What to do if water has gotten into an old Rolex and is fogging the glass?

As time goes by, watches lose their water resistance. It happens. And if you are experiencing this issue, well, you have a couple solutions.

The easy solution is as follows.

Get it to your watchmaker for a service, quick.

Rolex uses a unique kind of closure for its watches (the famous – and patented – Oyster case) which requires a special tool for opening. This tool follows the small indents at the base of the backcase, so rotating it you can unscrew it. It is not available to everybody, and only watchmakers normally have it. Of course you could buy it, but it is both costly and not really suited to DIY. Remember that a false move might make you scratch deeply your watch. Not really an issue on a Seiko 5, but on a Rolex, it hurts.

If you leave the moisture inside the watch, some parts of it would start to rust, and this is something that you do not want at all.

Do not try to do anything by yourself. If you do not know what to do, you could eventually make something wrong, and to remedy it it would be costly or downright impossible.

You might manage to remove some fogginess through the use of different methods, like rice, silica gel, cat litter and such, but it would require you to remove the back of the watch to be effective. Are you really ready for that?

The hard solution requires instead some manual dexterity, and involves significant risk to the watch itself. Plus it will void your warranty, if the watch had one.

Please note: what follows is a somewhat detailed description of the procedure needed to open up a Rolex.

I have been asked in other platforms why should I give this detailed how-to guide to anyone, as the good and right answer is obviously the first. I did not want to boast my operational knowledge of habillage: I just wanted to explain the reasons why lifting the back of a watch to let go the vapor formed inside – as it would be logical to do – is easier said than done. If I did not, anyone reading could assume it was an easy task – something that everyone could safely achieve, and save a few bucks. Well, as you can see, there’s much more into it – and this is what your watchmaker does when servicing a watch (any watch) that has this kind of issue, not just a Rolex.

So, caveat lector – proceed at your own risk.

Here’s the Rolex opener tool I was talking about before. This one is a Chinese-made compatible one. It is made of soft, low-quality steel, so it is good for few uses – but it is relatively affordable (around 30 USD bought online). Good quality ones featuring professional components and materials – that is, watchmaker’s quality – are made by companies like Horotec and Bergeon, but they cost significantly more (like 5 times more).

As you can see, you have to place the die over the watch when it is properly held in a vice with its back upwards.

The four teflon/hard plastic holders ensure the watch does not get scratched if something slips out of control.
What follows is a typical Oyster case back. As you can readily understand, you need several dies to find the one which fits your watch size, as we have many diameters, from the Ladies tiniest to the Gentleman’s biggest. When you have secured the watch case into the vice, and the vice has been placed in a bench vise, you are now ready to put the wrench into the die, press hard against the back of the watch and turn so to unscrew it.

If you do not place everything perfectly aligned, and something slips, well…

You could end up with something like this. That is, a severely scratched back which would require an intensive work to return to a good state (not pristine anymore – if you scratch something, you remove material from it). Even if a professional polishes this watch, the deep scratches on its base will continue to be noticeable.

Let’s pretend you have done everything right, and managed to remove the back safely and securely. You end up with this situation.

Congrats. You’ve made it!

Now, place your watch like this under a closed container so to protect the watch movement from dust. You could place a couple packets of silica gel next to it, but not really necessary. Leave it like this for a couple days. Then proceed to screw the back again into the watch, with all that this action entails.

Remember: if water got into the watch the first time, it is because it found a way to get into it first!

This means that either you had not screwed the crown in fully, or the o-rings protecting the watch have to be changed or serviced, because they are not water resistant anymore. So now you have a new problem to solve: to ensure that your watch is water resistant again.

Watches have different kind of gaskets, often made in silicone, which have an operative life of around five to ten years, and they must be periodically greased and changed to ensure they stay water-resistant. You can see it in the Rolex back, housed in a recess around the back opening.

They are applied to the backs, as well as to the crowns. Yes, these tiny gaskets on the winding stem have to be periodically lubed and changed as well to ensure that the watch stays water resistant.

When you have done all of this, now you can check if the watch is water resistant again. You’d need someone who has a kind of tool for that, though, since doing it traditionally – that is, in water – would be dangerous, especially if you have made a mistake and the water resistance is impaired somewhere…

You can get a hobbyist-level one for around 300 USD, but the good ones can cost you five times more.

Well, now you have finished, and your watch has no moisture into it anymore, nor will get any later!

If you have gone this far, you could start thinking about selling watchmaking services to your friends, family, and acquantainces.

As you are now thinking, this service is something that professionals usually do – for a few bucks. This knowledge, and tools assortment, are better used by a professional. And the answer is yes: unless you are a serious hobbyist, or a professional, do not even think about doing all of this by yourself. It would possibly make the problem bigger and more costly to solve.

You can find much more about horology and its fascinating history in The Watch Manual, a thorough e-book that explains all the basics about watchmaking and its protagonists.

To download a FREE 8-chapter extract from The Watch Manual

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