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16 essential tips on how to care for your antique pocket watch

Antique watches require careful handling. Any repair is costly because it involves not replacing standard parts (as in modern watches), but making an identical or similar part by hand.

The best mode of operation for vintage watches is to give them a full winding in the morning, so that they work more steadily on a full spring during the day; a few turns of winding in the evening, and to leave them on the table with the dial upwards for the night. This mode allows for normal accuracy.

Recommendations for Owners of Antique Clocks

  1. Antique watches should not be beaten or dropped; repairs are usually quite expensive. If the watch has been dropped or hit hard, but continues to run, carefully inspect it and note if there are any differences from the previous accuracy. If there are any differences, the watch should be taken to an experienced repairer immediately. Early repairs are usually minor; if the mechanism continues to work with broken parts, a minor breakdown can turn into a major one.
  2. Until the middle of the 20th century, manufacturers did not make waterproof watches, so any old watch is afraid of water and moisture. Simple steam is enough to seriously damage important parts of a delicate mechanism.
    If, nevertheless, the watch gets wet – urgently open all the covers, dry it with a hot hairdryer and go to the master for a bulkhead, rust is a terrible enemy of the movement!
  3. Avoid opening the cover protecting the mechanism unless necessary. If a particle of dust, a hair or a lint of cotton wool gets into the movement, this may already be enough to impair the accuracy of the watch or even stop the movement.
    The pocket in which the watch is worn should be periodically cleaned to remove dust and lint.
  4. The watch must not be subjected to sudden changes in temperature. You should not, for example, take a watch out of a warm pocket and place it on a cold marble slab or hang it on a hook in a cold, unheated or damp room.
  5. Don’t expect high accuracy from a vintage watch – a 2-4 minute uncertainty in 24 hours is already a good result, 1 minute is ideal.
  6. If you wear a watch – it is better to wind it every day in the morning, wind it up a little in the evening and leave it on the table with the dial upwards. When you don’t carry them in your pocket, make sure they are always kept in the same position, such as always lying on your back or hanging on the hook, rather than one time this way, another time that way.
  7. It is not recommended to screw in the crown up to the end, the old metal can burst.
  8. Do not turn the hands of a watch with a calendar or repeater counterclockwise. Advance the hands forwards in most cases, but if you do make a step backwards it should be done slowly and not for too long.
  9. It is understood that the watch should be protected against sudden movements – don’t turn the hands sharply, don’t swing the pendulum sharply, don’t press buttons sharply, etc.
  10. Even if there are no variations or visible defects in accuracy, every watch should be oiled, cleaned and checked every three years.
  11. If the movement is dirty, do not run the watch for a long time, as the dust and solidified oil in the stones will scratch and wear down the axes.
  12. The case and glass should be cared for with a chamois or a soft, fiber-free cloth.
  13. Broken glass should be replaced immediately.
  14. Strong magnetic fields can markedly impair the stability of the movement and the accuracy of the watch.
  15. Most types of dial coatings do not tolerate grease and corrosive environments, never touch the dial.
  16. A non-professional should never try to activate a non-functioning watch by knocking, shaking or poking the movement with needles and other inappropriate tools. This is useless. If you want to proceed sparingly and if you love your watch, have it repaired by a qualified watchmaker.
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How to wind your watch correctly

There are two basic ways to wind a pocket watch: with a key or with a crown (like a wristwatch).
If you have a key-wound watch, try to purchase a suitable key to wind it along with your watch, or ask your watchmaker if he or she has a suitable key. Never try to “push” the key onto the shaft by using force; you may damage the movement parts.
Key-operated pocket watches have a keyhole in the case back, so you do not need to open the movement when winding the watch.
Key-wound watch

How to set the time

If you bought an older watch and don’t know how to set the hands, look into having a key-operated time-setting feature. Clocks that are set with a key are usually also wound with a key, but there is really no risk of getting the wrong shaft: the shaft for winding is on the barrel, i.e. outside the movement, and the shaft where the key to set the clock is inserted is usually right in the center.

If the shaft for the key is missing, look for a small button built into the watch case, usually in addition to the crown:
In the picture above, a small button to be pressed (preferably with your thumb nail) if you want to set the watch: Press it and then turn the crown to set the hands.
Press that knob and turn the crown to set the hands
Please note that if you own a chronograph (“chronographe à ratrappante”) or, more precisely, a split-seconds chronograph, there is also a protruding button on the case to operate the split-seconds function.

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Only after making sure that there is no key or button in the watch case, try to pull out the crown. Do it very carefully, please – your watch will thank you.

Opening the Case

Never use a screwdriver, kitchen knife, nail clipper or similar sharp tools!
Not only can you hurt yourself when you slip off, but you can also damage the movement or leave very ugly scratches on the case and/or movement.
You should get a case opener, a “watch knife” like the one shown below (it is also useful for old watches with a snap back).
Case opener - watch knife
If your watch is designed to open the lid whenever you want to know the time, i.e., up to fifteen, twenty or more times a day, do not just slam the lid shut! This careless gentlemanly gesture means that the two metal parts rub against each other under pressure. Even if only 1/10,000th of a millimeter of silver is scratched during this procedure, it will cause problems with the lid over time. It is better to press the button again, quietly close the lid and release the button so that the lid is locked in place.

If your watch does break or run poorly, it is best to have it repaired only by an experienced watchmaker, a vintage watch specialist. Most simple warranty services are trained only to replace parts with new ones, and it’s almost impossible to find a 100% correct part for an older watch. You have to rebuild the part, fit a similar one, or make a new one.

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