Why Your Rolex Isn't Keeping Perfect Time

Why Your Rolex Isn't Keeping Perfect Time
April 30, 2015 10 min read
Why Your Rolex Isn't Keeping Perfect Time

“My Rolex won’t keep time correctly.”

“My watch is always slow.”

“My Rolex just stops altogether.”

These are statements I’ve heard in the Watch Chest office and it can get quite annoying. It’s not that the customer is annoying at all, but I would get frustrated that their lack of knowledge would cause a rift in the experience of owning their Rolex – because usually there is nothing wrong and they are just unaware of how a mechanical Rolex watch works.

The watches sold and shipped out from Watch Chest are held to Rolex factory standards and expectations, but – to be completely honest – I’m not sure what these specs would mean to you if I just sat here and gave you a list of what’s inspected and required of a Rolex before a sale. So to try and help I would like to explain the mechanical movement and how it pertains to you, skipping most of the technical talk that even sometimes goes over my head.


Mechanical Movement Basics

The mechanical movement is just that, where it functions because of a machine and not a battery. A battery-operated watch is typically called a “quartz” movement and is designed to be perfectly on time – all the time – until the battery dies.


A red toy car with turn keyA red toy car with turn key


Imagine toy car: there is a turn-key on the car that you wind until you feel it tighten to capacity. Once you let it go, it zooms around on the floor until it runs out of the energy you have supplied it, unable to move again until you wind the turn-key once more. As with this toy car, the mechanical movement has a mainspring that tightens up inside of it. The mainspring will only have a certain amount of energy it can supply to power your Rolex as it unwinds until it is wound-up again (I’m going to call this a “charge”).

Despite the truth that a mechanical movement will not be able to keep perfect time compared to a quartz movement, the Parachrom Hairspring manufactured by Rolex is one of the most stable ever created. The paramagnetic alloy it is fashioned from is highly resistant to magnetic fields, temperature variations, or jolts that would otherwise interfere with its reliability. 


The Parachrom Hairspring by RolexThe Parachrom Hairspring by Rolex

The Parachrom Hairspring | photo from rolex.com


How To Wind Your Rolex (A Quick Explanation)

The mainspring is wound-up and charged by either of two ways: manually winding the crown when it is unscrewed to the 1st position or by the movement created as you wear it on your wrist. If you look at your Rolex, the winding crown sits on the right side of the case head. It should be closed at all times, unless you are setting your watch or winding it.

  1. Unscrew the crown by rotating it counter-clockwise. As you unscrew it, the crown will slightly pop out from the case head. Do not pull it, but let it sit where it naturally popped out to. The crown is now in the 1st position.
  2. Rotate the crown clockwise 20 times. You will feel and hear the movement winding.
  3. Close and lock the crown by pushing it towards the case head and screw it clockwise. It will tighten down and continue to screw it in until you feel resistance, letting you know it is locked in.
Showing Position 0 and Position 1 on the Rolex SubmarinerShowing Position 0 and Position 1 on the Rolex Submariner


Your Rolex Isn’t Keeping Proper Time

My brother, Corey, received a Rolex Submariner 14060M for his college graduation a few years ago. Ever since he has been freelancing and works mostly out of his home, he doesn’t wear his watch too often and it is sitting still more than being worn. It nearly drives me insane that whenever he does put it on, he usually forgets to set the time and then it looks like he’s just walking around at 1:32 am of last Monday.

If you have a similar wearing pattern to my brother, your Rolex is not absorbing enough movement and therefore can not charge the mainspring to ensure proper function. He would benefit from a watch winder (a small machine that rotates the watch to mimic the movement of your wrist; will fit perfectly on a dresser) and if it bothers you to have to set your Rolex every time you want to wear it, so would you.

Even if you were to wear your Rolex 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with constant movement, it is still recommended by Rolex to manually wind your watch 20 rotations once a month. Essentially, this just gives the movement some attention as you wind it to a full charge. But, most people take off their watch to sleep or take a shower. Unless you are putting your Rolex on a watch winder, you are setting your watch down at some point and stopping the continuous charge of movement.

So if your watch is either fast or slow, there is a monthly allowance that Rolex deems healthy. According to Glenn Rutledge, Watch Chest’s AWCI CW21 watchmaker, Rolex claims your watch should keep proper time, give or a take a minute per month. However, he also says:


“… but they don’t push it and I doubt that many keep that kind of time even when new.”

Unless you have access to a skilled watchmaker who will calibrate (meaning, to adjust or modify the tautness of the mainspring) your watch for you every day on a Time Machine as per your specific wrist-movement habits and wearing patterns, this isn’t likely to happen. Not only would you need to calibrate a watch to how you wear it, but also take into consideration that the machinery is affected by climate, altitude, and the natural laws of gravity and physics. It’s pretty amazing!

In the Watch Chest office and other similar independent dealers, there is a modified rule that aims for Rolex’s standards but gives a little room for each watch’s context (such as its age, if it has ever been serviced, the climate of where the owner lives, etc). It’s accepted that a normal range of time lost for a watch is close to 3 minutes per month. If your watch is gaining time, the norm is around 6 additional minutes per month. If your Rolex falls within these specs, your watch is keeping time beautifully.

Even if it’s running a little more than that, it doesn’t always mean something is wrong but may only need a little calibration by a watchmaker if it’s bothersome or inconvenient. A simple winding of the crown monthly (or even weekly won’t hurt!) is the first thing I would mention if a customer called in with any movement service request. A lot of issues are ruled out just by doing this, where their watch has not had a full charge in a while and it just needed that manual wind.

Nevertheless, there are always the cases where your watch is functioning incorrectly, losing or gaining a significantly large amount of time. If you believe your watch may have something wrong with the internal movement, the following directions are a great way to get closer to an answer.


How To Check if Your Rolex is Keeping Time

  1. Unwind the crown to open it to the 1st position. Wind your watch 20 times to ensure you are starting out with a full charge.
  2. Set your Rolex to the exact second, preferably to a satellite clock (such as the one on a cell phone) so that your record of keeping time will be consistent. Push and screw the crown back in to the closed position.
  3. Wear your Rolex as normal, but at the end of the day, mark down the seconds and minutes lost or gained compared to the satellite clock.
  4. Repeat every night for at least 1 week but a month is even better. (Don’t forget to wear it during the weekend!)

After you have collected your sample, add up your numbers to find how much time was lost or gained within your sampled timeframe. There is no set “here is where it means something is wrong” number but is it more than 3 minutes lost or 6 minutes gained? If so, it may be worth talking to who you bought it from or a watchmaker. More than likely it just needs to be calibrated on the Time Machine but if it’s more than that it is usually an extremely simple fix.

I understand that you may feel like you’ve paid a pretty penny for your Rolex, so it should keep nearly perfect time! What is often misunderstood is that, as one of the most reliable mechanical movements in the world, the technology within the watch is actually what accelerates the price. The world-renowned craftsmanship and value established within a Rolex wouldn’t exist if all it required was a battery.

All of this is not a bad thing; it’s actually doing exactly what it’s designed to do! What causes grief for wearers is the unrealistic expectation that your mechanical watch should keep perfect time to the second without a single thought. Take a moment to acknowledge the science, engineering, and beauty within your timepiece and perhaps it won’t feel like your Rolex is letting you down!


Your Rolex is Stopping Altogether

There could be two reasons your Rolex is stopping:

  1. Just like I mentioned above about my brother, if you are not wearing your watch consecutively enough there will not be enough of a charge to power the movement and your watch will eventually stop. Even if you take off your watch on Friday and put it back on Monday morning, just to find that your watch has stopped over the weekend, this is still technically enough time for the mainspring’s charge to run out. As a machine, it can only do what it is designed to do. At a full charge and with no movement, most Rolex can only run for a 48 hour time period. Subsequently, because the movement has no more power after the 48 hours, it will have to be reset and wound back up to begin functioning again.
  2. If you have ruled that out and you have manually wound your watch to give it a full charge and your Rolex is still stopping prematurely, then definitely have a trusted watchmaker take a look at it. Most of the time it will be a very easy fix.

It’s Time For a Service

Depending on when your Rolex was last serviced by a Rolex-trained watchmaker, it may just be time for a service. Rolex recommends a full service be done every 5 to 6 years on your Rolex. Just as you change the oil in your car and put on new tires, the machine on your wrist will need the same type of attention (but thankfully not as often). Regular servicing will ensure the longevity and value of your luxury mechanical watch.


If you are interested in Watch Chest servicing your watch, check out our entire servicing procedure, here.


All That To Say 

Before you go through the trouble of sending in your Rolex or going to the jeweler, give it a wind and analyze your wearing habits. If you still believe your watch is not keeping time correctly, follow the directions above and take daily notes on the seconds lost or gained. This may seem tedious but it can either prove your watch is functioning properly or at the very least, provide the watchmaker with invaluable information so that he will know what to look for if he were to examine your Rolex for any specific issues.

Understanding the design and quirks of a Rolex and other mechanical movements has the potential to save you from so much frustration! Most of the time there is nothing wrong and just a simple education in how one works is what was needed, where extensive issues are truly far and few between. Have fun wearing your Rolex and other luxury watches and enjoy the time-honored tradition of craftsmanship and technology that you are fortunate enough to experience!

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