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Will In-House Made Watch Movements Be Serviceable In The Future?

Daniel K. in Aurora, Canada asks:

With many watch companies moving to in-house made movements, is there any concern that this change will make it more difficult for the watches to be serviced 20-50 yrs from now? Will this market change make it more challenging to get the watch serviced, both locally or by the watch company themselves? I find some comfort in believing that a ubiquitous ETA movement can be serviced anywhere by a respectable watch repair shop.

The last few years have seen an explosion of watch brands offering “in-house made” movements that they produce themselves. This is in contrast to a more traditional (last 20 years especially) model where a lot (but not all brands) purchase movements from suppliers (namely ETA). ETA Swiss Made movements are robust, common, easy to service, and a good value for the price. Though they aren’t very exclusive. Also, ETA doesn’t really make mass produced “very complicated” watches. ETA has also recently stopped supplying a lot of people with movements. This has forced a lot of brands to either make their own movements or look elsewhere.

That is all nice and good, but the sad reality is that most brands end up charging a lot more for their in-house made movements. This makes a lot of sense when it comes very unique stuff, but it is hard to sometimes justify when it comes to movements similar to what ETA produces. So, going back to the original question – are all of these in-house movements going to be serviceable in the future? The short answer is “maybe.” The sheer volume of ETA movements means that for the most part any ETA movement you may have will be repairable during your lifetime. There are just so many watches and spare parts available, as well as people familiar with their movements that ETA movements are very safe.

In-house made movements from small or exotic brands are probably the most risky movements to invest in. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, but only that if you do, and years down the road those movements break, you may be in for a huge shock when it comes to fixing them, if you can even find someone able to do it. Small brands aren’t guaranteed to exist in 5, 10, or 20 years, and assuming something goes wrong, it is not clear whether parts will be available. Moreover, even large brands will often not service older watches. They might, but it isn’t guaranteed. Pretty much anything CAN be fixed or serviced, but the less common and older a watch is, the more difficult it will be to find someone who can work on it, and the more expensive it can get.

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  • DG Cayse

    Very good question.
    It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is “in-house” or a watch made using common parts assembled “in-house”…gettin after sale service is a very tricky thing.
    Especially if it is a Hong Kong made piece sold by a European brand.
    Have a problem….”Sorry Lad, no parts available to fix that one.”

  • Jef_in

    If consumer product  history can teach us anything, it is that “obsolescence”  is part of the trade. This is true for all company,  even if it is a well pedigreed brand.  One should expect more obsolescence and disrepair for smaller companies and niche brands.  But if you really want a watch, no matter how hard or obsolete the part is, to make it run,  you can still have the part manufactured – though more expensively.
    So the answer would be a yes,  it will be hard to have an in house serviced after 20 to 50 years,  even if the watch would come from a very high end long standing watch manufacturer.  That is just the nature of anything.  As an example, the watch spring maybe an in-house material design,  but after 20 years, the material used for the manufacture of the spring becomes more expensive.  So a replacement spring might be made.  A new design or new material spring might not be what would fit in your watch,  but there can be a replacement available somewhere.
    This obsolescence is more prevalent and  might be an accepted part of the product for anything electronic or computerized.  The IC used for the old PC is not available anymore,  so you would need to trash your whole PC,  even if the problem is just on the video card, and the price of a new one is much lower and with better spec.
    So unless the watch is fully mechanical,  with very robust parts,  even if it is in house,  it would be designed to last. 
    I am not sure if Tag’s belt drive is meant to last.  But, technically, the belt driven mechanism would not last as long as a pure gear/wheel movement.  Then again, I don’t know.  The watch may outlive the owner and get passed on to someone who does not really care for the watch.


    There was an interesting article in Hodinkee about the serviceability of vintage watches.

    I anticipate that the in-house movements of smaller brands will be very difficult or expensive to fix.