beginner watch tools

The Basic Watch Tools

If you find yourself collecting Vintage Wrist watches you’re going to find yourself opening them up sooner or later. Like me you might want to save yourself a few dollars and time away from your loved one by doing simple maintenance and repairs yourself. First of all I wouldn’t recommend this, but that advise never stopped me so I?m going to pass on what little I know for someone just starting out.

These are what I consider the  must have  tools and why.

Getting inside

1: A case opener (crab style)
There’s nothing worse than turning an excellent condition vintage watch over and seeing gouges on the back from someone using pliers to try and open a case back. Well there is something worse and that’s knowing you did it instead of buying the proper tool. If you’re using a knife style opener make sure the edges are mirror polished to avoid scratching. This is a good rule for all tools that require torque when using.

2: A good set of Watch makers Screw drivers.
Dollar store screw drivers are tempting and if you dress them properly will do until the courier arrives with a good set. If you try and use these on a regular basis you will chew a few detent screws and end up blaming it on a previous collector.

3: Second to a good set of drivers in my opinion is a quality selection of tweezers. Various styles are required from hair spring to general use but spending money here is crucial. They range from $5.00 to about $65.00 and higher but I’d suggest something in between. Saving money on tweezers is only going to result in crawling around your work area looking for parts no bigger than a pin head. You only have to do this once to be convinced. You only have to look at a rare movement left uncased for lack of a missing part four or five times to really regret it, but I’m projecting here so let’s move on.

4: A 10x Loupe
The magnification is a variable depending on how good your eyes are to begin with but it is essential when you come across something that needs fine adjusting. Another method I used when starting out was stacking dollar store reading glasses. It looks ridiculous but it works until you get one. Caution is advised when using cheap reading glasses, get a large diameter lens and not the smallest. The smaller diameter can cause painful strain on the eyes with one pair let alone two. A spring wire head loop is also advised for when you need your hands free. To avoid eye strain, train yourself to keep both eyes open while using it.

5: A hand remover
Which type is a preference and you should get advise from different collectors and watch makers. I use the India style because the removal action is measured and there’s less chance of propulsion or flicking. If you buy a set the most useful tip I can offer is polish the dial end of the claws so they don’t scratch. A dial protector can be made of any mylar or thin plastic sheet.

6: A Bracelet and Strap pin tool.
Changing straps will become one of the most often jobs for any collector and it just makes it quick and easy. You can make one with a cheap screwdriver and a triangle file in about twenty seconds if appearance isn’t an issue.

7: Dial Brush
You may be temped to use q-tips or cotton swabs but they catch on everything so avoid them unless the dial is removed from the movement. These will get the dust and small hairs off the dial without worry of damage. Refinishing generates dust so keep one handy.

8: Oil & Oiler
Even if the most you’re planning on doing is removing the stem when un-casing I’d suggest getting some quality watch oil and a fine tip oiler. I neglected lubricating stems when I first started but some are very difficult to replace and you may end up waiting months to find one. Take care of them and like everything else, they’ll last longer.

Refinishing the exterior

A rotary tool (Dremel or pendant style)
The majority of my watches have been made wearable with this tool alone. It will do nothing for a watch that isn’t running unless you use it  movement in  and shake some dirt lose (not advised) but with a small selection of polishing compounds you can amaze your friends and even start your own Blog.

My selection:

Crystal-Bright: for Hesalite, acrylic and anything else that resembles plastic. It also works fairly well on horn and other organic materials. Use with low revolutions and minimum pressure. Let the buff do the work.

Red Rouge: a good general purpose polish but very greasy. You’ll find yourself with pink foot prints all over the floor.

Dialux green: for stainless steel and anything else that has fine scratches that require some cutting action. Dialux will take a case that has been sanded with 600 grit wet dry paper and buff it to a mirror finish with a moderate amount of pressure.

Fabulustre: A dry white rouge for final polishing soft metals like gold or silver. Being a dry block it’s supposed to make clean-up easier but I find the scatter when loading the wheel just as messy as the cast off from an oil based compound. Keep a broom and a dust-buster handy for all the polishes. Better yet make yourself a polishing box out of an old cardboard box with one side cut out to minimize the mess.

600-800-1000 grit wet dry sandpaper. There’s only so much you can do with grinding wheels and buffs and you’re going to have to perform some fine finishing with muscle. Lug joins and fitting surfaces have to be done slowly at fine tolerances and handwork is the only way.

Last and perhaps the most important is practice. On-line auctions provide a constant selection of inexpensive quality movements to learn on so there’s no reason not to try this as a new hobby. Many people have gone on to make it a paying one refinishing and re selling.

These are by no means all of what you’ll find yourself needing and many tools you’ll be able to fabricate yourself depending on how good you are with the materials. These are tools that’ll save you some time and avoid some of the mistakes I made trying to use what I had laying around.