Show of hands: How many people look closely at the warranty when watch shopping? Not many. Ok, how many people think it’s probably important? Yeah, you know it’s likely a good idea to consider it, especially since some companies offer considerably longer warranty periods than others. But, ugh, the fine print! In fact, it’s not as daunting or complicated a topic as you might think, and understanding a few basic points will help you buy with greater confidence.

Watch warranties have, interestingly, become a space for competition within the industry — a competition the consumer wins. With steadily improving technology and manufacturing, better-quality parts have led to more robust watches, and a lot of companies have been increasing the length of their warranties or offering “extensions” on them. It was news when, a few years ago, Rolex and, later, Omega increased their warranties to five years. Some Richemont brands like Cartier, IWC, Panerai, and Jaeger-LeCoultre have also begun offering warranty “extensions” that can amount to a total of eight years.

Those are some of the most prominent brands and strongest/longest warranties in the industry, and they are indeed noteworthy. However, as something that can add value and make a difference in consumers’ purchasing decisions, you should understand what exact benefits they offer — and what they don’t cover.

In a broader, more abstract sense, warranties also do more than provide assurance against defects. Importantly, warranties also reflect the manufacturer’s confidence in the quality of its product — they wouldn’t offer it if it didn’t make good business sense. They help consumers trust the company they’re investing in, and trust is everything in luxury watches. It’s understandable that watch enthusiasts can be confused and overwhelmed by warranties’ legalese, so here are a few points worth clarifying.

Watch Warranties Don’t Cover Damage

Watch warranties are meant to protect against “manufacturer defects” — that is, anything you may discover is wrong with the watch rather than anything that happens to it. If you haven’t abused or damaged the watch yourself, the warranty should cover anything you find isn’t right with it. To preempt any ambiguity, most brands have a list of circumstances that are not covered, some of them specific and some of them broad. It’s also standard that if you or any third party has tampered with, modified, or repaired the watch, the company will consider the warranty voided.

Watch Warranties Don’t Cover Regular Servicing Costs

There are a few key issues related to buying a watch and caring for it that some people confuse — like the particulars of what’s covered in the warranty, what recommended servicing intervals are, and what servicing itself entails. Most luxury watches bought from an authorized dealer come with a warranty (or “guarantee”) from the brand of a couple (or a few) years, and most also recommend having the watch serviced every few years.

Brands typically have a specific recommendation regarding how often the watch should be serviced. Servicing is like a checkup/cleaning at the dentist, meant to catch any problems early on and keep a watch in generally good health. When Rolex increased its warranty period from two to five years, for instance, it also increased its recommended service interval from every three years up to ten years. That shows a lot of confidence, and supports Rolex’s role as an industry leader. After having a watch officially serviced, many brands, including Rolex, offer a new, two-year warranty.

IWC, however, recommends servicing your watch “approximately every 5 years.” With the brand’s recent warranty “extension,” that means your first service would fall within the warranty period — but you will be responsible for the cost. The warranty will only cover any defect that might be discovered. That’s typical of most watch warranties, but there are sometimes exceptions — Zenith’s 50th Anniversary A386 Revival watch, for example, has an unusual 50-year warranty that includes servicing, rather than the brand’s regular two years.

Not All Watch Warranties Are Equal

A two year-warranty is largely the industry standard, but this is changing as more brands raise the bar. European law actually requires a minimum two-year warranty for consumer goods, and it’s even longer in some countries. The general purpose of a warranty is to give consumers confidence that they’re buying a watch that works as advertised, so most have similar provisions. Length is the primary consideration for the customer, but in some cases this can differ even within a brand depending on the model or where it’s bought (be sure to ask about an international warranty if shopping abroad).

For example, Breitling offers a standard two-year warranty on watches using sourced movements, but it’s five years for those equipped with the brand’s in-house movements. A. Lange & Söhne offers two years but bumps it up to three if the watch is bought from a boutique, and Blancpain has the same deal. Grand Seiko is three years, and many others from the prestigious Vacheron Constantin and Patek Philippe to the Swatch Group’s entry-level-luxury brands (Hamilton, Mido, Rado, etc.) offer just the minimum two years.

While these are acceptable, it’s starting to seem like some brands need to catch up with the competition. The eight-year (two years standard, plus a free “opt-in extension”) warranty introduced for several Richemont brands is among the longest, and clearly meant to outdo the five years offered by the likes of Rolex and Omega.

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Zen Love

Zen Love is Gear Patrol’s watch writer. He avoids the snooty side of the watch world, and seeks out food in NYC that resembles what he loved while living in Asia for over a decade.

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