Maybe you’ve just purchased your first fancy watch, or received a gift from someone. You can see through the glass that the watch has a wonderfully intricate mechanism. But how are you supposed to take care of it? Read on for some guidelines about mechanical watch maintenance.
Mechanical Watches: A Brief Explanation
In the watch industry, watches are divided into two types: mechanical and quartz. These two watch types differ in terms of operation. Quartz uses a scientific process that involves a battery and a crystal to generate the power. Due to their simple design, and comparatively lower manufacturing cost, quartz watches are usually on the cheaper side of the market. Mechanical watches, however, are very different. Die-hard mechanical watch lovers tout this type of watch as the epitome of fine, centuries-old craftsmanship, and it’s easy to see why.
Unlike a quartz watch, a mechanical watch does not run on a battery. It’s powered by an uncoiling spring that is controlled by a delicate and intricate assortment of gears and levers collectively referred to as an escapement. The escapement prevents the spring from unwinding too quickly by utilizing a lever controlled by a spiral, which limits and drives the power from the spring’s motion to feed the watch’s hands. This spiral is named the hairspring, and can oscillate the lever up to a whopping 700,000 to 800,000 times per day. Depending on the hairspring, the watch can range in terms of precision and durability.
As a whole, the watch movement deals with a lot of rubbing and motion. To prevent it from wearing out fast and getting damaged, watchmakers apply lubrication and tiny rubies. These durable gems reduce damage from friction and jarring impacts, and are the reason why some watches are referred to as “21-jewel movement.” The number indicates the amount of gems in the watch- luxury brands and elaborate antique pieces will have a higher amount than usual.
Mechanical Watch Types: Manual & Automatic
Within the category of mechanical watches, there are two sub-types that you should know. One is the manual watch, which requires winding every one to two days in order for the piece to keep time. While some romantic watch lovers may appreciate this daily interaction with their timepiece, a manual wind watch isn’t for everyone and the winding component (the stem and crown) will need more routine check-up in comparison to other watches.
An automatic watch is slightly different. If you wear it on a daily basis, an automatic wind watch will utilize the movements of your arm to keep the spring powered so you won’t have to wind it. In the off chance you put it down for a while and it stops working, a few twists will revitalize the watch and make it usable again.
To keep both watch types in good condition, it’s important to not overwind the watch mechanism. At some point during winding you should be able to feel that the crown is slightly “pushing back.” Don’t proceed to force it- it will cause damage to the stem and crown, as well as the internal workings.
Routine Check-ups and Repairs for Mechanical Watches
Much like any piece of machinery you own, such as your car, you need to do mechanical watch maintenance once in a while. And of course, if it’s damaged you’ll have to get it fixed rather than throwing the whole watch away!
Here’s a brief list of watch repairs for the conscientious mechanical watch owner:
- Band Polishing and Replacement: The band of your watch gets worn out and scratched over time. For metal bands, it’s best to polish them once or twice a year to get them back into a shiny, beautiful condition. Rubber and leather bands tear and flake, so it’s recommended to replace them once they start looking shabby.
- Case Polishing: The circular portion of your watch also gets dinged and scratched from constant contact with everything you bang into. As with band polishing, it’s recommended to touch up your case once or twice a year as well.
- Stem and Crown Repair and Replacement: This is very important for mechanical watches since they are more dependent on winding in comparison to their quartz counterparts. Manual watches need to check in on their stem and crown at least once a year to make sure that the mechanism isn’t broken from daily winding. Of course, it’ll be necessary to replace them as well if they pop off and disappear, rendering your watch nonadjustable.
- Crystal Replacement and Polishing: The crystal that covers the face of your watch is usually pretty durable, but depending on the material (acrylic, sapphire, or glass) it can shatter or scratch. If it’s smashed in, you’ll have to replace it. Not only does the crystal look awful, but it also leaves your watch face open and vulnerable to dirt and damage. Scratched crystals, on the other hand, can be polished back into a shiny state within reason.
- Mechanical Watch Overhaul: This is a complex procedure that fully examines your mechanical watch’s mechanism. After all, dirt and water can still get into your watch, and over time the lubrication disappears, making the gears prone to damage from friction. It’s recommended to do a thorough check of your watch every five years- while it can withstand wear for a longer time than that, you don’t want to wait it out until your watch sustains some serious damage from lack of maintenance.
Mechanical Watch Movement Overhaul Pricing
Pricing for a mechanical watch overhaul can vary depending on the brand of the watch; higher-end pieces require more work due to the fact that the jeweler or watch repair man may need to source some very specific components. Here’s a general list of starting prices below for overhaul labor below (not including component replacement!):
|$249||Manual watches, such as Helbros, Elgin, and Bulova|
|$300-600||Rolex (varies depending on model)|
If you have missing or damaged parts within the movement that need replacing, the price for those components will depend on your watch. Cheaper mechanical watches will have cheaper replacements, while special luxury watches such as a Vacheron Constantin may exceed $250 for a new component.
Things to Keep in Mind When Wearing Your Mechanical Watch
Now that you have a better understanding of your mechanical watch and its interior, here are a few tips that will help you keep your mechanical watch in good condition.
- Be careful with water: If you love swimming, you’ll need to understand exactly what “water-resistant” means on your watch. Water-resistant indicates that your watch is decently protected from minor exposure such as washing your hands, but it definitely doesn’t mean that you can go deep-sea diving with it (unless if it happens to be a diver’s watch, but that’s a different story.)
Watches are extremely sensitive to water exposure, and also changes in pressure. When you dive into a pool, for instance, the shift in pressure from air to water can severely damage your watch. That, in combination with the liquid seeping into the gasket, will ruin the internal mechanism and render your watch useless. To keep your mechanical watch intact, just take it off before you do anything like swimming or diving.
- Don’t do anything strenuous with your watch on: Imagine all those tiny gears suffering a mini-earthquake. That’s basically the equivalent of what happens when you do something like hammering a nail into a door- all the jolts shake your watch for each impact. If you’re being a handy-dandy construction worker at home or on the job, it’s best to remove your watch beforehand.
With all this, you should be more than prepared to take care of your mechanical watch! Keep in mind that you’re wearing a piece of art and history on your wrist, and like any masterpiece it needs some TLC once in a while. It’s worth the investment, and you’ll have a beautiful timepiece to keep for years to come.
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