How to replace a broken crystal on a Rolex watch

I am not a pro watch repairer so obviously doing this makes no sense at all and you really should pay the money and get it done by professionals……..Still here? Well then I guess you may as well read on :-) (you can click on any image to see a close up).

rolex with a broken crystal

Busted crystal and missing cyclops

The story so far……

Getting ready for bed one night saw me fumble with my watch and……..bang! Face down onto hard, hard ceramic tiles. The result was not pretty.

The watch glass or crystal to give it the proper name, was completely smashed. The date bubble or cyclops disintegrated; leaving only tiny fragments and a shadow where it used to be.

I cried, just a little bit, I loved this watch.

OK, toughen up man, it’s time to hit Google! After a little research I found that replacing a rolex crystal is not exactly a straightforward job. Because these watches are mechanical and not digital, obviously you wouldn’t want anything to get in amongst the workings, you know, something like bits of broken crystal!

Because of this broken ‘glass’ issue, any decent watch repairer and certainly any official Rolex dealer, will not touch any crystal replacement job without wanting to do a full service as well. This is of course the official line and indeed it makes perfect sense……unless you can’t afford the service cost when added to the replacement crystal cost (around £600 or $900). Someone like me.

So my poor old Rolex watch laid in a drawer for a year before I realised that to attempt to fix it myself would either work or not. Worst case scenio is that I end up with a busted watch and I already got one of those!!

Back to Google then. Aftermarket crystals were easily found on ebay (thanks wholesaleoutlet990) in exchange for a tiny sum. Three days later, I am in business, ready to repair my beloved Rolex. I even got an aftermarket clasp to repair the bracelet that had previously broken, (this watch has had a tough life… rolexforums.com/Africa wore out my Rolex)

removing the crystal in Rolex date

Removing the retaining ring or bezel that holds the crystal in place.

The first job to do is to remove the old broken crystal. I used a very thin blade and pushed it underneath the retaining ring or bezel that holds the crystal in place. Then I worked and wiggled it all the way around the bezel, lifting it slightly each move.

This lifted up the bezel by enough to swap the thin blade for a thicker knife blade, again working, wiggling and slightly levering the bezel all the way around. After a few trips around, the bezel popped off and I had a bunch of broken crystal in my hand.

Looking at the Rolex watch face I realised that it was a very good fit in the case and that realistically any ‘glass’ would only find its way into the workings of the watch through the date window. So I carefully rotated the winder to turn the date wheel through a full month. Boy was I lucky, on the 16th, I spotted (with my trusty magnifying glass!), a sliver of broken crystal! I used a rolled up piece of tissue paper, dampened slightly at the tip to gently lift the tiny fragment away.

I then gently tipped the remaining broken bits of crystal off the watch face, away from the date hole. I have a small compressor, so I used some oil free, low pressure air to blow the face clean (at a distance I might add!) At no time did I ever touch the watch face or hands which is probably a ‘good thing’.

Right, lets have a look at the new crystal and little plastic gasket that came with it. At first I thought that the new gasket was a little deeper than the original one, but it fitted perfectly so my fears were unjustified.

rolex crystal with retaining bezel

Rolex, crystal and retaining bezel ready for fitting.

homemade crystal press for rolex watch

Slightly bigger than the crystal itself.

Now I just needed the crystal press that I didn’t have! A quick root throught my ‘bits and bobs’ drawer soon found a hard plastic ring from a lamp fitting that was a tiny bit bigger than the crystal face. It is very important not to press the crystal in any way, only the metal bezel.

I didn’t fancy working in the workshop vice and figured that not too much pressure would be needed. So I made a temporary crystal press using a sash clamp, a hard rubber bung and the aforementioned plastic lamp fitting.

homemade crystal press for rolex using sash clamp

Homemade crystal press using sash clamp, rubber bung and a lamp fitting.

Gently winding the sash clamp up until it pinched the bezel. Deep breath and a little more pressure saw the bezel slide down the crystal and snap into place. Sucess!

Now, I’ll let you into a little secret here (but don’t tell anyone!) I figured that as the bezel was going to be so tight, a little lubrication wouldn’t hurt and so in true porn star fashion, I wiped a little saliva around the ring……

Big mistake. The bezel snapped on lovely, but seconds later the inside of the crystal fogged up completely. Duh! Off it came again. I  dried everything with a hair dryer on low and second time around, perfectly dry, it snapped into place just fine. Oh, the mistakes us amateurs make!

It was no good putting it off, the time had come to press in the winder and see if the watch still worked. Pressed it in and bingo, the watch started up straight away, using the power that had been stored in the spring for over a year! Amazing.

Rolex with aftermarket crystal

Back on my wrist, where it belongs.

Now I have no doubt that this page will outrage many Rolex purists out there and I certainly cannot condone working on such fine timepieces without proper training. Indeed I may have just as easily damaged the watch further. But in my defence, it had lain in a drawer for over a year, to all intent and purposes, scrap. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, (Oh, and I am a really, really handy bloke!).

The watch works just fine right now, but who knows what other damage the shock of the fall did. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. One day I promise I’ll get it serviced properly and replace the aftermarket parts.

In the meantime the watch is back where it always was and where it belongs; on my wrist in all weathers and in all conditions, telling me the time.

Stay well

By Ian Anderson

REPAIR UPDATE: I just thought that I’d let you know that my watch is still ticking along nicely as I write this in mid May 2014, so that’s been: 1 year, 9 months and 21 days or 660 days or, 15,840 hours or 950,400 minutes or even 57,024,000 seconds! Phew, that’s a lot of ticking :-) Not bad for a busted watch…..

14 thoughts on “How to replace a broken crystal on a Rolex watch

  1. Your advices really help me a lot. This morning I almost cried when my beloved Rolex faced down agains the porcelain tile :(. I have a question, how can I now the size of the crystal and gasket ? thanks a lot.

    • Hey Ana!
      So sorry to hear that, it’s awful isn’t it?

      I just Googled the model number on watch spare parts websites and copied the crystal serial number from them, then Google the serial number as well as the watch model. I bought my aftermarket replacement off ebay.co.uk for about £28 including the gasket. It fit a treat as you read about. I think I put a link in the article? They might have yours too. Emails were answered too, as I asked about the sizes etc.
      Good luck, let me know how you get on!
      Cheers

  2. Nice article. Thank you. I dropped mine on ceramic tile today also and was wondering how to get the broken chrystal out. When I crack my car windshield I don’t tune up the engine so why should I pay a watch dealer to do that to my watch? Good advice. All the best.

    • Thanks Sean! Yup, mine is still going just fine and it’s been a while now.
      Good luck getting your crystal out and cleaned up. Just watch those hands, they are super fine and I imagine easily damaged!
      Thanks for commenting.
      Cheers
      Ian

  3. Working on replacing my girlfriend’s sapphire crystal & saw your approach. Question…did the replacement plastic seal fit around the flange on the watch face or did it appear to rest more on top of the flange? I bought a replacement crystal and it doesn’t seem quite large enough to fit over the flange…but the outer diameter seems to be the right size for the bezel, so I think I got the right size. Just wondering how you got the new seal started onto the watch flange.

    • Good point Jay, fairly sure that it was over the flange as I wound it up. I also had concerns because the gasket looked slightly different to the original but it snapped on just fine. I think the gasket ends up ‘pinched’between the bezel and the flange. part of the gasket is visible over the bezel afterwards too. I wish I’d paid more attention to that bit now!
      Let me know how you get on.
      Thanks for stopping by
      Ian

    • Brilliant Chris! It just feels scary working on such a valuable watch to start with but as you found, it’s not sooo difficult!
      Really glad it helped and thanks for letting me know how you got on.
      Cheers
      Ian

  4. Hi Ian, what a fantastic blog, I too am just about to fit an aftermarket chrystal and am have concerns over my ability however am going to buy from the same place you bought yours. My chrystal is merely scratched not smashed so I am wondering how you get the old glass out ?, I have a 16600 sea dweller, I can get the rotating bezel of no problem which then leaves the chrystal edge more exposed, I am considering purchasing a chrystal removing tool is one of these required do you know, and lastly doe sthe new gasket get fitted down aournd the face prior to the new chrystal being pressed down, or fitted to the chrystal then pressed down ?, I like you can cobble together a press I assum si long as uniform pressure is applied to the chrystal all should be fine, its just a worrying point !!, thx again Graham

    • Hi Graham,
      Thanks for the kind words! Sorry to hear you managed to scratch your watch :-(

      Replacing the crystal on your watch looks to be the same process as I described for mine. Once the retaining bezel is prized off, the crystal is simply pushed out of the bezel. Re the re-fitting, the new gasket sits on the crystal and the bezel over the top. I didn’t need a crystal removing tool as mine came away textbook style, no problems!

      One thought is that some scratches can be polished out?

      I understand that tackling anything on a Rolex is daunting, but I’m glad I did mine, a year in the drawer busted was enough!
      Thanks for stopping by Graham and good luck if you decide to go for it!

      There is more info here… https://www.rolexforums.com/showthread.php?t=8561 and about polishing them out here… http://www.rolexforums.com/showthread.php?t=53648

  5. I have a Rolex Oyster datejust steel and gold which had a cracked crystal. Not wanting to shell out the eye-watering £750 for a full service (which is all Rolex will offer) and be without it for 6 to 8 weeks I decided to have a go at replacing the crystal myself. The only supplier of crystals I could find was the same supplier you used in the US through eBay. I quoted my model number and they told me which I needed. I also found a bezel press on eBay delivered all the way from China for just £8 so I bought that and a pair of razor blades with holders. Also some white cotton gloves (which I only used for ploishing out fingerprint marks.

    Mine has an 18 carat gold bezel so I was trying to be super careful. Careful got me nowhere. You do in fact have to push really quite hard the get a razor blade between the case and the bezel. Gradually the bezel lifted and I worked round and round until it was off.

    My old crystal was fitted pretty tight to the watch case flange so I had to use a razor blade to lift it as well. That is when I noticed my new crystal was different to the original. First, the original Rolex crystal is slightly domed. The new one is flat. I can live with that. But the most significant difference was that the original is a single piece with no seal but with deep returns to fit over the watch case flange. the new one was a flat crystal with no returns but with a seperate plastic seal. After some fiddling I realised the crystal can be made to fit inside the seal and then the seal is a very snug fit over the watch body flange.

    Next, on with the bezel. I tried using my £8 eBay bezel press but I could see it was hopeless. What a piece of junk! The dies did not look deep enough and the whole thing was clearly not pressing down equally. I quickly gave up and took it to a watch repair shop. The guy there raised his eyebrows a bit when I explained what I had done and said he was not going to risk it using his bezel press on an 18 carat bezel but he would take it to an expereinced watch technician colleague tomorrow. It should only cost about £25 and I can have it back in 2 days.

    So there we are. Not a complete success, but still a good outcome. With the cost of the crystal and other bits and bobs, it will have cost me around £80 which is much better than the alternative £750 and being without it for 8 weeks while Rolex do their standard service.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Mark and hopefully a good end result, if a little stressful! Must have been quite difficult to take it to the store….big chunk of humble pie! It’s interesting the differences between the watches and their crystals, my new crystal is also flat, but to be honest I don’t remember if the original was slightly domed or not (it shattered into pieces so I can’t check!).

      My old bezel/crystal came off quite OK, being stainless maybe there is more ‘snap’ in the material with it being harder? It certainly clicked back on lovely, even with the new gasket looking slightly different, (I even got to do it twice as I wrote!). I was also not too afraid to use a lot of force once I knew for sure that that was how it came off! For me, the watch was effectively scrap if I couldn’t fix it, which was a great motivator!
      Good luck with the fix Mark, hope it comes back all sorted.
      Cheers again for stopping by.
      Ian

  6. Thank you so Much!!! My wife dropped my Rolex DJ on our tile floor and cracked the crystal. I ordered the sapphire crystal from the ebay store you mentioned and cost $35 usd shipped. Once I received the crystal, I took it the a Jeweler/watch repair shop and they didn’t have the machine to take the crystal out and he said it was almost impossible to replace the crystal without the machine. O.K so I called another watch repair shop and they wanted $160 just to replace/Labor. Called another and he said he needed to open the watch to see which crystal was needed and that I got the wrong one which is incorrect because all you have to do is take the Band off for the case number which was 16220 on mine. I guess he wanted to charge more $$$$$. I followed your approach and it work BEAUTIFULLY and took me about 30 minutes. Again, Thank you so Much!!!

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