PJ's Jewellers Warrington - Pocket Watch Tips

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This is a typical late Victorian/Edwardian `top winder' pocket watch
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This is a typical late Victorian/Edwardian `top winder' pocket watch

Tips on Pocket Watch Care

Vintage pocket watches are great collectors items. Like most antiques, they need some TLC. So we've put together a few bullet points for anyone who is building up a pocket watch collection, or just fancies owning one to wear at a wedding, or a day at the races.

1. A key wound pocket watch is usually a bit more fragile than a top winder - one that has a crown, like the watch in the photo. Key wound watches use fusee chains, mini bicycle chains basically, which are prone to stretching, or sometimes snapping the hooks from the end of the chain. This is an expensive repair - nobody makes new fusee chains for these old watches, so you end up buying spares online ( which may fit, or not) or breaking up a perfectly good running similar pocket watch, just to obtain the chain you need.

Always use the correct sized key by the way, because forcing a number 6 key onto the pinion of a watch that needs a number 7 could damage both the key, and your watch.

2. It's impossible to `over-wind' a watch. This is a myth. When you wind your pocket watch, you will feel increased resistance as tension is placed on the mainspring. As this resistance increases, wind the watch more gently. If you're too brutal, you may damage the watch and it's off to the watchmaker for a stripdown.

3. Any mechanical watch releases power from the mainspring, via gear wheels, to the balance wheel and hairspring.  The balance wheel flicks back and to, regulating timekeeping - like a human heartbeat regulates blood flow. If your balance wheel struggles to `beat' or stops after a few hours, then there could be a variety of problems causing the watch to stop.

Never try to `oil' your watch with WD40, 3-in-1 oil. It won't help, in fact it will coat the parts in greasy residue that stops the watch.

Be very, very careful if you use the A-R (Advance/Retard) timekeeping lever on the balance bridge. It is VERY easy to pull the hairspring, or damage it - it is extremely fragile.  A tiny movement on the A-R lever will speed up, or slow down the watch by a fair bit, so you only need to move it a millimetre or two either way. If in doubt, leave it alone - see your watchmaker.

4. Watches hate water/condensation. Keep your pocket watch well away from condensation of any sort, be extra careful when opening the inner dust cover. Fusee chain pocket watches often open by releasing a tiny tab at the bottom of the dial (watch face), then tipping the movement forwards. Then use your fingernail to slide the `C clip' to release the movement cover, which usually falls off easily. Be very, very careful with these parts, because over time, even finger marks, or your attempts to blow dust away, can cause small amounts of moisture to get into the movement itself.

5. If your pocket watch has a `real' glass in it, especially in a Hunter watch - that is one with a folding cover across the dial - then look after it. Obtaining replacements is not easy, although fitting an low dome, or flat, acrylic is often easier, and cheaper. Hunter cases will only close, and the hands of the watch turn freely, if the  correct glass is fitted.

Old pocket watches may look identical, but often have slightly different glass diameters. So for example an old Ingersoll/Triumph from the 50s/60s can have an acrylic 42mm popped in no problem. But an 1890s unsigned movement pocket watch may have a  41.2/41.3/41.4mm etc glass - you need a micrometer to accurately measure across the bezel. The bezel is the metal ring that holds the glass in place.

Even if you find the correct glass, you may need to glue it in place - over a century of wear and tear could mean that the right glass simply doesn't quite fit, and it keeps falling out. If in doubt, pop an acrylic in, which will hold itself under tension.

6. Finally, a 100 year old pocket watch is not a timekeeper you should rely on. It may keep reasonably good time, and 2-4min +/- per day is acceptable. It's also a bonus if it runs 24-36 hours on a single wind, but if it doesn't, don't spend £100s trying to get it to `keep the right time' or run for a whole day.  Just enjoy it, and don't use it every day, because once there is significant wear to the gear wheels, balance staff, jewels, winding mechanism etc. then the watch's life is effectively over, unless you fancy spending £100s - possibly thousands - having it painstakingly refurbished, with parts that would have be machined, cut and polished from new.

Hope these tips help you - happy ticking!
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