The Three Levels of Antique Watch Restoration

When restoring the appearance of an object (hands, glass cover, and design elements), the work is based on historical sources, as well as many years of experience in researching, collecting and restoring antique watches. We focus on samples from antique catalogues and high-end antiques auctions. In terms of the quality of the work achieved after the restoration, we recommend focusing on the samples presented in the collection and in our store, which have been restored in our workshop.

There is a choice of three options when it comes to approaching the restoration of an antique watch. Based on the chosen restoration principle, we can then formulate the scope of the work, calculate the cost, as well as the possible deadlines for completion.

  1. Minimum – Partial spot restoration.
  2. Optimum – A restoration at the level of quality which a professional would do for himself.
  3. Premium – Maximum attention paid to every detail, restoring the object to be as if new.

1. Minimum – Partial spot restoration

The repair or restoration of an individual unit or part is carried out, strictly on the designated item meaning that the workshop is not responsible for the successful operation of the watch as a whole.

Examples of Tasks:

  • Removal of fragments and replacement of glass.
  • Replacement of the mainspring but without full maintenance of the mechanism.
  • The selection and replacement of hands, crown, etc.
  • Application of a phosphor to the dial and hands.
  • Polishing or coating the body/ selected individual parts.

Budget and Timeline:

  • A fixed budget is agreed with the customer.
  • The most efficient and predictable deadline.

2. Optimum – High-Grade Restoration as for the Professional Themselves

A comprehensive restoration of the object is carried out with an understanding of the reasonable framework for restoring each individual detail. Where it is necessary for the watch to function properly, damaged parts are restored to a high standard, but in non-critical places we will proceed with optimal reasonable use of resources, working time, and customer funds.

Budget and Timeline:

  • A project outline is formulated from a list of all necessary jobs (without which the watch cannot run), and a list of proposed optional jobs (without which the watch will work fine, but still look ugly). It is then agreed what work is to be done from these lists, and what the total cost will be.
  • Terms of 2 months or more *** (see explanation below on stroke and accuracy).

Stroke and Accuracy:

  • Reliable function of the mechanism is ensured, although accuracy depends mainly on the quality of previous repairs and whether something was previously damaged in the mechanism by the craftsman. If, after basic repair, cleaning, and lubrication, the accuracy turns out to be unsuitable (for example, a error of more than 3 – 5 minutes per day), we will offer to work on it in order to get the mechanism to an acceptable level of error – from 1 to 3 minutes per day. It is worth noting that in many cases, a 100-year-old watch that has been carefully looked after, after our work, can reliably fit into an error of ½ min per day.   
  • *** In more than half of our cases, we are faced with unexpected difficulties when it comes to the incomprehensible behaviour of antique 100-year-old mechanisms. One can start to sequentially make and change all the parts until you can achieve the perfect move (this is option 3 – Premium), but within the framework of the optimal restoration we try to find a relatively economical solution, which takes time, trial, and discussion / consultation with other master horologists.  

The Optimum choice is most suitable for items in relatively good technical condition. If the watch is not worn out by previous incompetent repairs, then after a comprehensive Optimum restoration, it will function almost like new, with slight adjustments for age.

3. Premium – Full and complete restoration

The Premium option is for watches that you wish to bring to perfect condition, restoring the item to a state that is as like new as possible. It should be understood that restoring a watch to a condition that is ‘like new’ is very difficult, requires a significant investment of time and resources, and can only be carried out in stages with an intermediate review of the results of each stage and careful planning of the next steps to be taken for the restoration.

Examples of Tasks:

  • Decorative finishing of wheels.
  • Decorative finishing of boards and bridges.
  • Decorative finishing and polishing of screws.
  • Manufacturing of axles, and replacement and adjustment of the weight screws on the rim of the pendulum (balance) to achieve factory precision of the chronometer.
  • Production of new parts to replace functional but untidy looking ones.

Budget and Timelines:

  • The budget is not fixed. After completion of each stage of work, calculations are done, and decisions made on the cost of each stage and what to do next.
  • Deadlines are not fixed, and instead depend on the work performed.

Stroke and Accuracy:

  • It is possible to achieve chronometric results as if the movement were new.

Summary:

BudgetTimingStroke and Accuracy
MinimumFixed budget for a specific job.Most predictable deadline set. No guarantees.
OptimumThe cost is divided into ‘necessary’ and ‘optional’ sections. Payment for agreed tasks only. At least 2 months taken until completion, or longer depending on the scope of the work and any unexpected problems.We will ensure reliable function and acceptable accuracy, taking into account the age and state of the mechanics.
PremiumNo fixed budget, payment is based upon time and effort spent. Not completed until we can ensure the item is in the best possible condition.Timekeeping will function as if it were a new watch.

We will guarantee the mechanism of an antique watch for either 3, 6, or 12 months (depending on the watch type and age), subject to the rules of operation.

Note: The above describes the approaches to restoration that must be chosen by the customer at the start of the project. For all options discussed, the list of jobs and their cost is agreed by the customer before the project has started, to ensure that there are no complications or unexpected surprises.

Ensuring the Accuracy of Antiques Movements

The accuracy of the mechanism of an antique movement depends primarily on its quality and origin. The nominal factory error for most 100-year-old pocket watch movements is about 1 minute per day. For expensive, super high-quality chronometers, the factory error may be only a few seconds, although these are relatively rare. There are also mechanisms that from production are not capable of functioning with decent accuracy (cylinder ones, Roskopf, etc.).

The second, and no less important factor when it comes to accuracy, is what damage has been sustained in the mechanism over the course of its 100-year existence – what breakages and malfunctions are present. This would be a situation where the function is correct and reliable but not accurate, and when adjustment with the standard regulator doesn’t make a difference.

ProblemCauseComplexity of RepairEnters Optimum Level of Restoration
1. Cleanliness of parts – presence of dust/ dirt.Natural pollution – oxidation of oil to resin/ dust.Level 1Yes
2. Magnetisation of parts.Powerful electrical appliances.Level 1Yes
3. Condition of axles, wear and tear.Wear due to dry running (not enough lubrication).Level 3Yes
4. Condition of ruby stones. Wear due to dry running/ shock.Level 3Yes
5. Force of mainspring.Weakening of the spring due to the ageing of the metal.Level 2Yes
6. Clearances in the wheel system.Wear and tear from dry running/ shock/ damaged by previous craftsmen/ non-original parts. Level 3Yes
7. Corrosion or wear on teeth and wheel axles. Moisture/ wear from dry running. Level 4No
8. The axis of the pendulum (balance) has breakage or wear.Shock/ wear from dry running.Level 4No
9. Imbalanced spiral – shape and functions.Damage by previous craftsmen.Level 4No
10. Corners of ruby pallet and anchor fork.Damaged by previous craftsmen.Level 3No
11. Shape of the pendulum rim (balance), runout on the axis.Damaged by previous craftsmen.Level 4No
12. Weights on the balance, fine adjustment and circular balancing.Damaged by previous craftsmen.Level 3No
13. Compensation and adjustment of balance properties.Change in the metals properties over time. Level 5No

Pay attention to the most common causes – ‘wear from dry running’ and ‘damaged by previous craftsmen’, these are from unskilled repairs. The table is conditional to many factors that go beyond what is detailed above, but in 90% of cases everything fits into this scheme.