This little guide to looking after your wristwatch is intended to help answer some of those queries which perhaps we all have from time to time but have never bothered to really find out the answer to. Certain aspects of watch maintenance cause much argument between watch buffs and much merriment to onlookers to such arguments. Many people are of that old adage – if it ain’t bust, then don’t fix it.
I must admit that I used to be the same when it came to cars; I wasn’t really bothered if I changed the oil, didn’t really care about letting the engine warm just a little in the depths of winter before taking off at full pelt and never gave the remotest thought to actually keeping the bits I could see clean. Oh, and as for letting some garage rip me off for full services and the like, well…out of the question. All this was fine, no problem even if the engine did get a little smoky, no problem until one day something called the cam belt snapped – whoops! That turned out to be very expensive and well, it should really have been changed about 30,000 miles before the big snap. A lesson learned.
So, bearing the aforementioned in mind, without further ado let’s see how we might prolong the life of our wrist companions!
Having bought your new or used pride and joy you find that the bracelet or strap needs adjusting:
In the case of bracelets, there is often some adjustment available in the clasp itself, through the use of a spring loaded pin which locks into holes in the clasp. Usually no problem to attempt this adjustment using a tool thin enough to press the pin from the outside and thus release it. Careful! these little pins can do a trapeze act and fly to the other side of the room, usually never to be found again. Always make sure that the watch is on a cloth or such like before attempting this adjustment or you may find you have inadvertently scratched the side of the case or dented the crown.
Straps usually have multiple holes so finding a comfortable position is usually easy.
Hang on, the bracelet needs links removing or there aren’t enough holes in the strap:
Some bracelets use push pins and others used screws for attaching links to each other. If you don’t have the tools to do this (such as watchmakers’ screwdrivers or bracelet pin removal tools) then usually it is best left to a watchmaker – one slip and…ouch! often a big scratch across the side of the link. In the case of screws and if you have the correct screwdriver then ensure that the bracelet is held very firmly before attempting to unscrew the screw; again there are specialist bracelet holders for this. That said, it is imperative that the screwdriver, aside from being the correct size is also of the correct thickness – else you can end up with a damaged screw slot.
Push pins, well firstly there are usually little arrows on the underside of the links indicating which way the pin should be pushed out – obvious maybe but worth mentioning; some pins are of the split type pure and simple, these are normally found on lower-mid range watches. Again, it is possible to remove them yourself if you have an implement that will fit the pin hole correctly and if you can secure the bracelet. Light tapping of the tool is often enough to remove the split pin type. The links are then inserted and the pins replaced from the opposite end to removal – very carefully!
The solid type pins can be infinitely more problematic as bracelets employing these often have special collars within the bracelet links themselves which firstly must be in the correct place when the bracelet is reassembled and secondly are incredibly easy to lose. Solid pins are often an extremely tight fit and without the specialist tools I would personally recommend that you take the watch to a watchmaker for this. Simple as that.
Straps with too few holes: well, again sorry for stating the obvious but if you have a proper leather punch and confidence in your ability to insert holes where they are required then fine. If not, once again I would take the watch to someone with the necessary tools.
Winding the watch…
My watch is a manual, don’t I just wind it up?
- Yes and no, if you have a manual wind watch, then try to wind it at the same time every day, it’s probably best wound in the morning as you will have optimum power throughout the day, possibly therefore more consistent timekeeping. When winding a manual wind watch, do so relatively slowly and consistently; when it is fully wound you will feel resistance as the mainspring tightens. That will do! Don’t try and force it any further as damage could be done both to the mainspring itself and to components in the escapement.
- Important! When winding a manual wind watch, it is extremely advisable to take the watch off! Why is this? Well, if you keep the watch on and wind it, it is quite possible to put unnecessary strain on the winding stem at all points but particularly where the stem attaches to the winding crown. I have seen people wind their watch by forcing a finger under the crown and then winding by a forward and back ward motion of the said finger! Ouch!
Hold it, my watch is an automatic, it doesn’t need winding!
Well, it does if it has stopped! Some cheaper automatics do not have a manual winding capability; in these cases you should swing the watch gently in an arc for a minute or so to get the watch running. In the case of those watches with a manual wind capability then it is usual practice to give the watch approximately 35-40 gentle and slow turns of the winder; this puts the movement in an optimum state of wind to start with. Normal arm motion should then be enough to keep the watch wound. If you are fairly active, then it should be OK to leave the watch off overnight without any further manual winding.
Time and other settings…
Any special considerations when setting the time and date?
OK, well firstly a watch equipped with a date feature will normally have three positions for the crown: in, pulled out one click (for date setting) and pulled out two clicks (for time setting). Simple enough. Two main tips here really. Firstly, when setting the time wind the hands slowly if possible, don’t overdo it in the speed department – the simple reason for this is that doing so very quickly can cause premature wear to the components upon which the hands ride. Relatively slowly and gently is fine and preferably in a clockwise direction. Don’t adjust the time backwards through midnight unless a watch specifically allows this. Secondly, when using the rapid date advance feature AKA the quickset feature, as a general rule avoid doing so between 8.00pm and say 4.00am – serious damage can be caused to the date mechanism if this advice isn’t heeded. If the watch has stopped then make sure you set the time once through midnight and well into the safe zone before quicksetting the date..
Can I get my watch wet?
How wet you can get your watch depends on how wet the watch was designed to get! As a general rule, a WR30m watch is designed to be splashed, a WR50m is OK for light swimming but not really prolonged immersion, a WR100m watch is fine for swimming and a WR200m can be considered a diver’s watch as such. These are the basics. More importantly is where you get your watch wet…try to avoid dunking even a depth rated watch in hot water, like in the bath or shower; the heat can distort seals and soapy detergents can damage them. The chlorine in swimming pools isn’t the greatest friend to watch seals either; it’s best to thoroughly rinse off your watch in fresh water after swimming in a pool. Likewise after swimming in the sea, used fresh water to rinse out all that salt!
What about heat and sunlight?
Heat in the form of saunas etc. isn’t really recommended, particularly if you take a sauna and then enter the icy waters of the plunge pool! Quite simply, rapid hot to cold like that means that something may contract rather rapidly, if that something relies on a seal which has softened due to the heat then you are asking for trouble. Also, any watch will have some moisture in it simply because it has air in it; rapid cooling means this may condense, probably only to disappear again but it could leave a stain under the crystal or worse.
Heat in terms of wearing the watch in hot weather maybe can’t be avoided, fair enough and as this is fairly constant compared to the above then shouldn’t be too much of a problem. However, if at all possible, avoid leaving/wearing the watch in direct strong sunlight; firstly the watch is going to get very hot which won’t do the lubricants much good; secondly, direct sunlight like that can prematurely age dials and cause dial lacquers to lift or micro bubble. This isn’t to say that your watch should be kept under shirt sleeves whenever the sun is out! It’s just a case of using common sense; don’t fry your watch!
My watch is shockproof!
It might be shock-resistant but it’s best not to test its ability to withstand shock; mechanical watches are almost always fitted with certain shock absorbing devices nowadays but even so, do not expose your watch to sudden shocks, vibration, dropping etc. Mechanical watches are pretty tough but there is a limit; exposing the watch to severe shock can at the least affect timekeeping and at worst will cause mechanical failure.
My watch says Antimagnetic on the back
Most watches are antimagnetic to some degree; that is to say that they will stand exposure to limited magnetic fields without timekeeping being adversely affected. However, it is only specialist watches which have been built to withstand high magnetic fields that should be exposed to such. So, for our everyday automatic what should we avoid. Firstly what needs to be remembered is that a mechanical watch has lots and lots of metal inside it; all these components are interacting with each other in some way; wheels meshed with pinions for example. If these or the even more delicate components become magnetised, then the watch at best will run very erratically or at worst will stop altogether.
Without getting paranoid about it, try to avoid getting your watch too close to magnets(!), stereo speakers, computer monitors…even the rubber magnetised seal around the freezer door. All these are a potential source of trouble. I was once fiddling with the back of a computer monitor, the power cable was a little loose; maybe a minute or two at most but that was enough to send the watch whacky. Fortunately, if something like this does happen then all is not (usually) lost; a competent watchmaker should have the equipment to demagnetise the watch and get it back to normal.
I wear my watch all the time, everywhere, I never take it off
Fine, providing you take all of the above hints and tips into account. BUT…a watch still needs to be cleaned externally periodically. Assuming your watch is WR to 50m minimum then using warm water, a little soap and a very soft brush, you should work gently but purposefully to remove dust, skin particles(ugh!) etc. from those areas normally difficult to get at. The back of the watch, between the bracelet links under clasp etc. Grit and particles in bracelets can act rather like sandpaper, causing premature wear. Best to keep it all nice and clean! Once the watch is clean, simply dry it off with a soft cloth and you may be surprised at how nice it looks!
I’ve scratched the crystal – can I polish it?
- OK, if your watch has an acrylic (plastic) crystal then the answer is yes. People use different compounds to do this but it is possible to use Brasso or specialist polishes such as Polywatch; it has been known to use toothpaste, in this case I would advise the smoker’s variety! Anyway, a little of the selected polishing compound on a soft cloth and rub the crystal in circular motions; this should do the trick for minor/medium scratches. Deeper scratches will require more effort and sometimes it is necessary to follow the line of the scratch first as opposed to the circular motion, then the circular motion. Polish dried compound off and hey presto, with a little effort the crystal will be like new.
- A mineral crystal is a pretty big problem if it gets chipped or scratched. You can’t polish this yourself unless you have access to optical lens polishing equipment. My suggestion is to get a new crystal fitted – pretty cheap, quick and simple for a decent watchmaker.
- A sapphire crystal is very very difficult to scratch in the first place – a diamond will do it so avoid contact with diamond jewellery for example. A sapphire will chip more easily so beware of metal catches on door frames and the like. Anyway, if the sapphire does get scratches then if it bothers you I’m afraid it is new crystal time. Please don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that a sapphire crystal is very expensive – depending on the brand of watch in question then it is possible to have a sapphire bought and fitted for anything from around £30.00 to £90.00 and up.
How often should my watch be serviced?
This is one of those subjects that causes a lot of discussion between watch buffs. I would say that there is no rule of thumb here. Nowadays I tend to bear in mind my car experience noted above! Firstly, a mechanical watch employs certain lubricants to reduce wear and ensure consistent smooth running. Now, a lubricant doesn’t keep its lubricating qualities for ever – admittedly, nowadays there are certain synthetic lubricants used which will last longer and perform as they should for a longer period. However if we look at it logically then the service interval will to some degree be determined by how a watch is used and this is just how some manufacturers approach the subject.
Thus, a diver’s watch used by a commercial diver on a daily basis will be subject to more abuse than a diver’s watch worn by an office worker. The seals will exposed to water more often, the watch will theoretically get more vibration and shock – in a word, there will more stress put upon the watch and its movement. In such cases therefore, it may be prudent to have a watch so heavily used checked for water resistance yearly and fully serviced maybe every two years. In the case of a lightly worn watch then the water resistancy check might be extended to two years with a full service and lubrication performed at five year intervals. I would suggest that no mechanical watch be left for more than five years without a service; it is likely that any lubricant will at the least have started to lose its lubricating capabilities after this time.
If it ain’t bust, then don’t fix it?
Maybe a watch will run for ten to fifteen years without any attention – trouble is when attention is eventually required then it could be major…and expensive. Furthermore, parts may be required that have to specially ordered, thus extending the time that you are without your watch. I prefer to limit the possibilities of disaster by following the guidelines above!