The actual title for this piece was going to be “My First Rolex (or How I Learned About Center Wheel Pinion Wear and Then About The Importance of Absolute Cleanliness)” but I opted to keep format and stick with the basic title. This 1500 was a great step for me as it is a huge confidence builder to have the service of a Rolex under one’s belt and be able to take one from +35 seconds/day to within chronometer specs. I look forward to servicing many more in the future.
Although people rarely get to see what is inside their Rolex, it is what makes the brand what it is. They have phenomenally well-built and finished movements that are the lynchpin of their reputation. Beyond the marketing and beyond the prestige, Rolex would not be Rolex without the magic that is their movements and manufacturing. They are able to produce these movements in mind-boggling quantities with the same standard of precision over and over and over. It is for this reason that they have been able to keep their name atop the list of luxury watch brands for so long. That being said, I’m not sure how happy they would be with me for servicing one of their movements as they have become increasingly hostile towards anyone other than Rolex touching the inside of their watches. This has become a huge point of contention between independent watchmakers and Rolex (as well as many other top-tier brands.) A fantastic watchmaker and writer put together a very good piece about this, which can be found at: http://nickhacko.blogspot.com/2012/05/preserving-our-dignity.html
When I first got this watch, it appeared to be running fine, but it was fast by 35 seconds. This is not out of the ordinary for a watch that has not been serviced in a long time. With that knowledge I set about taking it apart. The main plate is finished incredibly well with perlage of differing diameters in different places. As this was an earlier version of the Caliber 1570 movement, this watch did not contain a hack function.
As a general rule, when servicing watches of this caliber, a new mainspring is a must. Once that was done I set about reassembly in the most delicate manner I could muster. A single mistake could have mean that I would be unable to finish this watch. As Rolex is unreasonably restrictive on their parts, if I broke, dropped, or lost anything, I would either have to pay an exorbitant amount if the part was available or give up and sell the watch for parts. With that in mind I proceeded like porcupines mate (very carefully.) Unfortunately upon inspection of the gears I found something that made my heart sink. The center wheel had so much wear that it was wobbling in its place. For some reason unknown to me the caliber 1570 does not contain a jewel for the center wheel on the main plate. This means that the wheel experiences metal-on-metal friction. Running time plus dry/no oil equals this kind of wear.
The only fix is a new center wheel. Fortunately there is a limited secondary market for genuine Rolex parts and I was able to get my hands on one. I think it was during this time (even though it was covered and protected) that the second problem arose.
Once the new center wheel came in I cleaned it and got the watch together, I wound it up and installed the balance. If my heart sank before, this time it dropped through to the sub-basement. Everything was supposedly great and yet the movement would not run at all.
I disassembled the watch and re-inspected everything. Then something caught my eye under the microscope: a hair had become lodged around one of the gear’s pinions. This teeny tiny little hair had the capacity to bring such a magnificent piece of engineering to its knees. With the hair removed I reassembled the gear train and sure enough the problem was solved and the watch ran beautifully and accurately.
Once that whole fiasco was done, I put the dial and hands on and cased the movement. Back together it is a beautiful vintage Datejust that showcases the timeless elegance of the classic Rolex pieces.
As far as the cleanliness aspect, I upped the filtration; installed sticky mats on the floor; clean the bench at least once daily with compressed air plus now apply an extra diligence to cleaning the pieces as I go about installation. Lesson well learned.