Old watches require careful handling. Repairs are not cheap, especially because most of the parts will need to be manually produced in order to repair the watch – unlike modern watches, where standard parts can be easily replaced.
The best manner of operation for antique watches is to give them a full wind in the morning so that they will work with more stability on a full spring throughout the day. In the evening, turn the winding crown just 3-5 times, and leave the watch facing dial up overnight – this will help with maintaining accuracy.
Tips for Looking After Your Vintage Watch
- Avoid contact with water
Up until the middle of the 20th century, the waterproofing of watches was not practiced by manufacturers, meaning that old watches are particularly vulnerable to water and moisture. Make sure to take the watch off before a bath or shower, for instance. If, however, your timepiece does happen to get wet, immediately open all covers and dry with a warm hairdryer, then take to a watchmaker as soon as possible for an overhauling and full disassembly – rust can be a terrible destroyer of watch movements.
- Handle with care
Take care not to drop or hit a vintage watch, as they can be easily broken, and repairs are usually very expensive. Try to also avoid any abrupt movements when handling or wearing the watch. For instance, if you plan on doing something active, such as tennis of golf, consider removing the watch from your wrist, as sudden movements of the arm can be damaging.
- Setting the hands
You should not move the hands counter-clockwise in vintage pocket watches with a calendar or repeater as this could very well break them. For simple watches it is acceptable to move the hands counter-clockwise, but make sure that it is done slowly and smoothly, and not more than two hours back.
Do not turn the hands or press the buttons too sharply – vintage movements can easily damage or experience wear on parts.
- Do not overwind
Avoid overtightening the mainspring right to the end, as this may cause the old spring metal to burst. Instead, wind until the mainspring is just above half-tension – this method typically keeps the best time and is safe for the watch. It is also good practice to wind the watch every day in the morning, and then a little in the evening, before leaving it on a flat surface with the dial up while you sleep to maintain precision.
- Leave the inner-workings to a professional
Vintage watches can be very complex, with often hundreds of moving parts. Anything that requires opening up the back should be left to an experienced watchmaker. Look after your watch, keep it dry and clean, leaving any inner-working issues for a professional service.
- Service regularly
One of the best things you can do to keep your vintage watch running smoothly is to get it serviced regularly. It is recommended that you do this every 2 – 3 years, making sure that it gets a full service and re-oiling.
- Keep it clean
If the movement has not been serviced and oiled for many years, don’t keep winding it up and letting it run. The dust and hardened oil substances will scratch out grooves on the axles and to fix this requires an expensive repair.
Clean the case, band, and crystal of the timepiece carefully and fairly often, using a chamois or soft, non-abrasive cloth (one that doesn’t drop lint). It is also important to note that most types of dial coatings are not resistant to grease or corrosive environments, and so you must never touch the dial directly.
- Don’t expect perfection
Don’t expect high precision from vintage or antique timepieces. It is fine and normal for the watch to be off by about 2 to 4 minutes per day; an error of 1/2 minute to 1 minute is close to its factory state.
Be aware that strong magnetic fields can significantly impair the stability and accuracy of an old watch, and so try to avoid any exposure to this kind of environment. You can diagnose magnetisation using some sensitive compasses.
- Long-term storage
If planning to store your watch for an extended period of time instead of wearing it, there are a few things to consider. Make sure that the storage area is dry, and that the temperature is kept at a consistent level. A dry environment is particularly important for preserving the quality of the watch strap. It is recommended that you wrap the watch in paper towels before placing in a sealable bag, or packing the watch container with moisture absorbing silica gel packs.
- If it breaks
If your vintage timepiece does break, or stops running properly, it is important that it is repaired by an experienced watchmaker who is an expert in antique watches. Most street services are trained only to replace parts with new ones, and for old watches it is almost impossible to find a part that is 100% suitable. Instead, a part will need to be restored, a similar one adjusted to fit, or a new one made altogether.
We can repair your broken vintage watch at our Bristol shop: 13, The Arcade, Broadmead, Bristol, BS1 3JA (United Kingdom).