I wrote recently about the benefits of finding someone to look after the servicing of your watch, about how it’s a two-way street of good things, of not necessarily needing a factory service agent to complete the job; this is almost like the second part of that – taking care of your watches yourself.
Admittedly, the prospect of prying open the case back of a watch that’s valued in the thousands can be quite daunting. In my previous life, I built automotive race engines that were in the hundreds of thousands value, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad when I first tried it. I was half-right (which of course made me half-wrong – the most important half).
I guess the lesson that I took from those early days of knowledge finding was knowing when to stop, not hitting that point of no return, knowing where my mechanical knowledge reached before I end up with a pile of watch, rather than an actual watch.
Where to Start?
For the record, I’m not advocating that we all just jump right in and start pulling our watches apart – craftsmen (and women) take years, perhaps decades to learn their trade, and along with knowledge, they have the ‘feel’ – whether a gear is too tight, too loose, not big enough, or that the screw has needed just that little too much force to tighten.
In short, imagine it like an A-Z – you have all the information you need to get somewhere, but there could be a hundred different routes, each one taking you further away from your objective if you get it wrong.
No, this article is about the basics; caring for your watch, showing it some TLC, just keeping it as good as it can be, short of having a trip to the service centre every month.
Cleanliness is Next to Godliness
I’m guessing I’m not the only person that has an old toothbrush in my cleaning kit? (Or am I just … wrong?). They’re great for giving a watch a basic clean, with a bit of liquid soap, but what about the bits of a bracelet that even a toothbrush can’t reach?
The mesh bracelet on my Red Arrows is almost impossible to clean properly, but I learned a long time ago that ultrasound baths can reach the places that nothing else can – ten minutes in a bath and it’s sparkling; all jewellers, service agents and repairers use an ultrasound bath to bring out the sparkle – it’s a cheap & efficient way of deep cleaning most jewellery, and as it’s completely non-abrasive, you can do it as often as you feel necessary.
Tools of The Trade
Anyone looking at taking care of their watch, replacing batteries or just swapping straps & bracelets over should invest in a decent tool kit – you can just about ‘make do’ with the odd screwdriver, knife (aka case back pry tool) or pin to remove links, but none of these are the right tool for the job, and as such, you risk causing damage.
I’m not talking about investing hundreds of pounds (although quality tools should outlast you and your need), but just something that was made for the job; a decent basic tool kit can be bought for less than £20 and will do pretty much anything you need.
Education, Education, Education
If you reach the point where you’re wanting more than just swapping batteries, or have a thirst for knowledge, there are a number of different courses that could help to satisfy that desire, from basic understanding right through to professional qualifications.
The British Horological Institute offer everything from simple one-day workshops right through to technical qualifications and exams. Some courses are on-sight, while they do offer distance learning as well.
The British School of Watchmaking is just that – a fully-fledged independent school for learning all you need to know about horology. With every successful graduate finding their way into the profession (so far), the school has an excellent reputation for learning.
If that all sounds a bit much, then there are a number of online courses available, such as the one offered by Watch Repair Lessons & Courses. While this isn’t going to get you a job in the industry, it’s an excellent low-cost alternative to learning the basics.
And Finally …
For many, caring for their valued timepiece means limited wear-time, boxing it up and giving it a wipe over with a polishing cloth every once-in-a-while. For me, I see it slightly differently; if I have a watch that I love, I want to wear it 24/7, maybe mix it up with a different strap or bracelet and generally make the most of it.
It’s because I’ve taken on the challenge to care for it properly that enables me to do that – I can wear my watch as much as I want, give it some (mild) abuse and still know that it’ll be working and looking great by the time I’ve done.