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… 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, so I wiped a little saliva around the casing……

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…..

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

  1. Ian: Very nice article. I replaced the crystal on my inherited 1981 Rolex Datejust, following your suggestions, except that I used a modestly priced Chinese made bezel removal tool to remove the bezel. Mine was on too tight for me to feel comfortable using the knife blade approach. Your article really made the rest of procedure a snap and enabled me to save hundreds of dollars over what a Rolex repair shop quoted me. The watch runs and looks like new plus I have the satisfaction of knowing that I can do it again if I ever need to.

    Many thanks


    • Why thankyou Marvin, nice to hear it worked splendidly, that’s the point of the internet (for me at least!). Too many little jobs are seen as too specialist to attempt and the stores exploit this. Replacing a crystal is a relatively quick job and provided no glass has entered the workings, I see no harm in having a go. And the worst case scenario is that glass does get inside; then the watch will stop and you’ll need to take it in. In other words, you’re just back where you started.
      Thanks for leaving a comment to let other know it’s possible and for the kind words Marvin.

    • Hey Mat,
      Sorry for the damage. I pulled the winder straight out after picking up my watch as I could see that the second hand was straining against the broken crystal. After replacing the crystal it started up again no problem (even after sitting in a drawer for a year).

      As for your watch, impossible to tell. Depends on the severity of the fall, the direction of the impact etc. BUT, it doesn’t cost anything to take the broken crystal off and gently blow away and chips. Pull out the winder and see if it starts. If it does, go ahead and order a new crystal, it’s not too bad to fit.

  2. I just had my rolex lens damage. and the lenses and all are not working anymore. do I still have hope to make it work again?

  3. Hi, I had a damaged crystal replaced about 1month after a $600.00 service. I declined the service when the crystal was replaced for $300. Have now spent $900 for so called professional work but the watch stopped and will not start. Has a new battery. Told some crystal bits may have got into the watch since I declined the $600 service there was no warranty. How difficult is it to get broken crystal out of the watch. I am not paying this company any more money, professionals should be able to change a broken crystal without contamination. The watch was working perfectly when taken into the store. Any suggestions for reasonable cleanup of my rolex dateadjust that looks like new and to get it working again?

    • Regular datejusts have no battery only the quartz range. If bits of broken crystal have gone past the watch face the only solution is to take the movement out of the case and cleaning.

  4. Doing a Rolex crystal the correct way requires that the movement be removed from the case. There is a reason for this and I will explain. I install the crystal and gasket onto the empty case. The watch case goes into the freezer for approximately 20 minutes at the same time the bezel is being heated by hot air from a blow dryer. With the correct set of dies on a press (previously selected when at room temperature) The case is put into the press and the bezel is placed on top flat and without lube, down it goes with very little effort. Once the case warms up and expands and the bezel cools down and contracts you have what is know as a FN fit. .001-.003 interference….The new gaskets are installed and then the watch it pressure tested at depth in water to make sure there are not leaks in the crystal or anywhere else. That’s why we charge what we do to install a new crystal. I make sure its not going to leak on you and cause major water damage. My advice to anyone changing their own crystal is keep it out of water or you risk a huge loss. I hope this helps
    Sundial Technology Inc.
    Melbourne Florida

    • That is interesting! I can see the logic behind heating/ freezing press fit components, it is common practice for many engineering items. However I found as a strictly DIY proposition that the bezel and gasket fitted with very little problem with all components at room temperature.

      Couple of questions though out of interest, if the watch casing comes up from the freezer into warm air, do you ever have a problem with condensation forming on the casing? and secondly when you ‘replace the gaskets’ and pressure test the watch ‘at depth in water’ is this with the movement in place or just the empty case?

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but my watch gets dunked regularly since I live 2 mins from the sea and am a keen kayak-er and canoe-er, fingers crossed that long may my watch survive my lifestyle!

      Many thanks for your insight, it is always interesting to get real world advice from professionals.
      Thanks again

      • Sorry it took so long to reply….First, the watch case is empty when I do the crystal, I would not even consider doing a crystal with the movement in the case. Yes, especially in Florida it will condense big time. Once the crystal is in, I dip the watch case w/crystal installed into denatured alcohol to absorb the water…then a hot air dryer…lint free cloth and its ready for the movement. The watch is tested at depth with the movement in the watch. The way its done water cannot get inside the watch even if it has a leak. I take the watch down 10 atmospheres/ positive pressure in the chamber suspended above the water. I wait 15-20 minutes , if there is a leak in the case the positive air pressure will get into the case and will equalize itself to the outside pressure. So yo have 10 atmospheres outside and if there a leak 10 atmospheres inside the case. Air pressure in the case will not hurt anything. Now you submerge the watch in water and then let the pressure in the chamber down to normal atmospheric pressure. What you just did is create a Delta between the pressure on the inside of the case and outside. If the case leaked air in the case will leak air out underwater so you will see bubbles just like the old gas stations did with a tire that had a nail hole….No bubbles no leaks…but if you see bubbles you have a leak in the case but its air coming out, not water going in…find it, fix it and try it again…

      • I’m thinking there’s an in-between method…..keep the watch case at a cool room temp. and heat the bezel with the hair dryer. That alone should give it enough expansion to slide on easily without the fear of condensation or the hassle of taking the entire watch apart…..

  5. 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!!!

  6. 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.

    • where abouts in the uk did you find this person who did it for that price. I need to replace my seconds hand as it came off the shaft.. my crystal is fine.. but it obviously needs to be removed to get access.. I am hopeless with repairing small things. But equally I don’t want to spend a fortune. Please reply back bud. Thanks Jon.

      • There is a watch repair kiosk at the Trafford Centre in Manchester which did mine. However, I have to admit that after a few months I decided the flat (rather than domed) crystal that I bought and they had fitted made it difficult to tell the time because of some weird reflections on the dial. Maybe it was just my gold hands/blue dial combination or perhaps the original crystal is domed for a reason. Anyway, I sent it off to Rolex who fitted an original crystal and also recommended a new clasp. So about 8 weeks and about £750 later I received it back, looking like new and am now able to tell the time much more easily.

  7. 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… and about polishing them out here…

    • 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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 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!

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