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Maintenance of High Grade Mechanical (Automatic) Watches

You now are the proud owner of a fine mechanical watch. It is the watch you will pass down to your grandchild. High grade timepieces are known for quality and durability but like all machines, they need to be maintained to perform at fullest potential. With proper maintenance you will have a fine timepiece to wear with satisfaction knowing it is running with precision. When my customers ask, “Why does an overhaul cost so much?” I usually show them my method of taking the watch apart and the number of parts and how meticulous I have to be in handling them. Then they understand.

Hopefully, this article will also impart the same understanding to you, the reader. Manufacturers recommend an overhaul be performed, on average, every 3-5 years depending on usage. By usage, I mean how careful you are with your watch. If you wear it to do heavy construction work, for example, it will need more frequent cleaning than one worn during office work. Just because you can wear a watch when you shower doesn’t mean you should.

Soap scum, at a minimum, looks bad. An overhaul requires the watch to be totally taken apart and each part cleaned ultrasonically in a special solution to remove all traces of the old oil, dirt and dust. There are approximately 250 parts in a calendar automatic mechanical movement. It is then rinsed twice in another solution and heat dried. All worn movement parts and case gaskets have to be replaced to insure the watch is water resistant. The parts always should be replaced with genuine parts from the manufacturer. This will insure the parts fit perfectly. The case and bracelet are polished to remove all the scratches. Then the movement is reassembled. Watchmaker’s tools are specialized to perform the delicate assembly.

They are made by different manufacturers because different watches require their own highly precision fitting tools. I am always amazed by the people who would no more dissemble their computer but who will take their watch apart. Putting it back together is always very trying for them. Seems they have some extra parts left and no where to put them! I have received watches in plastic bags, broken and missing parts and I am asked to “fix it.” Proper tools with knowledge cannot be underestimated. Four special oils are used to lubricate the moving parts and the jewels. Different parts of the movement require different type oil. For instance, each pivot wheel and balance staff is lubricated with the precise amount of the proper grade of lubricant to maintain the minimum level of friction and wear. The heart of your watch is the highly sensitive balance wheel complete. The parts which make up this heart are: 1) Balance wheel, 2) Balance staff, 3) Hairspring, 4) Roller table with the jewel.

A timing machine is used to regulate the time. You attach the watch to the machine and it pulses to indicate if it is running fast or slow. In either case, adjustments are made until the timing machine indicates a straight line. When the watch is returned to the customer, it looks like new and performs to factory standards. From my years of experience, presenting a totally refurbished watch to its owner is always a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.


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