Care and Diagnostics

Q&A

I receive regular emails asking for advice on care so I’ll include that information here.  Any questions you have please feel free to ask.  Even if it has been answered in a general way it can always be expanded upon or made clearer. I’ll start off with some of the common questions and misconceptions.

Q: Is my mechanical watch as accurate as a quartz watch?
A: Rarely, if ever.  A Swiss certified chronometer adjusted by a watchmaker can usually run within a daily rate of +_ 3 seconds per day. Most high end tool watches made by Rolex and Omega can easily maintain this rate of accuracy and some independent watchmakers can even do better. Makers like Patek and Vacheron Constantine have more rigid standards for accuracy.

Q: Why then would I want a Vintage Watch when my cell phone has the time on it and is more accurate?
A: Vintage watches are a purely self indulgent pleasure. The attraction for some is that they’ve  been cared for and survived for generations. For others it’s purely about engineering and design.

Q: Can I wear my Vintage Watch while snowboarding?
A: No. Very few were designed for anything resembling the sports we have today.  Many of the older models had very limited or no shock protection. If your model does, it is designed to withstand a  drop off of a dresser or a slip putting it on or taking it off. With no shock system the most common damage is a broken or bent balance staff.

Q: Is my vintage watch water proof?
A: Again, rarely if ever. If you own a vintage dive watch it must be pressure tested the same way modern watches are to determine if it’s seal is intact. It’s a common misconception that when you purchase a dive watch you never have to worry about water getting in. Professional divers have their watches pressure tested if not before every dive, at least every other dive. For a vintage watch I recommend taking it of before washing your hands.

Daily wear is fine but treat it the same way you would treat an automobile or any other complex machine. Make sure it’s cleaned and lubricated at regular intervals. With todays watch oils a service every five years is recommended. Don’t be deceived by dials that read waterproof, shock proof or unbreakable mainspring. These were primarily marketing gimmicks that were halted when consumer protection laws came into effect.

 

Baylor Automaitc case back

Baylor Automatic case back

Q: How often should I wind my watch? Should I wind it every day even if I don’t wear it?
A: If it is a manual wind movement the most often agreed upon period is once a day at roughly the same time.  As the mainspring winds down the force driving the balance wheel gets weaker on some movements. This is referred to as Isochronism. When a watch is regulated or timed this effect is taken into consideration. If you don’t wear your watch there is no need to wind it every day. In the past this was necessary because the oils used would thicken over time. Today’s lubricants have fixatives and stabilizers which prevent this.

Q: How much should I wind it, can I over wind it?
A: You should  use the same amount of torque when you start winding as when you finish. Enough to turn the stem and mainspring barrel. The term over wound is used often but really has no basis since other parts will fail before you damage the mainspring.

Q: Yesterday my watch was 25 seconds fast and today it’s 25 seconds slow, should I take it in for a service?
A: Not for this reason alone. This is referred to as mean daily rate and common for all mechanical watches. Every movement runs at slightly different rates in different positions due to gravity and friction. When a watch is regulated it is tested and adjusted in the different positions so that the errors cancel each other out. As you get to know your watch you’ll notice the positions it runs fast or slow in. Every person is different in their daily activity and this will affect how accurate the watch is. A vintage watch isn’t usually going to keep perfect time and most will have to be reset every few days.

Q: My watch has 6 adjustments stamped on the movement, does this mean it’s a chronometer?
A: No. The six adjustments are Heat/Cold/Isochronism and the three positions of Dial up/Dial down and Crown down. A chronometer is adjusted to five positions as well as temperature and Isochronism.  A watch that says adjusted is usually regulated to at least two positions being Dial up and Crown down as working at a desk and walking are the most common activities.  Some add the dial down position to make three.

Questions:

 

27 Responses to Care of a Vintage Watch Q&A

  • David says:

    Hi Robert,
    Thank you for a very informative website. I’ve just recently had my Grandfather’s Nacar watch serviced. It is of course a wind up and it’s design seems very much akin to the “military” styling I’ve seen displayed elsewhere on the net. I’ve actually tried to get a rough estimate of the age of this particular watch (perhaps you might be able to help me there?)
    I have been winding it daily at roughly the same time each morning and it has been running smoothly until this today when I awoke to find it had stopped during the early hours of the morning. As I mentioned I have just had it serviced which included a replacement of the main spring, so could it be anything else mechanical or perhaps I may have miscalculated the time of winding. I’ll be keeping my eye on it. Would you be interested in having a look at a few photos I took of it? I am very keen to know its age. Please let me know. Thank you again for your great site!

  • Adam P says:

    I bought a vintage 1920s wrist watch the other day. Two major things about it: one of the holes for the bar that attaches the watch band to the case is wider than the others due to its age, and keeps threatening to slip out. What can i do to fix this?

    And I don’t know who made the watch. It says nothing on the dial, and the only company name is on the movement. It’ called the Modern Watch Company (Modern W.Co. on he movement). I haven’t found out a single thing about it. All i get when i search for it are actual modern day watches. I don’t even know /where/ it’s made- just that it has a Swiss movement.

    Under the Modern W.Co., it also says 10 5, or S (I can’t tell) inscribed in a shield. Is that a clue as to the company’s identity, do you thing? or is it something pertaining to the movement of the watch?

    ANY help would be appreciated!

    • Robert says:

      Modern was a private label by R. Gsell & Co. .of New York. Without seeing the movement I can’t tell who made it or when. The standard repair on the lugs would be to drill and insert a bushing of nickel silver or brass dpending on the colour of the case. It’s a fairly simple repair but difficult to do without the proper tools.

  • Elizabeth Guidone says:

    I have a vintage Avalon De Luxe watch. it is set in 14k gold and covered face has rubies and diamonds.
    It needs cleaning and minor repair. Do you appraise and repair?

  • Joakim says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thank’s for a great site!

    I bought a 1950’s Lemania 105 Chronograph a few weeks ago. The first two weeks it kept time well, but this last week I noticed that it’s slowing down, loosing about 30 seconds a day. Is this something I should have someone check out?

    Best,

    Joakim

    • Robert says:

      Any vintage watch should be serviced when buying unless you know it’s been done prior to purchase. Dirt and oil when mixed can wear out a pivot very quickly.

  • Alvar says:

    hi,
    I’ve found some question
    from years ago, about holding cap jewels, in here :

    http://watchmakingblog.com/2011/03/08/the-skinny-on-cap-jewels/comment-page-1/

    Maybe quite late now,
    but still I wanted to share what gives good results.

    J.Edwards answered a different matter,
    nothing to do of what you were asking.

    A good way to hold a cap jewel
    y with a 7BSA tweeezer, in which you can
    make a thin rim, and even a slight round filing.
    So, cap jewel will be secured and you can clean it/oil it.
    Keep the rodico away from jewels
    -they leave traces, which if they are jard to see with the naked eye,
    they can bee seen with a binocular loupe. Not a good thing.

    Cheers,

  • Robert says:

    Hi Ron,
    You can send pics to admin at avintagewatch and I’ll get them. The retainer ring has to be lined up with the stem to fit properly. There is a channel cut out to allow this. It could be a relacement ring that needs to be filed in order for it to sit properly. Any sentimental watch should be restored in my opinion and if it’s running under the current circumstance it most likely just needs a service.

  • Ron Walls says:

    I have a Stamina 15 jewel watch that I found in my fathers belongings following his death. It says Inca bloc on face and stainless back. It runs when I removed the twist off back. There is a metal retainer ring that seems to allow the minute hand to touch the crystal and stop it running. is it worth fixing? Can you give me a n approximate date .How do I send you pictures of it. It has sentimental value to me. I do not know what kind f original band it came with.

  • Calvin Owens says:

    My rolex oyster royal 1940s watch seems to start and stop, once a day is this because I need to wind it earlier, or more?

    • Robert says:

      You should have a power reserve around 40 hours for a Rolex that age so it might need servicing. It could be a worn mainspring or if it stops at the same time every day, it’s most often caused by something interfering with a pinion leaf.

  • Robert says:

    I’ve received quite a few emails from people wanting evaluations for selling on E-Bay. I don’t mind at all when asked for help with selling but without good close photographs it’s just guesswork. There is also the aesthetic factor when listing watches. A Sunburst dial with a cheap movement will often get many bids when a good quality movement with a plain finish will not. The best advise I can give right now is hold on to the ones that stand out from the rest as collecting vintage mechanical watches is gaining in popularity.

    If you still want to sell and would like my opinion on value, email admin with photographs and I’ll do my best to help.

  • Robert says:

    Hi Edward, it sounds like you have an early 1800’s pair cased watch. The amplitude is very different on these watches due to the much shorter balance spring. A 110 degree arc is completely normal for these. You can confirm by examining the hairspring.

    While I can restore and service these, they are not a common repair for me and I’d be far more comfortable recommending someone for the job. I’ve sent you the names and contact info of a few people who specialize in conservation of these pieces.

  • Edward J says:

    I recently found a very old pocket watch in two different cases going through my late fathers estate. I have’nt wound it fully but the motion looks very weak compared to what I’ve seen on You Tube. What do you think the problem could be and could you restore it for me?

    Thanks

  • Jennifer says:

    I just bought a Bulova and it has some “quirks”….(get ready)…1. The cardboard box and watch box it came in (along with hang tag) say, “Dolly Madison 21 Jewels”…I took the watch carefully apart after realising…2. Case labled “Bulova M3, 10k. R.G.P Bezel, Stainless Steel Back, Y64502….then 3. The band has an “S” mark on a few of the links…and to top it all off, 4. When I opened up the casing, the inside was marked “OW (or MO), U.S.A., 5AD, Bulova 23 Jewels”.
    Now, through my brief research, I’ve found that none of these things go with the other…normally.

    Did I mention that the watch crystal is square and yet the workings/face of the original is oval? Just wierd.
    Could you possibly give me some info on all or part of these parts? Pictures can be sent….

    Admin: Replied by Email

  • Dawn says:

    I’ve had the Gruen watch for over a month now and I haven’t had to reset it yet! Everyone asks if it’s new and when I tell them how old it is they won’t believe me. Thanks for the great watch Rob! I’ve told my friends about your site because they want one too.

  • Robert says:

    Hi Janice, Disposal in my opinion is unnecessary but if it causes you concern put it in a heavy plastic bag and drop it off at your nearest radiology department of your local hospital. If they treat patients with cancer they can drop it in their waste containment for pickup. The only isotope that would still be active in a vintage watch would be ra-226 which emits alpha particles for roughly 1600 years. The good news is that the watch crystal and even the top layer of dead skins cells will stop this alpha particle from entering your body. The only way it can enter your system is by swallowing or inhaling. If the watch has sentimental value but causes concern I’d be happy to remove the luminous paint and clean the movement for the cost of the dial refinishing and shipping.

    Use my contact form if you wish me to carry this out and I’ll provide you the information for shipping. The dial refinishing takes a couple weeks on average to do the work and in that time I could remove any trace of luminous material from the inside.

    If the watch is not a keepsake but valuable and collectible the best option is to put it up for auction.

  • Janice says:

    How do I safely properly dispose of an old watch with radioactive paint inside? I was told it will fall of inside so having the dial changed still won’t make it safer to wear. I spoke to my trash company and they didn’t know what I was talking about.

  • Pete Hale says:

    Thanks Robert. That did the trick!

  • Robert says:

    The stem (rod) is held in place by the detent which can be loosened by a small screw usually closest to where the stem enters the movement. It requires a small screwdriver most often a .60mm will do. Do not remove the screw but reverse 1/2 turn at a time and check if the stem is free after each turn. The alternatives are a two piece stem or a spring set detent but this is the most common. The home page right now shows a Chaucer movement with the detent screw clearly visible where I’ve described it. If this matches your movement it’s most likely the way to extract the stem. Forcing the crown off without support where the stem connects will most likely break the stem. Be careful not to use a larger screwdriver than is needed or you may end up gouging the plate.

    If you need more help email me a picture of the movement and I’ll give a more detailed set of instructions.

  • Pete Hale says:

    I bought an old wrist watch and I’d like to clean it up a bit but I can’t get the winding rod out. Do I have to unscrew the crown ans pull it out sideways?

  • Robert says:

    Danielle,
    I’d love to help, sentimental pieces go to the top of my list. I’ve sent you an email for shipping information and look forward to bringing it back to life. Depending on parts needed and what I have available it may take time but you will be able to wear your Dad’s watch.

  • Danielle Wescot says:

    I have a really old gruen watch I found in my dad’s things after he passed away. Could you help me get it running again? I’d love to be able to wear it.

    Danielle

  • Gerald Dickerhoof says:

    I have a wyler mans watch that I bought when I was in high school. Number on the back is 3968/2m-1122. Can you tell me when is was made?

    • Robert says:

      Without seeing the movement it’s difficult to identify but I’ll go out on a limb and guess that 1122 represents their modifications to the ETA 1122 to which they added the incaflex balance wheel. The ETA 1122 was made through the 1950’s and slightly modified on several calibres up to the ETA 1288 in 1960. The watch should fit within that time period.

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