Can you take a typical eBay watch selling at £10 as a `runs then stops’ project and get it going? Sometimes you can. Let’s delve into the world of budget watch repair.
WHAT YOU NEED
Unlike real watchmaking, where you need a fully equipped £3000 workshop, with mini lathe, polishing machine, proper workbench, Swiss tools, wide range of spares, crystals, stems, crowns, hands plus an Ultrasonic tank with all the little baskets for washing movement parts etc, amateur level fettling requires the following as a minimum;
Case knife & screwback opener tool, air blower, Petroleum Ether 100-120, watch oils & droppers
Movement clamp, 3 sets of tweezers, mini screwdrivers and caseback press & dies
Head loupe, bright flexible stem lamp, flat surface & mat, hand remover tools, dial protector, link pin/lug bar remover
Total cost for that will be under £250 if you shop wisely, but it is worth investing in used Swiss tools, rather than very cheap new screwdrivers, tweezers, caseback press etc. Well made tools last longer, plus are less prone to slipping or scratching watches. If you want to put casebacks on properly – and bezels – you need a range of plastic dies a solid based press, so you apply pressure at exactly the right point. See below.
TIMEX TEST BED
I bought this 1973 Timex on eBay with the seller stating that it ran for a while and stopped. This is always a better bet than a watch where it has simply stoppped completely.
Often that is because the movement is damaged beyond economic repair and if the seller says the winding crown goes round and round but the hands never move and it doesn’t tick, then the mainspring has gone, or the tab securing the mainspring has broken off in the barrel, either way it means a total stripdown and for that you need expert skills plus a well stocked workshop. Plus a brand new mainspring for a 1973 Timex – where are you going to get that?
But here’s what you can try on the cheap, with skill and patience – sometimes it works out well.
- Remove the strap, clean the case carefully of dirt and then open the caseback. This stops more dirt getting in.
- Open the caseback by locating the tiny tab ( if its a snap-on type). Work it slowly into the groove, use your thumb as a stopper in case the knife slips – its blunt, it won’t cut you. Better to go slow and try different angles to prise the back off, it might not have moved in 20 years.
- Look at the movement with your loupe or magnifying glass, take some phone photos. Is it a genuine Timex movement, is anything obviously damaged, does the balance wheel shake when the watch is shaken side-to-side? Try winding it, then tip the watch at different angles to see if the balance wheel moves at the same speed at every angle. If not, you have potential problems.
Now I could see potential endshake once the watch was going, the balance wheel was moving like a warped 45rpm record from the 1970s. That suggests the watch will stop easily, as the balance wheel is out of true.
Nearly every Timex has a basic movement, with no/few jewels and so as it wears over decades, things like balance staffs get out of whack. Not much you can do except try your luck as a mint Timex automatic like this is worth about £45 at best, so buying a new balance assembly for this watch was a fool’s errand. You could spend £40-£50 on a minter simply to strip the balance and swap it over, why bother?
4. Take the ether and put some in the lid of the bottle. Use the tweezers to drop it onto the balance wheel, then the rest of the movement. Swish the watch about to spread the ether. About ten drops is plenty. Use the blower to dry the movement. Does it run? Hell yes, the watch went off at top speed! Just lucky, that’s all. Sometimes you just move dirt elsewhere and the watch still won’t go.
5. Set the watch to the correct time against a quartz, fully wind it and see if it goes. It ran for 6 hours, I cleaned it again, then moved the adjustment lever to the F for Fast position very, very slightly. You need a magnifying loupe to see this lever properly and clamp the watch as you work. Literally 1mm is all you need.
The result was the watch ran for about 14 hours and stopped. It lost about 5 mins over that time.
I then moved the lever another 1mm faster and added ONE tiny drop of watch oil to the little arm that links the balance staff to the gear train. It’s very tricky getting in there, which is why you need to super thin oil droppers and a steady hand. Never be tempted to put more than one drop of oil onto the visible end of pins or staffs which hold gears in situ – over oiling just stops the train working.
Don’t get any oil on the balance wheel or spring – the watch will probably stop. If you do, get the movement out and give it an ether bath overnight, then the air blower treatment. Might work.
By the way I had to use curved end tweezers to get under the balance wheel to adjust the speed on this Timex. The factory always sought to create work for local watch repairers in their designs, bit like modern car factories who make you remove a wheel and a bumper to replace a front headlight bulb. This is why you need a powerful flexible hose light to see what you are doing. I use an LED one with a clamp that grips the edge of the worktable.
Results; watch runs for 26-28 hours on full wind and loses just 1 minute per day – on both a level position, or when worn on the wrist. On the downside, the automatic function isn’t good, it tends to stop overnight and needs winding up, so that means the gears under the rotor are probabaly worn out, or someone has had a little dabble in the past and lost a part maybe.
Fitted a new strap which cost £7, polished the crystal and case with Polywatch. Looks half decent now.
Some you win, some you lose. But at £10 plus postage this is a great way to learn what is possible on a tight budget. Happy fettling!
You can see more on the You Tube video here too.