consumers expect from a $50 watch, a $150 watch? I would venture to say that most people don’t ever expect to get their Timex repaired. Maybe change a battery or strap, but that’s it. When it dies, they will throw it away or sell it and get a new one. Again, our expectations of repair are commensurate with the initial cost of the watch. We expect to get an IWC fixed when needed, if we can afford it. We do not necessarily expect to get a Timex MK1 fixed.

They generally have a 1-year warranty on new watches bought from an authorized dealer. The will fix for free any problem within that year. If they cannot fix the watch, they will try to replace it with same or similar model. If after a year, they will do the same for $30. You can also pay for strap or battery replacement for a working watch.

Don’t send this 2012 watch to Timex for repair

This all sounds good, but the current situation is that the Repair Shop process is a mess. I have used the Timex Repair shop many times over the past few years. At times they can do amazing things like rebuilding a 25 year-old watch. At times they can be disappointing like not having a movement or bezel for a 2 year-old watch. I have had them offer me a not similar replacement or send me a Frankenstein mod.

The process goes something like this: You login to the Timex site, create a repair form, print it and print a prepaid mailing label. You box watch with form and sent to Indiana. Timex receives your watch, assesses it then directs you to make a Paypal payment if it can be fixed. In a month or two later, when things are going smooth, you get a box from the Philippines with your refurbished watch.

When things are not working, as has been the case several times this past year or two, it is not that simple. At the time of this writing the Timex web site will not let you print the repair form or the mailing label. Customer Service reps will tell you the are conducting website changes. The mailing label has been a problem several times over the past two years. I have had them lose track of my repair request, as in not contacting me for months until I reach out to them with an inquiry. After lots of trouble you can frequently be informed that your watch cannot be repaired for lack of parts…

Timex Rewound

For a long time this year, as they made site changes, the Repair Shop was not reachable! It was not available for an indefinite time…Ironically their repair shop was down at the same time they were announcing the Timex Rewound program. They call it the World’s First Circular Program for Watches. This is a program to take your old broken watches, from any brand, and either fix them for resale on their new site or recycle them. In return you get a 20% discount on selected new Timex watches. They don’t really say what or how much of the watches received are recycled? It would be interesting to know the details of their recycling program. There are a lot of dead watches out there, so there is a lot of work to be done! I think they will need to up that discount if they want more participation? Also, if they are having such a hard time processing repairs, who will be refurbishing these Rewound watches?

To be clear, you do not get your watch back. It is not a repair and send back program. It is a repair and resell or recycle program.

So, at the same time they were taking any brand watches for Rewound repair for resale, they were not able to accept your Timex for repair!

It is commendable that Timex is trying to recycle or reuse those dead unwanted quartz watches I was referring to earlier, but what are they doing about the 5 yr-old MK1 in great shape that I cant get a movement for? I decided to send in an old Bulova quartz chronograph to see what would happen. At this writing I have not heard back from Rewound, but I’m sure it will not be fixed. Some parts will be “recycled”. I have purchased a watch from the site, too. Initially there were several bargain priced Timex refurbished watches that were “up my alley”, so to speak, but they went fast. Now it looks like a Disney store site…

I have resorted to finding NOS or used movements on my own and taking them along with ailing watches to a watchmaker to do the transplants. I am working up to being able to do some low-level watch repair myself such as batteries, cleaning and maybe movement replacements, only because many watchmakers won’t or can’t work on inexpensive Timex or other quartz watches. Their problem is the same: no movements available, or cost of repair/restoration being beyond the means of most collectors.

Reclaim with recycled content strap and case. What’s it’s lifespan?

Timex has also begun to offer watches with cases and straps made of recycled “ocean-bound” plastics. It is a positive step, but again, will they be able to replace the movement in 3 or 5 years? What price do we want to pay for a watch that can be repaired for 20 years?

’96 Bulova awaiting transplant or recycling

Other Brands

Regarding other brands, the situation is much the same. A novice watch collector learns the game. Watch manufacturers want to sell you new watches, not fix old ones. The dealer/manufacturer chain does not want to and can’t work on old cheap watches. I have taken 1990s quartz Tag Heuers, quartz Bulovas and even an auto 70s Tissot to a jeweler/dealer with negative results. The in-house watch makers assess the watch (usually the same problem: no parts), then send the to the factory, which in turn assesses and gives the same response: no parts. Then they offer a coupon for selected new watches. Why the dealer watchmakers even bother to send the old watches to the factory in the first place is a question I have? But it gets worse: I once paid $50 for a watch to be sent from jeweler to Citizen/Bulova so they could tell me they can’t fix it. I knew ahead of time there would be a charge for this trip, so I told them not to send it. From past experience I knew what would result. There was miscommunication somewhere in the chain of events and it went off anyway.

The only option for keeping old or even new-ish cheap watches is spending a lot of money and leg work locating spares then finding independent or specialist watchmakers willing to do the work on the Frankensteins.

Future Cheap Watches

Timex Rewound is a start. It addresses waste by recycling, but does not adequately address repairing watches to keep them in use. Maybe their plan is not to repair? Maybe they do not think that profitable? Repair means producing and stocking spares. Obviously it is hard to maintain parts when you don’t know what you will need? When you are constantly introducing new watches and components, there is no room for spares if you want to keep costs down. A company can say they have a Repair Service, but then not actually have to repair anything because there are not parts to repair with! Your repair service becomes a Recycle Service.

So Many Questions

Could they license more independent parts suppliers to make cheap quartz movements and other parts available to watch repair businesses? Could Rewound expand into a robust refurbishment operation to extend the life of style lines? How long do companies want certain watches to live? Is it possible to be innovative and keep old designs alive, too? How can new fashion and trends be addressed while using older components? They could use common parts across main lines, which they already do, to make spares and repair more economical. Could a modular core be used across multiple trends/years?

They could make more self-winding and solar watches to eliminate need for batteries. Rechargeable batteries that are easy to change could be used? They could reduce the number of designs produced each year/season. The cost of watches will have to increase to cover the recycling costs. A design that needs less repair usually means more cost upfront to the consumer, but reduced maintenance cost later. Can they make easily repairable quartz movements? Should all watch prices include a core charge that is reimbursed upon return of expired watch?

Every watch is a product of its time. Maybe the time of the cheap throw-away quartz watch is over? Will nostalgia for vintage be sacrificed? The goal is zero waste and 100% reuse to reduce the degradation of the environment but the plan has to include repair and refurbishment along the way. Timex (and others) have a lot to answer for if they are indeed still making Throw-Away watches.



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