How to Repair a Watch: The Basics and Important Tips


You’ve got a stopped watch in your hand. What’s the first thing you’d do? You’ll most likely head to your nearest watch servicing center. However, if you’re into doing a little DIY, or perhaps starting a new hobby in watch repair, you’ll want to give home repair a try.

As complicated as watches and the world of horology gets, learning how to repair a watch isn’t that difficult. You only need a basic understanding of watches, working knowledge of watch parts, and the essential tools in watch repair and servicing.

How to Repair a Watch: The Basics and Important Tips 1

How a Watch Works

All clocks require a regular oscillating movement to drive its timekeeping gears– think of the swinging pendulum in a grandfather clock. This same principle applies to wristwatches, only miniaturized.

The most common type of watches are quartz and mechanical watches.

Quartz Watches

Quartz watches are powered by batteries or button cells. This power source sends an electric current through a tiny quartz crystal (shaped like a tuning fork) which will then oscillate (or vibrate) at a precise frequency. The watches’ movement translates these vibrations into a single electric pulse every second. In an analog quartz watch, the electric pulses drive a tiny motor that, in turn, turns the gears that control the second, minute, and hour hands. The regular beat of the pulses gives analog quartz watches their distinctive tick-tick motion.

Quartz watches are decidedly more accurate timepieces than mechanical/automatic watches. They’re simple, mass-produced, and require minimal maintenance. Thus, they’re typically the lower-priced option among watches.

 

Mechanical watches

Unlike quartz watches, mechanical timepieces are powered by the stored energy of a wound spring. The potential energy in this mainspring is then delivered to the watch’s intricate system of gears and springs via the balance wheel.

Like the pendulum and quartz crystal, the balance wheel provides the needed oscillations to keep time. The vibrations then power the escapement (or escape wheel), producing the “ticking” sound of the mechanical watch. The escapement, in turn, does two things: keeps the balance wheel vibrating and allows energy to “escape,” thereby advancing the gears that are driving the second, minute, and hour hands.

You can quickly spot a mechanical watch by the sweeping motion of its second hand, as opposed to the periodic beats of a quartz timepiece.

The two most common mechanical watch types are the manual and automatic variants. As its name suggests, the former variant is driven by manually winding the mainspring via the crown. Often, hand-wound watches sport a power reserve indicator on its dial, showing the amount of stored energy remaining in the mainspring.

On the other hand, automatic watches are self-winding. The mainspring is wound by a rotating-weight (easily seen in glass casebacks) that is powered by the natural motions of the wearer’s wrist and arm.

Because of their timeless design and appeal, as well as the fine craftsmanship required in their creation, mechanical watches are favored and more valuable than their quartz counterparts. Thus, mechanical watches also command higher, even astronomical, prices.

There are, of course, other watch movements that you should be familiar with.

The Parts of a Mechanical Watch

When one talks about watch repair, they’re typically talking about servicing a mechanical watch. Unlike quartz watches that rarely require any other service beyond a battery change, repairing mechanical watches need precision, skill, and experience.

You’ll need a working knowledge of its many parts if you want to turn your love of watches into a repair and servicing hobby or business. However, you don’t need to take a deep dive into the microscopic world of watch parts at the very start.

Watches Parts

For now, you should consider the basic components of a watch and their functions. Thus, you’ll be ready to resolve most of the common watch ailments that can prevent your watch from functioning.

The Main Components

1.Watch Case

The case is the body of the watch

a. Movement

A watch’s movement, or caliber, is its internal clockwork mechanisms.

– Mainspring

  • Stores energy that powers the watch

– Gear train

  • Also called the wheel train. Transmits the mainspring’s energy to the balance wheel. A separate gear train connected to the winding stem allows the user to manually wind the mainspring.

– Balance wheel and hairspring

  • Provides the required oscillations for timekeeping

– Escapement

  • Contributes to balance wheel oscillation and advances watch gears and the dial hands

– Oscillating weight (automatic watches) or the winding stem (manual watches)

– The various movement parts

  • The numerous tiny mechanical pieces and screws in a movement. Once you’ve got a handle on the basic components, studying the movement’s smaller parts should be your next step.

– Complications

  • Any feature or function aside from telling the time is called a watch complication. The most common complications are date windows and chronographs.

b. Dial & Hands

c. Crown

d. Bezel

e. Crystal

f. Caseback

The most common casebanks are:

  • Screwed casebacks
  • Solid screwdown back; typically found on diving watchers
  • Snap/pop back

g. Lugs

2. Strap, band, or bracelet

a. Buckle

b. Link Pins

Watch Repair Tools & How to Use Them

Now that you have a working knowledge of a watch’s main components let’s look into the essential tools you’ll need to do simple repairs.

Remember that your tools need not be expensive at the start. The basic tools are often cheap and easily replaceable, which makes them perfect practice tools for amateurs.  As you gain more experience and level up to more complicated timepieces, you can start buying more expensive and quality tools.

watch repair tools

You’ll find a list of these essential tools below. If you really want to play it safe, you can look for watch kits and start practicing with those.

The first 11 items are the tools you’ll typically get in an entry-level watch repair kit but will vary depending on seller and price.

  1. Caseback Removers
    • Friction ball
      • Friction balls are used to open and close solid screwdown casebacks. Easy to use and with no risk of scratching, they’re a great alternative to watch wrenches.
      • Use: Secure the watch in your hand or a watch cushion. Firmly press the friction ball against the caseback (You may need to separate straps or bracelets to get access to the caseback), then turn until the casebank has loosened.
    • Watch wrench
      • For really tightened screwdown backs, you’ll need to use a wrench instead of a friction ball.
      • Use:Watch wrenches have jaws that lock onto the notches on a screwdown caseback. Once locked, rotate the wrench until the caseback has loosened and you can continue unscrewing it by hand.
      • A higher quality wrench is the so-called Jaxa wrench, which has three points to look onto notches instead of the usual two. Thus, you’ll get a better grip on the caseback with less risk of slipping and scratching the watch. However, Jaxa wrenches tend to be more expensive than regular two-point wrenches.
    •  Watch case knife
      • Used to remove snap/pop backs as well as screwed casebacks after the screws are removed.
      • Use:Snap/pop backs typically have notches just underneath the edge of a caseback. Simply wedge the knife onto this notched edge of the caseback and twist until the caseback pops off. If you’re afraid of scratching the case, consider covering it with electrical tape before opening the back.

 

2. Loop

    • A loop is a magnifying glass that you put to one eye. You can also get loops with a headband for hands-free use. Depending on their magnification level, loops can be used for reading tiny numbers or marking on watch parts to watch assembly.

 

3. Spring bar tools

    • Spring bar tools is a pen-like instrument used for removing pins and spring bars on the lugs of a watch. They often have two ends: a straight tip for pins and punches and a forked tip for spring bars. This tool is essential for sizing and replacing straps and bracelets.

 

4. Link remover

    • Another method to remove link pinks is the link remover tool. This tool resembles a small vice, which gives you a stable platform to push out pins with more control and force, as opposed to as a spring bar tool.

 

5. Hammers/mallets – Watch hammers are used to set pints or push punchers.  They typically have two different ends made off nylon and metal. The nylon end is especially useful for applying force without the risk of scratching the watch

 

6. Block

    • The watch block is another essential tool for sizing watches.  Use the block to hold the watch band firmly in place. Once secure, you can then easily push or unscrew link pins and vise-versa.

7.  Needle-nose pliers

    • A multi-use tool, needle-nose pliers can be used to pull pins manipulate large screws, and so on.

8.  Watch tweezer set

    • The various tweezers, especially the needle-nose tweezers, are used for handling small items such as springs, screws, and various watch parts. (especially bronze so not magnetized), grip screws (handling small items, picking springs, small parts, screws
    • As you move onto more expensive or complicated watches, consider using demagnetized tweezers.

9.  Screwdriver set

    • Get a screwdriver set with at least 3 different-sized flatheads and a small Philipps screwdriver

10.  Hydraulic watch press

    • Also called a watch closer, the watch press is used to return a snap/pop back onto the case securely.

11.  Polishing cloths

    • Use the polishing cloth to clean the watch’s surfaces, especially after a session of cleaning or sizing when the watch is covered in fingerprints and dust.
  • cleaning or sizing when the watch is covered in fingerprints and dust.

The following items will be a great complement to your watch kit:

  • Cloth gloves
  • Watch polish
  • Oilers
  • Batteries
  • Calipers
  • Rubbing alcohol diluted with water

The preceding items are an excellent start into learning watch repair and servicing. Once you’ve become confident in their use, you can then look into the following items to level up your game.

  • Demagnetizer
  • Different-sized punches
  • Watch cushion
  • Parts storage
  • Cleaning solutions
  • Better, higher quality versions of your current tools

 

Ready to Disassemble, Clean, a Reassemble?

Learning how to properly dismantle a mechanical watch for cleaning or servicing and then to put it all back together might just be the most daunting part of watch repair, which needs its own article. For now, start with the basics and study the various parts of the watch. This youtube channel can help you with just that. You’ll find videos on watch tinkering, repair, and general maintenance.

It goes without saying that practicing with your Rolex or Grand Seiko isn’t a good idea. The more affordable Seiko lines or even an old busted watch will help you get a good feel. Don’t worry; the steps will typically be the same for most popular watches.

Soon, you’ll be ready to take that automatic apart.

 

Common Watch Ailments

 

An integral part of how to repair a watch is being familiar with their common issues or problems and their causes. Among the most common are:

  1. Stopped watch
    • Possible causes:
      • Discharged battery (quartz)
      • Low power reserve (mechanical)
      • Internal damage
  2. Gaining or losing time
    • Possible causes:
      • Low battery levels
      • Magnetization
      • Gear damage
  3. Skipping second hand
    • Possible causes:
      • A dying battery
      • This problem is typically a seen in watches with electric circuits when their voltage supply has dramatically dropped.
      • Gear damage
  4. Non-functioning buttons
    • Possible causes:
      • Dirt buildup
      • Rust
      • Insufficient lubrication
  5. Ceases function when worn
    • Possible causes:
      • This issue is also indicative of a watch with a damaged or faulty electric circuit. Due to the heat coming from your wrist, the tiny circuit board inside the watch may expand and lose connections with the rest of the internal mechanisms.
  6. Short battery life
    • Possible causes
      • Faulty/inferior battery
      • Excessive use of complications, such as the chronograph.
  7. Water or moisture inside the case
    • Possible causes
      • Exposed to water beyond the watch’s rated water resistance
      • Damaged gasket
      • Improper assembly.

Now It’s Your Turn

Now I want to turn it over to you.

Have you known  how a watch works now?

Which common watch ailment will you test on your watch first today?

Let me by leaving a comment below right now.

Referred Sources

 

Fletcher, D.W. “Watch Repair as a Hobby”. Skyhorse Publishing. New York, NY, United States. 2012

Mccreddie-Doak, Laura. “A Guide to Common Watch Repairs”. Fashionbeans.com

Watch Repair Guide”. Watchfix.info