For many people, buying a mechanical watch is an investment – not so much in the traditional sense of the word, although there are unquestionably some models that appreciate more in value than others – but in the sense that a nice watch is an object people want to own for a long time and pass down to the next generation. As such, it is critically important to care for your watch in a way that ensures it will hold its value and continue to work for many years ahead. For that reason, we’ve put together some helpful hints and tips on how to keep your mechanical watch in top condition.
This first tip is especially important if your mechanical watch is of the manual wind variety. Even if you don’t wear your watch every day, it is a good idea to wind it daily. There are a lot of moving parts in a mechanical watch movement, and if they stay static for too long the lubricants that help the gears run smoothly can begin to congeal. This can cause unwanted friction which will not only affect the watch’s performance but may also lead to damage.
Depending on the size of the mainspring, the age of watch, and other factors, some watches will take longer to wind than others. The important thing is to be gentle and to stop winding as soon as you feel any sort of resistance from the crown. Winding stems can be very fragile and are easily snapped or damaged if too much force is applied, and the same goes for the mainspring. It’s also a good idea to take your watch off your wrist to wind it, enabling you to get a better grip and minimize the risk of any damage.
It is equally important to keep the movement running regularly on an automatic watch, for the same reasons mentioned above. Unlike a manual-wind movement, an automatic movement is wound by storing the kinetic energy generated when you move your wrist. Most modern automatic movements have a power reserve of about 42 – 48 hours, however, for older models, this is generally less. If you have several automatic watches in your collection, you may want to consider investing in a watch winder, which will keep your watches wound even when you’re not wearing them.
If you stop to think about it, your watch gets exposed to a fair amount of dirt on a daily basis. Everyday actions, such as shaking hands with strangers, riding the subway, and even patting the family pet, can leave residue on your watch. We regularly wash our hands and our clothes, but rarely remember to clean our watches.
There are many places on your watch where grime can accumulate, but the main areas to be mindful of are where the case meets the bezel, between the links on the bracelet, and around the lens. Regular cleaning with a lint-free cloth will help prevent any build-up and keep your watch looking sharp. If you feel comfortable, you can remove the metal bracelet and soak it in a bowl of warm water and mild soap for a short while (a method often recommended for cleaning precious jewelry). Once the dirt has separated, take the bracelet out and towel it off completely before reattaching it to the case. It’s also worth considering having a professional clean your watches on an annual basis. They will likely use a high-powered ultrasonic cleaner for a deeper clean.
In many ways, a mechanical watch can be thought of like an automobile. The exterior might get a few dings and scratches over the years, but if you regularly service the engine inside, change the oil, and replace any worn parts, it will keep humming along nicely for decades or longer. Older watches will naturally require more care and attention, and you must do your research to find the right watchmaker before you entrust them with your precious timepiece. The last thing you want is an inexperienced, jack-of-all-trades replacing genuine parts with inferior ones. Not only will this reduce the watch’s overall value, it could also potentially cause longer-term damage to the mechanical movement.
If your watch has any sort of water resistance rating – which most do these days – it’s a good idea to have the waterproofing seals checked and, if needed, replaced as part of the professional service. These seals deteriorate over time, so your watch may become less waterproof over the years. Replacing the seals is often a step people will forgo in the interest of saving money; however, the potential pitfall of this is a greater risk of water damage if the watch happens to get even a little bit wet (i.e. when you’re washing your hands). This damage may be irreversible or at the very least a very costly repair, so it is best to minimize the possibility of it occurring.
Depending on the watch you own, its age, and where you live, you may want to consider sending it back to the manufacturer for servicing. This will give you the peace of mind that all replacement parts are genuine and that only qualified professionals are working on it, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Not only will a service from the manufacturer likely cost you more than one from a local, qualified watch repairer, it could also potentially diminish the value of your watch, particularly if it’s rare or collectible. The reason for this is that although the manufacturer may only use authentic parts, they might not necessarily use original parts but instead elect to simply swap out an older movement for a newer version. Likewise, manufacturers like watches (even old ones) to leave the factory looking clean and shiny, which may include polishing the case or refinishing the dial, both big no no’s in the world of vintage watch collecting. Make sure you do your research beforehand and be very clear about what you do and do not want done to your watch.
If you follow these helpful tips and use common sense, there’s no reason why you and future generations of watch owners shouldn’t enjoy every day with your precious watch. So wind it daily, keep it clean, service it regularly, and wear it in good health!