Congratulations on your new mechanical watch! As the owner of this timepiece, you have acquired a symbol of the harmony between art and science, representing human creativity. Regardless of how often you wear it or how much you spend on it, your watch should operate smoothly for years to come with minimal maintenance. All you need to do is set it up and let it do its job on your wrist.
However, it's important to keep a few things in mind to ensure that your watch continues to perform perfectly and can be passed down to future generations. It's recommended that you thoroughly understand these factors, as they will help you to appreciate and care for your timepiece properly.
How Does a Mechanical Watch Work?
Over the last three centuries, mechanical watches have retained a consistent structural design that showcases their impressive ingenuity and efficiency. The essential component of a mechanical watch is the hairspring, which serves as its beating heart. The hairspring moves back and forth at a consistent pace, oscillating anywhere between 18,000 to 36,000 times per hour, and plays a crucial role in determining the watch's accuracy by regulating tension and resisting temperature changes and magnetism. Most modern hairsprings consist of metallic alloys that compensate for temperature changes, while others are made of silicon to resist magnetism.
Considering the intricate workings of the gears and delicate springs, it's astounding that mechanical timepieces achieve an astonishing level of precision. However, mechanical watches are vulnerable to external shocks and friction, which can negatively impact their accuracy. Regular lubrication and the implementation of "jeweled" bearings, which utilize synthetic or real rubies polished to provide frictionless surfaces, help to reduce friction in the watch's movement. Well-adjusted chronometer-grade movements can maintain accuracy up to 99.999%.
How to Wind and Set a Mechanical Watch
Mechanical watches offer a unique experience because they rely on their owner's interaction to function. Unlike their battery-powered counterparts, mechanical watches require winding to keep the coiled mainspring powered for a day or two, sometimes longer. A hand-wound watch represents the purest form of mechanical timepieces, which adds to their allure. To wind a watch, one must turn the crown a few dozen times. Although winding a watch is a straightforward process, it's essential to keep a few things in mind.
Take The Watch Off
To start, remove the watch from your wrist before winding it. Avoid winding it at an awkward angle, as this can damage the winding stem. Additionally, do not overwind the watch. It is fully wound when you feel resistance while turning the crown, so don't try to add a little extra. Ideally, wind your watch daily to ensure it keeps accurate time. The mainspring should be at least half-tension for the best performance, and since most watches have a two-day power reserve, it is a good habit to wind it up each morning before wearing it. Remember not to treat it like a gas tank and top it off unnecessarily.
Set The Watch
After you have taken the watch off your wrist, you should locate the crown and pull it out to its furthest position from the base. Once the crown is pulled out completely, the second hand will stop, allowing you to set the time more easily. Next, gently turn the crown in a clockwise direction until you set the correct time. Never turn the crown counter-clockwise! Doing so would damage the delicate movement. Even if you accidentally rotate the crown past the correct time, keep slowly winding clockwise until you reach the desired time.
Setting a watch with a calendar compilation requires some extra attention to avoid potential damage. Avoid adjusting the date if the watch’s hands are set between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. If you're uncertain when a stopped watch stopped, pull the crown out entirely, rotate the hands to advance the date until it changes, signifying midnight. Next, move the time forward beyond 2 a.m. before pressing the crown in to set the date.
The reason for this caution is that the date-changing mechanism begins to interact with the gear train after 9 p.m. and doesn't disengage until after 2 a.m. Modifying the date during this period can harm the fragile teeth of the mechanism, necessitating an expensive repair. Additionally, it's preferable to advance a watch's time rather than reversing it to avoid damage to the date mechanism.
Things to Avoid
Watch Your Water Resistance
The mortal enemies of mechanical watches are moisture, shock, and magnets, but modern timepieces are equipped to resist all three. This is achieved through the use of synthetic gaskets, screw-down crowns, and tight tolerances that prevent water from seeping into the watch. Even dress watches are designed with a water resistance rating of at least 3 atmospheres, or 30 meters. However, this is the minimum rating and not suitable for swimming, showering etc. These are gentlemen's watches and as such need to be treated with care, otherwise you would have to consider getting a dive watch.
While screw-down crowns are the most effective way to prevent moisture damage, some dive watches with a rating of 200 meters use double-sealed free-spinning crowns. It is best advised that you mind your watch's water resistance and have it tested. So, even though your Basel Tourbillon may survive a dip in the pool during a bachelor party, it's best to avoid wearing it during your daily swim.
Try To Avoid Dropping the Watch
Although the Incabloc shock protection system is capable of protecting watch movements from sudden impacts, it's important to remember that wearing a watch means carrying a delicate and precise mechanism on your wrist. While we tend to expose our watches to various types of stress, there are certain limits that should not be exceeded. Activities such as splitting wood, loosening a frozen bolt, or playing golf are not the most suitable for mechanical watches. In such cases, it may be best to opt for a quartz watch that you may have overlooked.
Be Mindful of Magnetism
The fine hairspring in a mechanical watch can be affected by magnetism, causing the coils to stick together and the watch to run too fast. While watch manufacturers are continuously improving their protection against magnetism, affordable mechanical watches are still susceptible to this issue. Common electronic devices such as televisions, speakers, and iPads contain magnets that can interfere with the accuracy of a watch if kept too close. If you notice your normally precise timepiece, such as a Breitling, running fast by five minutes, it may have been affected by magnetism. Thankfully, the solution is easy - a watchmaker can demagnetize the watch in under five minutes. However, it's even simpler to prevent magnetism from affecting your watch altogether.
How to Maintain Your Watch
Polish That Crystal
By giving your cherished timepiece a little care and attention, you can ensure that it will endure the wear and tear of daily use and even be passed down to future generations. Many modern watches come with sapphire crystals, such as the Tufina Zurich Tourbillon, which are durable and scratch-resistant. However, some vintage-inspired watches feature acrylic crystals that may be prone to scratches but can be easily polished using products like automobile headlamp lens cleaner or Brasso. Alternatively, a specialized product like Polywatch can also be used for this purpose.
Take Care of The Case
Timepiece cases are prone to scratches unless you keep them untouched. However, you can restore the various finishes with a little bit of skillful polishing using an abrasive cloth of different grades of fineness. Investing in a watch polishing kit can be beneficial as it includes these abrasive cloths. In case of an emergency, a well-handled Scotchbrite pad can also help bring back the original glory of your brushed Tirona Chronograph bracelet. It is important to note that if you own a vintage watch, preserving the original unpolished condition may be desirable, especially if you intend to sell it. In that case, it's better to live with the scratches.
Wash It Off
If you wear a watch frequently, it is likely to accumulate dirt and dust. It is therefore important to clean it periodically. A simple method to do so involves using an old toothbrush and running water, focusing particularly on areas such as the caseback and strap lugs.
Strap It On
Taking care of the disposable components of a watch such as straps and metal bracelets can help keep them in good condition for longer periods. While rubber straps are suitable for wet conditions, they can deteriorate from exposure to the sun and certain chemicals found in bug spray, cologne, and sunscreens. Therefore, it is important to rinse them off regularly and inspect them for tears, particularly around the buckle and spring bars, to prevent any accidental loss of your precious pieces. Leather straps, on the other hand, are not water-resistant, but applying leather oils and waterproofing products can extend their life for a few years. A metal bracelet, if polished regularly, can last for as long as your watch. Regardless of your choice, it is advisable to keep a few extra sets of spring bars and a high-quality strap-changing tool handy, especially if you frequently change straps.
Service When Needed
It is a common myth that watches that have survived wars and decades of daily wear without maintenance are in good condition. However, this can actually cause damage to the watch as lubricating oils dry up and gear teeth and jewels wear out. This can result in a minor service becoming a major overhaul.
While modern watches can last up to five years without maintenance, an escapement that is worn regularly will still see 700,000 oscillations per day. It is therefore recommended that watches be serviced by a watchmaker twice a decade. Though it can be costly, maintenance is essential as a mechanical watch is an investment that is likely to be treasured and kept for a long time. Consider it an opportunity to purchase another watch to use while it is being serviced.