Part of the appeal of owning a mechanical watch is the fun you have tinkering with it. There’s a tiny machine in that case which requires your daily input to keep it going. But as with any machine, the smallest human error can see it grind to a halt.
Whether it’s changing the date at the wrong time of day or failing to screw down the crown when you take a bath, every mechanical watch-wearer should be aware of the basic errors that could result in a costly visit to the watch surgeon.
Changing The Date At The Wrong Time
Do you wear a watch with a date indicator? Between the hours of 10pm and 2am it’s actually engaged in the process of changing and shouldn’t be tampered with.
More and more manual-wind and automatic modern watches are immune to this peccadillo but it remains a cardinal sin for anything vintage.
If you need to change the date manually, do it well before 10pm or well after 2am.
Keeping Your Watch Box-Fresh
While it’s fine to keep your early 1980s Star Wars figures sealed up in their boxes, hoarding a watch away for long periods of time isn’t advisable.
“I certainly recommend wearing a watch from time to time, rather than leaving it in a drawer for months on end as the lubricants – the oil in the jewel caps being one example – could dry up and [negatively] affect the watch’s timekeeping,” says John Lloyd, proprietor of the Watch Service Centre in Clerkenwell, London, which repairs and services mechanical watches.
Magnetism From Electronic Devices
Some watches, the Rolex Milgauss for instance, are purpose-built to have an exceptional resistance to magnetic fields. Others, especially older watches, are susceptible when coming into regular contact with seemingly innocuous items like laptops and mobile phones.
“With older mechanical watches, proximity to any magnetic device could cause a problem, as it could impact on the mainspring or hairspring and cause the watch to gain,” says Lloyd.
“However, modern mechanical watches are designed so that the mainspring is anti-magnetic. Mobile phones themselves are not a serious cause for concern in this respect, but caution should be applied to the magnetic fastenings on some of their cases, which can be surprisingly powerful.”
If your watch has succumbed, you could buy a Degaussing machine (for as little as £8 on Amazon or eBay), which can decrease or eliminate a remnant magnetic field.
Over-Polishing Its Case
If your watch has picked up a few noticeable scratches and dints over the years, you might be tempted to get it professionally polished.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that every time a watch is polished a thin layer of the metal/gold etc is burnished off the top, and excessive polishing could eventually result in the case changing its shape, with the edges, for example, losing their sharpness.
Also, if it’s a unique or rare timepiece that you might want to sell one day, be aware that collectors and auctioneers want the watch to be in as mint condition as possible.
Using It In Water
A watch that isn’t water-resistant shouldn’t be submerged in water at all. But even a watch with a water resistance of 5ATM shouldn’t be worn in a sauna or jacuzzi as the contraction and expansion of the metals and crystal could let moisture seep into the case.
Also, even with the very best divers’ watches, you should always double-check all the crowns and pushers are securely screwed down; otherwise water will get in, causing oxidisation.
As for vintage divers’ watches, don’t even take the risk. The gaskets and seals that keep water out of watches tend to perish over time.
(Related: The diving watches you can actually go diving in)
Not Getting It Serviced
John Lloyd recommends you get your watch serviced every three-to-four years. “It does more work than a car, but whereas most people would automatically put their car in for a regular MOT, many will wait until their watch starts behaving erratically (or simply stops) before seeking help for it,” he says.
“It’s worth pointing out that this can involve more expense as, by then, parts may have become worn out and [could] need replacing.”
And by all means take that quartz Timex to the key-cutting stall down the market for a quick battery change, but don’t let them go anywhere near your vintage Breguet chronograph.
(Related: The hidden cost of mechanical watch ownership)
Fully winding a manual watch is easy with modern timepieces as they tend to have a protective mechanism against overwinding. With older watches, you just wind until you meet with enough resistance that you can’t wind the crown another rotation.
Over time the crown may start to slip when you’re winding it, or it gets ‘sticky’. Which means it’s definitely time for a service.
Using The Chronograph Function Incorrectly
On a standard chronograph, the start/stop button is normally above the crown, while the button below the crown is the reset button. Always make sure you’ve stopped the chronograph before pressing the reset button as this could damage the movement.
This rule doesn’t apply to flyback chronographs though, as they’re designed so that the hand instantly restarts the chronograph from 12 o’clock.