Professional Jeweler Archive: Taking in a Mechanical Watch

February 2001

Timepieces/Education & Repair


Taking in a Mechanical Watch

Identify it and know its service needs before accepting it


Two types of mechanical watches are brought to jewelry stores for repair or maintenance. Knowing what type it is will help determine whether you or the watchmaker should give the customer a repair estimate.

  • The manual, regular wind watch, has a crown that turns to wind the mainspring.
  • The automatic, or self-winding, watch has a large oscillating weight inside that revolves with the motion of the wrist, winding the mainspring as it goes. The timepiece states “automatic” or “self-winding” on the dial. You also can tell the difference by holding the watch near your ear and listening for a winding sound as you move it back and forth. If you hear it, the watch is an automatic. Or you can remove the case back and look inside. The oscillating weight is a large half-circle of metal pivoting around a center point on top of the movement.

Service Needs

When accepting a mechanical watch for repair, keep in mind its age and service history. If the watch is less than 10 years old, or it’s older and has been serviced every five to 10 years, give your customer an estimate for servicing it. This includes cleaning, lubricating and adjusting.

If it’s more than 10 years old and hasn’t had regular service, tell your customer the watch must go to your watchmaker for an estimate because of hidden wear and possible deterioration.

Your watchmaker should provide you with a schedule of fees for each step of servicing. General servicing usually includes disassembly, cleaning, reassembly, lubricating and minor adjusting of the hairspring and escapement to give acceptable timekeeping.

Automatic watches generally require more work than hand-wind models. So do watches with calendars, alarms, moon phases and other complications. Antique watches require studied estimates before any repairs are attempted.

Gasket sets and crystals are usually extra, as are crowns, stems and other parts that need to be replaced. Repair of abuse by other repairers or the owner generally adds to the price.

Seal It

It’s critical a watch be well-sealed. When a watch comes in for any repair, suggest the gaskets (seals) and any cracked or chipped crystals be replaced.

Be sure to compare for your customer the cost of gaskets with the higher cost of any quartz or mechanical watch repair or service.

Mind of a Genius

Mechanical watches are far more expensive to make and maintain than quartz watches. But they have a much longer life span.

With proper and regular servicing, a mechanical watch can last indefinitely. A quartz watch’s electronic circuitry has a limited life span, and replacement parts, especially electronic components, will not be around forever.

A mechanical watch needs just winding (or wearing in the case of automatics) to run for the recommended four or five years between service. A quartz watch needs a new battery every one to 10 years, depending on the movement.

The fascinating point about a mechanical watch is that it represents 400 years of cutting-edge science. It’s microtechnology at its finest. To paraphrase what a famous watchmaker of the 18th century once said, a mechanical watch allows everyone to wear the “mind of a genius” on their wrists.


David Christianson is fourth-generation owner of Christianson Jewelry, Kendallville, IN. He is past president of the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute, a certified master watchmaker and a fellow of the British Horological Society. He discusses watch repair for the sales staff in this column each month. Send questions, suggestions and comments to Professional Jeweler, 1500 Walnut St., Suite 1200, Philadelphia, PA 19102; timepieces@professionaljeweler.com.


Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications