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Back to basics: A link in time

By Tom Weishaar


Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in a six-part series that aims to break bad habits and do away with shortcuts bench jewellers often pick up. This time, we turn our attention to rebuilding bracelet links.

Time takes its toll. Even the most beautiful and well-crafted piece has limits on its endurance. At 2200 years old, this beautiful Greek statue of Venus de Milo—also known as Aphrodite—has had her share of difficult days. No one can say at this point what has become of her arms. Perhaps they were lost through rough handling or some natural occurrence, but even without arms, her beauty is undeniable.

Even tanks need upkeep

Time and wear also take their toll on jewellery, even one of the most well-made watches in the world, Rolex.

Rolexes are sometimes compared with a well-made car, like a Rolls Royce. When bench jewellers discuss their durability, they use clichés such as ‘built like a tank.’ The ladies’ 18-karat Datejust (image two in the above slider) is 12 years old, and has been worn every day since its purchase. As you can see, the owner has taken good care of the watch and not worn it roughly. However, Rolexes are heavy watches, and the rivet wires holding the links together tend to receive the greatest wear.

Unfortunately, many watch bracelets come to me after they are worn down to the point where the links are eroded and repairing them becomes difficult and expensive. I am often asked to reconstruct links in men’s watches, along with the rivet wires. In the past, I have spent up to 40 hours rebuilding a single watch bracelet. In these situations, I think it would be best to replace the bracelet, rather than repair it. In the case of our example, the links still have good crisp edges—only the rivet wires need to be replaced.

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In cases like this, I always discuss with the customer the options of repairing the single broken link or the better route of replacing all the rivets. Even though the remaining rivets are in place, it is a good assumption they are also worn and will fail soon. When done individually, the estimate at our store to repair a single rivet is $75 US. However, it is more cost-effective to repair all the rivets at the same time. Therefore, I reduce the estimate to $50 per link for a group rate. In our example, the customer chose to have all the rivets replaced for the reduced fee.

After receiving approval of the estimate, the first step was to cut the bracelet apart. I used an 8/0 saw blade and very carefully sliced through the rivets holding each of the links together. This watch was still so tightly connected, I had to drive small wooden wedges between a few of the links just to separate them enough to get the fine saw blade in between to do its job.

As can be seen in the last photo in the above slider, the remaining rivets were all worn down. The thickest of these rivets was about 50 per cent of its original diameter. It would have only been a short time before another rivet broke; with each break, you run the risk of losing the watch. This customer made the correct call in having all the rivets replaced.

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