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Vintage & Antique
Watch Repair

Caring for Vintage Mechanical Watches

Assuming you wear your watch, and it is not a self-winding watch, you will need to wind it every day. Wind the watch until the crown stops turning. Do not be afraid to wind it until it stops; you will be able to feel when the watch is fully wound. You can wind it in a back and forth motion, one way winds the watch the other direction does nothing. It is just easier to wind when you go "back and forth". The best time to wind your watch is in the morning before you put it on. That way the watch has more "power" when you are most active, and it will keep better time.
For vintage calendar watches, please see here.
• Few vintage watches are watertight. No watch is waterproof; it is simply a matter of pressure. Most modern watches marked “Water Resistant” are tested to a depth of 99 feet under water. This is static pressure, moving one’s hand through the water as in swimming, can create much greater instantaneous pressures. Even those watches that may be labeled “Water Proof” seldom are after all these years.
• If you should get your watch wet, take it to a watchmaker the same day. Watches can start to rust almost at once. If you wait several days, you could destroy your watch or have a very high repair bill.
• Please use common sense when you are wearing your watch. Mechanical watches are very finely made little machines. While many vintage wristwatches have shock resistant mechanisms, some do not. If you drop the watch to a hard surface, it may break. If you have to use a power tool or a hammer with your watch wearing hand, it is best to take off the watch. Although the watch may have a shock resistant device, the watch is not completely shockproof. There are parts that may be damaged by severe shocks. The purpose of the shock resistant device is to protect the balance staff from breaking; it does not prevent the hairspring from bending, or the regulator from moving and substantially affecting the timing as the result of a severe shock.
• Be aware that magnetic fields will affect timekeeping. There are magnetic devices everywhere these days. Virtually anything electrical will generate a magnetic field. If your watch suddenly begins losing or gaining time, it could be due to it having become magnetized. Demagnetizing is a simple process, if one has the proper equipment. A competent watchmaker will have a demagnetizer.
• Vintage mechanical watches are not suitable for timing the launching of rockets. Most will keep time with sufficient accuracy to keep you from missing your train, but do not expect the sort of accuracy of even a cheap quartz watch. Timing is very much dependent on the age and condition of the watch, as well as how it has been treated over the years. With small lady’s watches, the expectation is one or two minutes a day. Larger watches will perform better.
• While this is rather arbitrary, watches from the post WWII era are generally better timekeepers than earlier watches. Men’s vintage wrist watches from the 1950s and later can be very good timekeepers. Again, this is dependent on the original quality of the watch, the amount of wear that has taken place over the years, and how the watch has been treated. One simple action that will improve overall timing is that when the watch is taken off, set it down either dial up, or dial down—not with the watch on edge. As the mainspring runs down, timing will change. There is less friction on the mechanism in the dial up or dial down position, which allows the mainspring to keep the watch running at a better rate than if the movement is on edge.
• If you really need to know the time to the second that is what cell phones are for.
• With hunting case watches, those with a hinged cover over the dial, it is best to depress the crown before closing the cover in order to reduce the wear on the part of the cover that contacts the latch.
Resetting the date on a vintage mechanical watch with a calendar function is different from most modern calendar watches. Most vintage watches are not equipped with a quick set date function. However, if the date needs to be set ahead several days, the date can be advanced on most vintage watches by turning the hands past midnight (changing the date) and then rolling the hands back to about 8 o’clock and then forward again past midnight, repeating the process as many times as necessary. Turning the hands backwards will cause no damage. Turning the hands forward through the complete 24-hour cycle will cause unnecessary wear on the setting parts.

Vintage watches are wonderful little "works of art", as well as the result of several hundred years of development. The first watches appeared about 1520. The classic styling and workmanship are difficult to find in modern products. With reasonable care, your watch will be in service for many more years.