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Posted on November 9, 2015 3:00 pm
When it comes to watches, Hamra Jewelers’ watchmaker Peter Evans knows his stuff.
He spent six months interning with Rolex at their service centers in Pennsylvania and Switzerland after earning a degree in watchmaking from the Lititz Watch Technicum, a Rolex-funded watchmaking school. He’s also the only authorized Rolex watchmaker in the greater Phoenix area inside a jewelry store.
It’s no wonder then that every Rolex that comes into Hamra for repair goes through Peter’s hands. He handles anything even remotely related to Hamra’s watches, from cleaning to repair to band adjustment.
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“That’s one of the fun things about being a watchmaker in a store is you get to do this kind of stuff,” he says as he adjusts a band for a newly purchased watch. “In a service center, you don’t actually see any clients at all. The watches are just handed to you because they’re shipped in, and then you work on them and you give them away and that’s it. Being in a store is fun in my opinion because you get interrupted but it’s for something different every time.”
He starts by diagnosing the problem and creating a very detailed estimate for the customer. Serial numbers, watch materials, and pre-existing nicks or scratches are all noted on the form to ensure that each estimate is as tailored as possible to the specific watch.
But there are some common factors in most of the watches he sees.
“Typically any watch should be serviced around the five-year mark, so every five years you should get your watch serviced, and most of the watches I get in here for repair haven’t been serviced in over 15,” Peter says. “It’s a lot less expensive and a lot less time consuming to just clean it, re-oil it, versus repairing all those parts that are now damaged because all the oil dried up or is dirty.”
Once the estimate is created, he sends it to the customer for approval. Once he gets the go-ahead, the real work begins.
Contrary to popular belief, most watch backs don’t pop on and off. Most need to be twisted off with the aid of a machine called a case press, which applies torque. It has a key that lines up to the grooves on the back of the watch case, while the bottom part of the machine holds the watch in place to unscrew the case back.
Case Backs that screw into place allow for better water resistance than the pop-off style, Peter says. All of the watch cases that pass through his hands are tested for water resistance, and if they don’t pass, they don’t leave.
“When we do a waterproofing test, we actually use real water,” he says. “Most companies don’t. That’s a Rolex thing; Rolex mandates that we have to use water, not just simulated pressure when we do a water test.”
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The watch movement has its own set of water trials to go through. After removing it from the case, it goes into a special machine for cleaning.
The machine looks like something out of Star Wars. It’s a big, rounded, clunky thing perched on the back corner of the workbench, unassuming in its blue-and-white utility. But don’t let looks fool you — the machine, which came out last year, is the most expensive piece of equipment Peter uses and Hamra Jewelers is one of the only stores in the country to employ it.
But when you look at the parts it cleans, it makes sense why the machine is so expensive. The biggest one is smaller than a fingernail, and most are smaller even than that. Eyelash-thin snippets of metal and springs that could be mistaken for a piece of lint all go into a little wire basket, which nestles into the belly of the machine for a four-cycle cleaning.
The machine has four tanks that each hold a different fluid for cleaning. It heats the liquid and pipes it into the belly of the machine to submerge the watch movement before spinning it “like a dishwasher would,” Peter says. The parts go through different strengths of solution before finally being rinsed and blow-dried, all within the machine.
After the dry cycle, it’s time for disassembly, for which Peter turns to his microscope.
“I actually take every single screw out, every single part, every spring, every jewel,” Peter says, “And I evaluate each piece, one at a time, under magnification, to make sure that there is no wear, there’s no chips, no grooves that aren’t supposed to be there, teeth aren’t broken, springs aren’t weakened or worn out.”
Once he has checked everything, the disassembled parts go back into wire baskets for a second cleaning. One disassembled watch will typically take up three wire baskets, though the really complicated ones will take up more — some watches contain up to 200 tiny pieces.
“These have all been inspected and they’re all good,” Peter says, pointing to a basket of tiny parts.
“How can you tell?” I ask, astonished.
“Very carefully,” he replies.
In all fairness, Peter does have some help. He wears an eye loupe for nearly all of his watch work, which gives five times the magnification of the human eye. The microscope is 45 times the magnification and has a ring of lights to fully illuminate the parts he’s dealing with.
“At 45 times, I can tell if it’s damaged or not,” he says.
For watch repair and maintenance tips or to schedule a private Rolex showing, give Hamra Jewelers a call at 480-946-5110.