Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1. How can I learn to
repair watches? .
10. Is my watch just overwound???
Note: All tips are offered as suggestions only. You are advised to
use a competent watch restorer to avoid errors and costly mistakes.
However, if you are learning watch repair, the following tips might prove
Note: All tips are offered as suggestions only. You are advised to use a competent watch restorer to avoid errors and costly mistakes. However, if you are learning watch repair, the following tips might prove helpful.
For starters, I suggest you join the AWI (American Clockmakers Watchmakers Institute - as it is now called). The AWI has an excellent publication that comes out once a month. Also, the AWI sponsors training that may come to a city near you. In addition, join a chapter of the NAWCC, the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors - and go to some of their local and regional meetings - if you are in Eastern Virginia, join us at the Old Dominion Chapter 34 meetings in Williamsburg . In addition, the NAWCC offers courses in watch repair at their headquarters in Pennsylvania. If you want to get an idea of a recent workshop - try this link which will give you the transcript of one of my workshops on the Watch Balance Wheel. You will meet a lot of knowledgeable people, watchmakers, machinists, craftsmen, hobbyists, engineers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, and businessmen, just to name a few. Also, the NAWCC bulletin, which comes out every other month, is very informative with tips and techniques to use in repairing timepieces. To help beginners learn the basics and get started, I decided to write a repair manual unlike any other found on the market today. To keep costs low for you, I have put the lesson on a computer CD. You can purchase Lesson 1 from my web site for only $29.00.
For more information, follow this
link. If you find Lesson 1 useful, then you may want to buy additional
lessons such as lesson 2, which
goes into detail on the 18 size American pocket watch. I recently updated
my lesson on the lathe. It is filled with information that will help you
make watchmaker tools and watch parts.
Also, I have written a lesson about the watchmaker's staking set and its many
uses, a lesson on how to make your wrist or pocket watch case look the best it
can, a lesson on aircraft clocks, and many more are on the way.
3. What tools and supplies do you need in watch repair?
Tweezers: I suggest that you start with a style 2 or 3 tweezer. The Swiss made nonmagnetic ones are best as they will not rust or drive you crazy with steel parts clinging to them. (You may want to get a demagnetizer to assist with this problem.) Keep your tweezers sharp and with the two inside planes touching parallel at the tip. Make sure that the two inside planes are truly parallel. If they are not parallel and are sloping outward, your parts may shoot out of the tweezers if you apply a little too much pressure. To keep your tweezer points sharp and parallel, use a fine stone.
Screwdrivers: The Swiss screwdriver color-coded set with revolving tops (ball bearings in some) in the revolving stand is the best set. If you do not want to invest the $100+, you might try the French made drivers, or the ones made in India or Pakistan. However, the latter two vary greatly in quality. Some are pretty good, some are poor.
Cleaning solutions: Use a good commercial solution, I prefer waterless. Also, be careful not to breathe too much of any of the solvents as most are known carcinogens, especially benzene, trichloroethane, and trichloroethylene. Pegwood sticks are very useful to peg out the jewel holes of the old pocket watches which can be really "gunky." Either an old "L&R" or similar cleaning machine or a newer version ultrasonic machine will work as long as you examine the parts after cleaning and then hand clean dirty parts if necessary.
Oils: The subject of oils is very complex. A good oil is expensive just like a fine perfume. Elgin made one of the first true breakthroughs in the synthetic watch oil category. It is no longer available to my knowledge. However, Moebius, a Swiss company, makes many fine oils, both synthetic and natural. The type of oil required depends on the size of the watch and the application. A good general purpose oil for wrist and pocket watches is the Moebius 9010 for the balance pivots and escape wheel and 9020 oil for the larger gear train. You will need to get a grease for the winding gears and for the mainspring, such as Moebius 8200.
a small library of books on "how to repair clocks and watches."
Add a book and your knowledge will grow as your library grows. Also, pick up a copy
Shugart's book which is loaded with information. Even the old 1902
Sears Roebuck catalog offered repair tools. Roebuck was a watchmaker, I
doubt many of you knew that! I know of many hobbyists that learned watch and
clock repair from reading and doing. You can pick up watches on the web (check
my tools and parts list) or at
flea markets that need repair. Lots of them. Start with a 16 size
American pocket watch such as an Elgin or Waltham. They are common, and parts
are available. They are also well made and are not as difficult as the older 18
size full-plate pocket watch movements.
How much will it cost to fix my vintage watch? That is a simple question, but it does not have a simple answer. First of all, find a good watchmaker to fix it! Don't take it to the nearest jewelry store and expect to get it fixed. Most of the watches you buy today are quartz and are not meant to be fixed at all. At best, the movement of a quartz watch can be replaced, not worked on. Also, most watchmakers today do not even work at a jewelry store. You can check the American Watchmaker Clockmaker Institute AWCI web site to find a watchmaker near you. However, it is reasonably safe to mail your watch to a good watchmaker. Just wrap the watch carefully, insure or register it, and send it off. I mail hundreds of watches a year and have not lost a single watch. One watch was tampered with by a postal employee, but he was caught!! Well, back to the price of what it will cost to fix your vintage watch, sorry that I got distracted!! Consider that a watchmaker is highly skilled. Thus, he typically would like to make at least $50 an hour for his work, plus he must pay overhead. To properly clean a watch - this is CLEAN ONLY - takes several hours. To do it right, the watch must be taken apart, run through an automatic cleaning machine, inspected for damage and inspected to make sure it is REALLY clean, and then reassembled, HAND oiled, and timed out. To do this takes me about 4 hours minimum. So, you can expect to pay around $200 for a PROPER clean, oil, adjust. (If you are quoted $25 to "clean" your watch, then most likely the watch is only being cleaned whole without taking it apart, or it is just being oiled with all that dirt in place. Then the oiled dirt will grind your gear pivots and plates and the watch will be trashed if you run it long enough.) Often that old watch you have has problems. It was put in the drawer because something broke, or because it stopped three times a day, or kept terrible time. Now, getting parts for old watches is a chore. One must either make them if they can't be found, or find someone out there who has the parts. This means generally calling a lot of other watchmakers to see if they have a part or have a movement with the part in it. Broken balance staffs are a common problem that requires a lot of skill. The balance staff is the arbor or axis that runs through the balance wheel. If an old watch is dropped, it often breaks as the pivots are small and hardened to cut down on friction. Or, the balance pivots may become bent. Even if they do not break, the jewels that support the balance pivots may break and then cut into the balance pivots and gradually stop the watch. Approximately 50 % of the time, the jewels that the balance pivots go through break when the watch is dropped. To replace a balance staff can easily take 1 to 3 hours! Then the mainspring may be set or rusty. "Set" means the mainspring has lost its power and the watch will not run very long or will not keep time. RUST is enemy number one of watches. So, don't get your watch near water, even if it is so-called water resistant!!
Removing a pocket watch from an American case is usually not too difficult. If you see hinges on the front and back, then the front and back of the case can be gently pried open. If there are no hinges, the case may possibly be a snap back and bezel, which is also pried open with a small knife or case tool. (Look for a lip, or for a small slot to access the knife.) However, before you start prying, make sure you do not have a screw on back and bezel case. (The bezel is the front part of the case that holds the crystal in place). So, try to unscrew before prying, which will warp and distort any threads making it very difficult to open or close the case. Some old cases have not been opened in years, so the threads may be full of dirt and grime. In that case, use a little penetrating oil (such as Liquid Wrench) to loosen up the grime. You may want to use a piece of thin rubber to give you more friction. If that fails, try using double sticky tape. If after removing the back or the bezel, the threads look bad, you can use a very small file to carefully restore them. Once the back and bezel is removed, there are typically two case screws that hold the movement in place. Pull out the stem if it is pendant set. If it is not pendant set, the stem may have to be removed. If so, there is usually a small screw in the pendant. The movement can then be gently pushed out of the front of the case. Foreign cases are often different than the American cases, and many foreign movements have case screws that are embedded in the movement and are difficult to see. So, if in doubt, leave it to an expert. Be especially careful not to damage the dial, hands, or the balance wheel! Those components are often nearly impossible to replace with originals.
Often a dial, either on a wrist or pocket watch just does not look good, so you may decide to replace or refinish it (if it is metal). If your watch dial is a rare enamel pocket watch dial, you had better leave it to your favorite watchmaker to do this. Even watchmakers with years of experience sometimes break fragile enamel dials! However, if you are trying to learn watch repair and have a common 16 size Elgin 7 jewel pocket watch with a big chipped enamel dial, and you have a much better dial available, you certainly would want to replace it. You will have to remove the hands to take off the dial. (If you have a pocket watch timer, you can damage the dial removing the hands, so leave timers to experts.) I like to use a "presto" watch hand remover. To keep the hands from flying out of the puller, and to protect the dial, I first cover the hour and minute hands with a small piece of plastic wrap. Then I use the presto puller to pull the hands. The hands will be trapped in the plastic wrap. (If the hands are difficult to remove and appear to be rusty, try a little oil to loosen them.) Then, after removing the hands and movement from the case, carefully examine the sides of the movement. Some pocket watch movements have a metal ring that is friction fit around it to keep out dust. This must be taken off to expose the dial screws. Most American dials have 3 "feet" that fit into holes in the movement. The screws around the side of the movement "bite" into the dial feet and hold the dial in place. If you start prying a dial without first loosening the screws (or removing them), then you will crack the dial at best, and will likely end up with a big chuck of enamel missing. It is often better to remove the dial screws as they will sometimes fall out after you loosen them. Since they are small, they are hard to find. After the screws are removed, gently pry the dial with a screwdriver or bench knife going around and around the dial to evenly loosed it.
8. How is a watch crystal replaced? First, let us
consider wrist watches and pocket watches separately. 1-
Wrist watches. Wrist watch crystals come in several materials:
primarily they are plastic, glass, and synthetic sapphire. The sapphire
crystals are very hard, difficult to produce, and expensive. They are used
in the more expensive watches such as Rolex, Breitling, etc. Wrist watch
crystals may be round or fancy shaped (anything besides round). The round
crystals may have a high or low profile. Most quartz watches have a
mineral glass crystal with a plastic gasket ring. The plastic crystals may or may
not have an inner ring of metal (tension ring) to support them. Crystals
for diver's watch crystals, which must be very strong often have the tension
ring. There are special crystal lifts made to compress the round high dome
plastic crystals to remove and insert them. Replacing a fancy (non-round crystal) on a vintage watch may take a
lot of time. Genuine crystals made by the manufacturer are often not
available. Thus, the glass or plastic crystal is a generic replacement,
which may not fit perfectly. Sometimes it is too large and must be filed or
ground down, and then the edges must be repolished. These days, most of
the elite Swiss watch manufacturers will not supply genuine case parts such as
crystals to watchmakers. They want you to send your watch back "to
the factory repair facility" for all repair work. That is why I
specialize in vintage and antique watches, I don't want the headache of trying
to get parts from the modern watch manufacturers. 2-
pocket watch xtals. Pocket watch crystals are almost always round with a
few exceptions. The crystals were originally glass in the old
watches. The oldest crystals made in the 1600's through the early 1800's
were hand blown, and are sometimes called "bull's eye" crystals due to
the flat center portion where the blowpipe's mark is ground out.
More modern pocket watch glass crystals can be heavy or thin, nearly flat or
domed. Glass crystals must fit almost perfectly, which means that they
have to be measured very precisely to replace them. If an exact fit is not
possible, a near-fit can be held in place with an adhesive such as epoxy or a
resin that sets under ultraviolet light. The diameters of more modern
glass crystals; i.e, ones made in the last 50 or 60 years are often measured in
millimeters. Hunting case crystals are difficult to fit as they are
thin, and the cover must not hit the crystal and the hands must clear from
below. Thus, both the diameter, the height, and the thickness of the
crystal must be matched. One big problem is that quite often the
"popular size" glass crystals have all been used up, especially for
the 16 size American watches. Although plastic crystals generally work
well in pocket watches, some collectors want the glass crystal when
possible. There are special tools to compress the plastic crystals in
order to insert them into the case. The older glass crystal diameters were measured in lignes.
This is a French system of measurement that is commonly used by watchmakers and
is equal to 2.25583 mm.
Table I. Serial numbers versus approximate year of manufacture for American Watches
10. Is my watch just overwound??? First, newer ever say your watch is just overwound. Unless you take a pair of pliars and force the watch to wind after it is fully wound and break the winding gears or the spring - then your watch is NOT overwound!!! If someone wants to sell you a watch and tells you that "It is just overwound!" - then either 1. - He doesn't know what he is talking about, or 2 - he is being dishonest and is handing you a line (hook, line, and sinker) to make you think the watch has little wrong with it. Watches stop for a reason. If you find a watch has stopped, the first thing you do is try to wind it. That usually works. However, suppose you drop your watch and break the staff. Then your watch will stop. You can then wind it back up, but it will not start running. It does not start because the staff is broke, not because it is overwound. You should have your watch serviced every couple of years if you want to carry it and use it. You certainly don't wait for your car to stop before you change the oil, DO YOU????
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February 11, 2011