Now that is the question. The second question is something like, `should you bother with £20 clunkers, as they’re often not worth saving?’
Well, maybe not in terms of making money, because most eBay project watches are generally lesser known brands like this 39mm Mortima Datomatic. But there is a learning value, which is priceless. So if you want to learn a bit more about how to teach yourself watch repair, read on…
UNPICKING THE EVIDENCE OF PREVIOUS F***WITTERY
The story on this watch from the seller was that it `ran for a few minutes and kept stopping, found in a drawer.’ Well maybe so. Once unpacked it soon became obvious why the watch kept stopping; the hands were dragging on splashes of badly applied lume.
The crystal was also covered in scratches, but the steel case was generally OK, with a decent screw-on caseback. This was removed for a peek inside.
Yeah, re-luming the hands is a good idea – if you can manage it. But once inside the watch, I could see lume on the tips of the movement holder retaining ring. Wow. It takes some skill to get lume on the opposite side of the dial and movement.
What this also means is you have to clean the movement as lume could be inside the works.
I tried turning the hands and winding the watch, and this soon revealed that the extra lashings of lume had coagulated into a sticky mess, which then smeared around the dial, dragged by the hour hand, adding to the blobs already at the 7pm position. Oh pants. The joys of watch fettling.
Next step would be get the movement out but a good ten mins pressing the release button brought no freedom for the stem and crown. Drop of watch oil, still no joy.
That can happen, especially when a stem and crown has been rammed home in the past. I’m not saying that was the case on this Mortima, but a re-think was called for.
After a brew and a biscuit I looked at Plan B. Not not the UK govt plan to lock everyone down again and demand passports to visit the pubs, but a plan to remove the bezel and crystal and tidy up the dial by going in from the front.
The bezel didn’t want to move, but the thinnest blade on my case knife finally found a tiny gap. Worked this around a bit, protecting the case with a bit of polybag – the knife might slip. Then I used the bigger case knife blade to gradually prise open the gap. Take your time with this sort of thing on 50 year old watches as the bezels are often hiding skin, dirt and god knows what beneath them.
Finally, off it came and yes, you can see the dirt under the bezel and on the crystal too. I used a Bergeon crystal removing tool and my advice is don’t cheap out with a Chinese lift – it will lose its fine edges on the jaws and then slip, thus scratching crystals, or bezels.
Various parts now went in a bath of petroleum ether. Note the crystal on this, like many old watches, has a tension ring. (pic below) My advice is don’t remove it unless you have to.
REMOVE THE LUME FROM DIAL
For this task I used petroleum ether again, just a dab on the edge of my dial protector. This is plastic, so shouldn’t scratch the dial, and the ether dissolves the lume gradually, softening it up. You need to have a steady hand and a feel for the material becoming semi-liquid again, then lift it away and wipe it onto a clean tissue or kitchen roll.
The best plan would be to replace the damaged hands, but I didn’t have any hands in that fitted the cannon pinion. Measure this pinion carefully with a micrometer before attempting to fit new hands and check that the second hand can fit correctly as some have a thin spigot that the hand slides onto, absolutely flush.
Once you have the hands fited, always test them by moving the crown out and turning them slowly, if the minute and hour hand touch then you can damage them by moving them quickly.
Tip the watch upside down – over some kitchen roll or white paper – while the second hand is in situ – if it’s loose then it’s better it falls out now rather than when you have the watch re-assembled.
There are hundreds of different hand combinations on old watches. You can buy job lots but getting the right hands for an old watch can be difficult. Given a nice set of lumed dive watch hands can be £10-£15 a set, you need to be sure it’s worth spending cash on the watch.
Bear in mind that the hour hand may have to press on quite firmly, almost flush to the dial, so that means it needs a flat, flush profile on the back of the hand. You can buy a special set of tweezers for this task which have sort of dog-leg flat ends, that press down equally either side of the hand. Cousins or H Walsh are great sites for watch tools.
So, Plan B on the hands, work with what we have got.
I painstakingly removed the dodgy lume with a sharp cocktail stick and more ether. Slow process, but figured that empty `arrow type’ hands would look better once cleaned properly. Before replacing the hands I refitted the movement holder and put the caseback on, so the watch was dead level when pressing them on.
I use tweezers, plus tiny screwdriver, then once on, press gently with two flat blade screwdrivers. You need to practice and use a dial protector.
So now the bezel was clean after a soaking in an ether bath, I tried to refit the wire that goes in the tiny groove underneath. Ping! Off it went across the floor. Tried reworking the curve of it with my fingers, but after 15 mins messing it was obvious the bezel would never press on again. The wire was a kinda odd shape now it was free from its 50-year hiding place.
So, another session of bending and picking at dirt in the bezel groove, plus a tiny amount of watch oil improved matters. Using a caseback press I managed to get the bezel almost on again. It doesn’t fall off, and it turns quite nicely. But it ain’t 100% flush.
Despite loading up lots of pressure, it would not click down into position, and this is a common problem once you disturb old watch parts. They don’t like going back to factory settings, who does?
Spent 10 mins polishing the crystal but some deep scratches will not come out. Really, it needs a new one, but I don’t have one in stock with a date window magnifying section, so it’s a case of minimising the marks, or spending more cash on some thing that will probably never be worth more than fifty quid.
Finally, I fitted a NATO strap and took a snapshot – looks OK really, (see below) and after the movement being cleaned, the watch runs for 25 hours on a full wind. Compared to what we started with, we have a functioning old watch.
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
Budget repairs only take you so far. Fixing the damage done by others is often impossible, unless you have a wealth of spare parts, so you can replace hands, bezels, wires, crystals etc with NOS parts and really, apart from prestige watch repairers and lifelong collectors, who has all that stuff to invest in a junkyard watch?
I reckon this Datomatic might make 35-50 quid on eBay now. It’s taken 5 hours of work, plus new strap, (£3) Polywatch polish, (£3) ether, (£15) tools etc (total investment for my little bench set up was about £350) to get there so is it worth it money-wise?
Nope, like restoring classic cars, or a local Council’s housing budget, it makes zero financial sense. But the getting of wisdom when it comes to fixing watches is an investment that pays off with a warm glow inside. Looking at a watch that runs nicely, and looks half OK, on your wrist and knowing you fixed it is a bit of good recycling karma. You learn so much from every rescue watch and if it all goes wrong, what have you lost? The price of a meal out and a few drinks.
Not a bad investment for any watch enthusiast.