The charm of the vintage timepieces is unquestionable
I have a legacy Longines watch (1940s). Do you suggest refurbishing and servicing it at the factory or at a local specialist?
This is a very common debate in the vintage world. And the answer has varied in time. As much as the tradition of a brand is important, when you get watches this old, dealing with an external specialist is often a better idea.
Modern Maisons have generally little interest in dealing with old watches. They are far out of their marketing cycle, so they do not really signify much in monetary terms. Most likely, they will not have anymore spare parts for them, so your lovely old watch will be trated more as a nuisance than a cherished old memento of times past. With exceptions, of course!
But if your watch is an old Longines of a simple make, it will be much better served by an independent watchmaker than the official service network of any company.
Modern companies usually depend on few different stock calibers, built by few big manufacturers like ETA and Sellita. Of course, the high-end Maisons have their own calibers, but resorting to stock ebauches was far more common back in time.
Movement-making has changed in time
Many companies (Longines included) made their own movements, which more often than not are not anymore in production, like this old, beautiful Longines-branded movement.
More, their services networks are trained to repair the current calibers, not the old ones, as it would be a waste of time and energy to train someone to repair one caliber which comes in the service shop once every blue moon.
This means that the service centers will not be prepared to deal with your caliber, and possibly, will not even want to get into the nitty-gritty details of studying it to repair it. It is simply not profitable enough anymore.
The Official Service Networks are today semi-industrially structured
Most of the service networks of watch companies are based on a quasi-industrial repair procedure, which have been fueled by modern business practices. As it happens with modern cars, they do not repair anything anymore: they are more likely to take a spare part and install it into the mechanism, replacing the faulty one. But when there are no ready spare parts to use, as it happens in vintage timepieces, this procedure becomes impossible to enact.
An independent watchmaker is instead trained to work on different calibers. He has no issues about learning the intricacies of a new one, and usually has an extensive spare parts inventory that he can use to this extent: finding a spare part that could resolve the issue at hand. Repairing the single part if and when necessary.
An independent watchmaker has no “hidden agenda”
This is the main reason why I warmly suggest to everyone that when the warranty on your watch ends, the best solution is to resort to the network of independent watchmakers.
While you are never sure of their professional preparation, the majority of them are well-rounded individuals who have sound business ethics, and act for the best interest of their customers, not of their customers’ watch’s manufacturing company.
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.