Is it worth servicing older watches made by the lesser known Swiss brands? That is a question that every jeweller, watch trader and antique dealer should ask themselves, because generally the answer is a firm No. Given that a decent watchmaker will charge about £150 as a minimum for a stripdown of a mechanical movement, plus cleaning, oiling and re-assembly then you’re looking at spending three times the resale value of an old Montine, Regency, Lucerne, Hudson, Precimax, Superoma etc.
So what is the solution when you buy a 60s/70s watch on ebay, Gumtree or at a watch fair and then find it starts/stops, or simply runs for a few seconds and then freezes? Well quite often all that watch needs is a basic clean, bit of an overnight soak for the movement perhaps and some TLC with an oiler to get it running again. It may not run a full 30 hours and keep time to within 1 minute, but you will have a running watch to wear and enjoy. Or sell on/swap if you’re a budget level collector.
OK then, here’s a little run through the typical problems with this non-ticking, fully wound-up, Regency watch, and how I got it running again;
First off, remove the dreadful, dirt-encrusted expander bracelet and bin it. Don’t think you can pick the skin and filth out from the links, or toothbrush it. Just not worth it. Buy a basic leather strap from ebay for £5 instead.
Two, remove most of the dirt around the caseback before opening the case. You don’t want more crud falling in. Note that there is hair around the winding crown and stem by the way.
Depress the release button and carefully remove the stem. Get this in a chemical bath to loosen the decades of grime.
Having taken some movement photos, I image matched the pics on google to find out which movement with the ETA1080 being the most similar looking. Good news. Next step, use the crystal grabber to remove the scratched glass, then tease off the hands using the correct tools and the dial protector.
Store the hands carefully in a plastic tray, and add the two movement holding screws in another compartment. Prise off the bezel and pop the movement forward like a pocket watch. This was a difficult job, as dirt had seized the bezel on tight. I used some ether and a brush to loosen it – protecting the dial from the excess ether by the way – then dribbled some watch oil onto a super thin screwdriver to work my way into the tiny gap.
Next remove the balance cock and hairspring, and put this delicate part in a separate chemical bath away from the main movement. Why you ask? The reason I do that is my watch repair tutor, Ernie, told me years ago that when you bathe the entire movement bits of crud go all over the show and some can stick to the hairspring. If the hairspring’s coils stick together then there’s a good chance the watch will not run properly, so it is worth cleaning it separately.
Be ultra careful with the hairspring, so easy to twist or break it free from the screw-in pin, and while the balance bridge is out clean the bottom jewel with a blower, once it has had a nice overnight soak in the bath.
Now add a tiny smidge of oil to the pallet stones, and to the end jewel on the base plate before putting the balance back in. If you can reach in to place a little oil between the hour wheel and the back of the dial, plus lube any exposed, non jewel staffs, then it is worth doing. Don’t go mad with oil, less is more.
Use the blower gently on the hairspring before re-assembly. Inspect all the parts and the movement carefully with your magnifying glass or loupe. Take your time, it is easy to damage these parts and as this is where the watch has the LEAST power, and so it is where it requires the most attention to ensure all is clean, dust-free, lightly lubed and in perfect symmetry.
Clean the stem and crown and place a dab of oil on the stem, before sliding that back in. Now check the movement winds before doing anything else. Does the hairspring move side-to-side with a nice beat? If there’s a problem, it’s time to strip it right down, or bin the watch in the parts drawer. Assuming all feels fine, remove the stem again, put the movement back in the watch case and screw down the two retaining screws. Clamp the movement securely while you do all this.
OK, refit the bezel, now that it’s been cleaned up. Should press on, you may need a polybag and a caseback press to align it and press it on properly. Take your time to make sure all is 100% straight before screwing down the caseback press and applying pressure. The polythene bag protects the dial a bit if the thing slips. Sometimes.
Now you can fit the hands again. Generally the hour hand needs the most pressure, but you’ll know everything is sitting well if the second hand goes on the cannon pinion nicely. Turn the movement upside down to make sure the hands stay on OK. If not, keep trying. Then test the hands clear each other by pulling the crown out and setting the time.
Use the blower on the dial, maybe a soft brush to get rid of dust. Don’t try to clean the dial using any solvents. It will strip the paint. Replace the caseback and measure your old crystal. This Regency had a 308 fitted and I didn’t have one in my spares stock, but I used extra pressure on a 320 and made it fit on. Occasionally that causes a crack and goodbye crystal, but this Regency, like many 60s/70s watches has shallow bezel, so an oversized crystal stays in under extra tension. I went for a high dome too – may as well with low value watches. Just my preference.
Now clean the holes in the lugs with a cocktail stick, then fit new pins plus a strap. Voila, you have a half decent vintage watch, which when fully wound, ran for 26 hours on the bench. Result. On the down side, this all took about two hours of work, plus overnight chemical baths. It is a fair bit of work for something that still might NOT cure all the ills within a 50 year old watch, but altogether more affordable.
So, total parts budget? £5 strap and a £1 crystal – only because I bought a joblot of 50 crystals for £45 a few years back. Labour costs? Well if I was charging a trade price that would be £30 for 2 hours. That’s still a total of £36, which is roughly the resale value of the watch at an antique fair, so like many things classic and vintage, you do this work for love, not money!