Watch maintenance

August 29, 2022By Bonetto Cinturini

Watch maintenance: what it is and why it is important

Watch maintenance means all the operations that guarantee correct operation of the movement and the other parts of a watch over time. Among the secondary purposes of watch maintenance is also care for the case, which in addition to being aesthetic is also a fundamental protection for the mechanism.

Given the technical nature and delicacy of this procedure, it is always advisable to have it done by a watchmaker, who not only has the skills needed to do the job correctly, but who also knows when and how to replace each piece.

Periodic maintenance, or a service in sector jargon, includes a whole series of specific procedures, each one of which must be done with the expertise of a professional.

After completely dismantling the watch, the integrity of each piece is checked, crystal included, and those that are not to be replaced are cleaned chemically or using a more modern ultrasound cleaning machine. After that, during the reassembly phase, each individual component is accurately repositioned and the worn parts replaced, then all the mechanisms like the pivots and gears are covered in lubricating oil again, to protect them from dryness or premature wear. Finally, once the watch has been reassembled, tests are done to identify any problems or confirm correct operation. If the watch is waterproof and has gaskets, their integrity is checked during disassembly and if necessary they are replaced during reassembly. Once fully reassembled, seal checks are carried out.

The frequency for doing routine maintenance on a watch varies according to use. Contrarily to what you might think, when a watch remains stopped for a long time in the same position, or is returned to a drawer, it needs more frequent interventions. In these cases, in fact, continual circulation of the oil inside the mechanisms is not guaranteed, so they tend to become dry and the oil sediments, quickly losing its characteristics.

We can confirm in general that the correct interval between one service and the next goes from 3 to 5 years. Lengthening this period too much shortens the life of the components, with the risk of coming up against unexpected breaks or unpleasant surprises when the case is opened, with most of the mechanisms needing to be replaced.

Periodic maintenance is therefore essential, because it helps keep your watch in the best condition possible and also minimises special maintenance interventions, making the cost of each intervention lower.

Watch maintenance: each movement has its own 

Each type of watch needs specific maintenance, with operations aimed at the particulars and characteristic delicacy of each movement. 

> Mechanical watch
Mechanical watches are certainly more delicate than the others. This type of movement, in fact, requires great attention and care, both while being used and as far as maintenance frequency is concerned. Its mobile gears and the springs that move them are as wonderfully complex as they are extremely delicate, and not much is needed to ruin them. To guarantee their duration over time, the maintenance frequencies indicated by the producer must be respected, or the advice of an expert watchmaker followed.

In addition to the maintenance that needs to be done, and which should be left to the skills of a professional, there is also a simple and fast operation that we can do to guarantee perfect watch preservation. If the watch is not used daily, it has to be wound just the same, at least once a month, because leaving it unwound for a long time makes the oil degrade very rapidly, with the risk of making its effect prematurely useless.

> Automatic watch
Automatic watches work in a similar way to mechanical watches. They can, in fact, be considered as normal mechanisms with an automatic winding system that obtains energy from wrist movements.
Their original operation was based on a hung mass that wound the main spring by oscillating, so winding it. Today, though, this system has been abandoned in favour of more modern rotating masses, systems that are more efficient, less delicate, and can guarantee longer duration over time.

This type of watch is therefore perfect for continual use, at least a few hours a day, so as to keep the spring always sufficiently loaded. This is why it is better to wear it at least once a month if not worn every day, so as to keep the mechanisms working and prevent them from becoming dry or even stopping.

If the mechanism of a watch of this type stops, the important thing is not to try and force it to move. Go to a watchmaker, who will dismantle the watch and replace any damaged pieces, because otherwise the mechanisms could be ruined irreparably.

> Quartz watch
This type of watch is intrinsically much less delicate than mechanical or automatic watches. Their spring winding system, in fact, has been replaced by a quartz crystal which, when crossed by the current coming from a battery, goes into resonance. A circuit assembled inside the case converts and amplifies these impulses in such a way as to pilot the electric motor that makes the hands turn.
As you can imagine, these watches do not need any routine maintenance and the only intervention required is replacing the battery when the watch slows down or stops.

Preservation and cleaning tricks

Together with periodic maintenance, correct watch preservation is fundamental; if done by the book it maximises duration over time.

The correct method for preservation, in fact, indicates that the watch be placed far from other jewels or distant from other objects in general, to avoid possible knocks against the case or scratches. Above all, it is important to avoid exposure to sources of heat, which could cause undesired expansion, and to magnetic fields like those produced by televisions, cell phones and computers or magnets, because they can alter how the watch works.

Another essential requisite for correct watch preservation is cleaning. Cleaning it correctly helps keep the outside structure in good condition even as the years go by, avoiding pesky phenomena like oxidation. If the watch is not waterproof, it must be kept away from any type of liquid and must be cleaned using a soft, clean dry cloth. If, instead, the watch is waterproof, it can be washed with water and detergent, provided you are sure that the gaskets are in perfect working order. This procedure is rather delicate, so do not use hot water and aggressive soap, degreasers for example.

If the watch has a leather strap, do not wet it because water could ruin it. Clean using specific products for leather that clean, nourish and hydrate it at the same time.

Winding a watch: how to do it correctly 

As mentioned above, correct watch maintenance also includes winding it at regular intervals. When winding a watch, we act directly on its extremely delicate mechanisms, and this is why it is fundamental to know how to wind the watch correctly, without damaging it. Naturally, this is only for mechanical and automatic watches, and different procedures are needed for each of the two types.

> Mechanical watches: characterised by a power reserve of about 36 hours, the ideal for guaranteeing correct date and time keeping is to wind daily, in other words every 24 hours. The correct procedure for winding is to fully rotate the crown about 20 times, and only in a forward direction. You can feel the watch is fully wound when the crown strongly resists the rotating movement. Do not force the crown any further, otherwise you will damage the winding mechanisms.

> Automatic watches: if worn constantly, automatic watches do not need to be wound manually. If they stop because not used, however, they can be wound manually. To wind correctly, rotate the crown forward about 15 times until it resists, but with some watches the crown has to be released first. In this case, proceeding very delicately is essential once the crown has been released, because the automatic winding mechanisms are even more delicate that those for manual winding and it does not take much to damage them.