Things you should and shouldn’t do with a mechanical watch
There is so much information and misinformation about how you should handle a mechanical wristwatch, that we decided to ask the experts.
In today’s watch world, there is so much information and misinformation out there that it’s very easy to be confused, even about things that people are SUPPOSED to agree on. For example, one accepted notion is that you should not put a watch down on its crown. In fact, I was just in a meeting where someone said that this knowledge showed whether a person really knew watches or not. Nobody really knows why watches are supposed to be put down crown up, so we decided to ask as many experts in the field as we could, about this and several other things. Here’s what these experts had to say.
Accepted Notion #1:
You should never put your watch down with the crown down.
Peter Speake-Marin, the Naked Watchmaker: Depending on the design of case and the surface it will be placed, this may damage the crown, but this is really open to too many arguments and variations depending on the product.
Patrick Wehrli, Director of the Exceptional Pieces and Restoration Department, Parmigiani Fleurier: On modern watches, with today’s technology, that statement is no longer valid.
Raphael Frauenfelder, Head of Watchmaking, H. Moser and Cie: Often heard advice, but not true.
Anonymous Watchmaker from a HUGE brand: You’re either going to be scratching the crown or scratching the side of the case though, so it’s just a trade-off with no clear winner.
Laurent Cantin, Watchmaker & Customer Service Director, Zenith: False. On the contrary, it is recommended to place the watch on the crown when not used, in order to avoid scratches on the case.
Bahman Tagharrobi, Watchmaker, Jacob & Co.: It doesn’t really matter if you put the watch crown down. You just have to make sure you don’t slam it down on the crown, as the force could be transmitted into the movement. The best position for your watch is dial up or dial down.
Accepted Notion #2:
You should have your watch serviced every so often, even if it is running fine.
Anonymous Watchmaker: We now tell people that their watch will tell them when it’s time for service. For watches with spare parts that might be difficult or impossible to come by (vintage pieces, rare or hand-crafted watches), it might make sense to service them preemptively, so as to avoid wearing out components that might be hard to replace. But generally, labor is the most substantial cost associated with upkeep, so it makes fiscal sense to only service the watch when it’s not running well.
Stephen Forsey, co-founder of Greubel Forsey: Yes, a regular servicing avoids premature wear to ensure the longest life for your watch.
Mario Rodriguez, Expert Watchmaker, Tutima: It is indeed recommended to have your timepiece checked every 4-7 years. Checked, cleaned, re-lubed and gaskets changed.
Laurent Cantin: Like any mechanical timepiece maintenance is mandatory after a certain period of time. Nevertheless, periodic recommendations are no longer trendy. Some watch brands recommend only a service when dysfunction appears.
Accepted Notion #3:
You should never leave your watch in the bathroom.
Mario Rodriguez: With a watch that is properly maintained, water-resistant and with the crown properly closed, this should not be an issue.
Patrick Wehrli: This used to be valid over a century ago when watches were never waterproof but were sometimes “dustproof” thanks to gaskets made in leather or cork. Today you can leave a water-resistant wristwatch in your bathroom without any problem.
Anonymous Watchmaker: What? Because you might drop it on a tile floor?
Raphael Frauenfelder: It’s generally better to store your watch in a dry atmosphere but one night in a bathroom will be no problem.
Accepted Notion #4:
You should or shouldn’t keep your chronograph running.
Bahman Tagharrobi: It depends on how well the chronograph is made. Keeping a chronograph running can take from the power reserve, but it shouldn’t harm the watch.
Patrick Wehrli: For most chronographs you should not keep it running when not in use. For most of the watches featuring this function, turning the chronograph on is like driving a car and adding a trailer to it. This means the feature adds friction, which can make the watch less accurate and it can also shorten its power reserve.
Peter Speake-Marin: The only issue in keeping a chronograph running is that it may reduce the power reserve slightly when it’s winding down due to the extra work is has to do driving the additional functions.
Anonymous Watchmaker: For most older chronographs, it’s not a good idea to leave them running all the time. For many modern designs, it’s a non-issue, but if you want to follow a general guideline it would be to not leave it running all the time.
Accepted Notion #5:
Mechanical watches should be kept wound.
Mario Rodriguez: Yes, this keeps the gears and lube fluid and movements achieve better longevity when kept running.
Peter Speake-Marin: The best place for a mainspring to be is fully would, this in effect reduces the likelihood of the repeated fatigue it experiences when coiling up and down. But then the watch continually runs and certain watch movements will wear over time more than others. Modern synthetic lubrication inside of well-constructed and sealed cases can last a very long time if not used, not congealing. So, leaving a watch in an inert environment for 50 years won’t really hurt it. Re-programming a stopped perpetual calendar, however, can be a can of worms.
Patrick Wehrli: Not necessarily, on antique watches – for example, pieces from the Maurice Sandoz Family collection – it is better to keep them unwound (not running), similar to how it is better to keep classic cars with low mileage. There is also often a misunderstanding on more modern watches where some users think that keeping the watch running keeps the lubrication in better condition. This is not necessarily right. Lubrication like oil or grease is somehow like milk, after a certain period whether you move it or not, its consistency changes.
Bahman Tagharrobi: Like cars, if your watch stays wound, the parts are being used and wearing. If you have a perpetual calendar or other complicated watch with lots to set, it’s better to keep it wound so you don’t have to adjust it every time you wear it. If you don’t adjust these complications well, you could break them.
Accepted Notion #6:
You should never clap with a mechanical watch on.
Stephen Forsey: At Greubel Forsey, our shock tests are far in excess of clapping so it’s not a problem with our timepieces.
Raphael Frauenfelder: You should generally protect your watch from shocks but just clapping is no problem.
Mario Rodriguez: We all clap with our Tutimas on!
Peter Speake-Marin: Tell that to any sports watch owner. The only time I have heard of a watch being damaged by clapping was the owner of a dress watch with a tiger’s eye dial that cracked due to the impact. Having said that, if you are wearing a grand complication, probably better to clap with one hand.
Laurent Cantin: Watches are designed for the wrist!!! Therefore, any standard arm movements should not affect functionality.
Bahman Tagharrobi: Clapping might impact the precision at the moment of clapping, but accuracy should not suffer over the long term.
Accepted Notion #7:
Don’t play golf or tennis with your mechanical watch on
Anonymous Watchmaker: Most pros don’t wear watches when they play, but I think it’s more because the weight of the watch shifting around on their arm might throw off their game rather than concern for the mechanism. I’m sure you can find watchmakers on both sides of this issue, but I for one don’t think it’s a big problem to wear a watch while golfing or playing tennis.
Raphael Frauenfelder: A watch will usually not directly break when you play golf or tennis, but it might have a bad influence on the durability and the precision of your watch. So, try to protect your watch generally from shocks, also, for example, do not ride your mountain bike while wearing your watch.
Stephen Forsey: Some might say that a heavy mechanical watch could influence your play but a well-constructed watch is going to be able to withstand most activities.
Laurent Cantin: There is a lot of literature around this question. However, it depends mostly on the watch design and categories. Sport watches versus classical ultra-thin watches will not behave the same way.
Accepted Notion #8:
Gaskets in a water-resistant watch wear out and need to be changed often.
Stephen Forsey: With a hand-wound timepiece, the gasket in the crown is getting quite a bit of use. Over time, to ensure the long life of the watch, it’s important to do a periodic control for the water resistance and the care of the gaskets.
Anonymous Watchmaker: Modern gaskets are pretty robust. If you’re using your watch for diving, you should get the water resistance checked every year or so to be safe (since your life depends on it), but otherwise it’s probably not necessary. When the watch gets serviced, all of the gaskets should be changed at that time. If there are any signs of moisture in your watch though (condensation under the crystal), you should take it to a watchmaker immediately, otherwise the oxidization process can turn it into a very expensive repair.
Peter Speake-Marin: Watch seals, especially silicon ones, last a long time but do have a life expectancy and need to be changed eventually. The most quickly worn away seals are those found on the winding crown in a manually wound watch which can only be wound from one side.
Patrick Wehrli: Yes, they have normally to be changed during each overhaul (more or less every three to five years) to ensure the watch remains waterproof. As soon as the case of a watch is open, the gaskets should be replaced.
Bahman Tagharrobi: When your watch goes under the water, it’s about the pressure and temperature shock. Gaskets wear over time, so if you take your watch into the water often, you should have it regularly checked (every one or two years).
So, there you have it, the definitive answers… well, on some of the topics. Truth is, many of these are subjective and you can ask 12 watchmakers and get 12 different answers to each. The only thing every watchmaker did agree on is that the crown down warning is a load of rubbish!
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