Category Archives: Watch Repairs

Watch Care: Common Problems With Bracelet Links

Thought I would offer some tips on bracelets and the typical problems that tend to crop up, let’s start with sizing issues, which often means removing/adding a link. On some watches that can be fairly easy to do, especially if the links are identical, not tapered so that the ones near the clasp get gradually narrower.

So you need a special link pin pusher tool, which you can get online for about a tenner. It’s good to have a vice, small hammer and a selection of pin-pusher tools so you can tap out some bracelet pins. Before you start look closely through a magnifying glass at the ends of the pins – are they already slotted for a screwdriver blade at one end? Good, don’t hit the pin!

Then they probably have tiny end caps on, which screw out. Don’t lose them, they are extremely small. They are often pins that only go in one way, wheras a cheaper watch might have pins that tap in from either end.

Some Swiss brands like to put pins inside little sleeves that sit inside the central link section. Almost like roller-bearing crankshafts in cars and motorbike engines. You often see this on two-tone or Jubilee type bracelets. As you remove the pin the insert sleeve will drop out – be ready to catch it on your bench or table. These are very difficult to get back in properly but you must fit them, or the pin will fall out when the watch is worn.

Many watches have little arrows next to the four-eight link pins that come out, indicating that they can only be removed in the direction of the arrow. Reverse that rocess when re-fitting the pins. Look closely and you will see one end is slightly bigger than the other and this is why they are a `one way’ fitment.

See the spring-loaded lever on the left, that grips the pin when the clasp is folded over.

Adjusting the clasp on watch bracelets can also demand a delicate touch. One type of clasp that goives trouble is the type where a male end pin presses into a hole, and there is a spring loaded actuator mechanism, normally two tiny wings on the clasp, which act as a release.

Dirt can get inside and jam the lever that should grab the pin. Try watch movement cleaner, or a wash in warm water to get the dirt out. Be wary of using too much force in trying the get the gripping lever to slide across, it will need careful manipulation – very easy to damage it.

Some gents watches have a clasp that folds across, then a band goes over. Often the sides of this clasp have two or three holes where the end link can be moved along, thus making the bracelet a fraction smaller. Good in winter when your wrist will be samller in cold weather. You have to prise out one end of the pin in the end link, move it along the clasp to the next hole, then do the same at the other end. Be careful the pin doesn’t ping out as they are spring-loaded. A tiny screwdiver or pin pusher will help put pressure on the end of the pin, or a cocktail stick maybe.

Hope these tips help you, always take your time and buy decent tools.

Workshop: Basic Care Of Pocket Watches

I’ve been messing with pocket watches for about 6 years now and managed to fix a few. Some defeat me and there’s a simple reason; old age. The watch that is, not me.

You see pocket watches built back in the 1880-1920 period are genuine antiques and frankly, many of them were not built to last over a century. Owners skimp on servicing, the cases are hacked open with kitchen knives and cruder tools and dust, skin and hair sneaks in too. That often results in metal touching metal and the inevitable grinding paste effect that anyone who has stripped a BSA Bantam engine will be familiar with.

Later Walthams, with the decorative Riverside movements are far more reliable. Better built than Travelers.

I digress. Here are some tips for those who have a vintage Waltham, Elgin, Thomas Russell, Omega or Lancashire Pocket Watch, and wish to keep it going.

  1. Don’t adjust the timekeeping using the A/R lever. It’s tempting to press a screwdriver in and waggle it this way or that to try and compensate for poor running. But the problem is unlilely to be that simple and there is a danger of pulling the hairspring. Bang goes the timekeeping completely and most likely, the watch will stop after a few seconds of running.
  2. Don’t oil or lubricate it, unless you have practised on other watches and use the correct tools and watch oil. Don’t drip lighter fluid in there either. It might help a sticky balance assembly, but it’s no substitute for a proper service.
  3. Try not to wind the watch fully. You’re putting a 100% load on something that might not have been replaced since WW2, which was the last time the mainspring was replaced. It’s possible that it’s still using the original mainspring. So wind it ten turns, maybe eight – be kind to the old girl. When you feel a fair bit of resistance, then stop winding.
  4. Don’t set the correct time by winding the hands backwards. It is just more load on ageing parts. Always advance the hands to set the time.
  5. Does it have a winding key? Then there’s a fusee chain inside, wich if you imagine a mini bicycle chain, wrapped around a walnut whip, gives you a good idea of how it works. It is very delicate and most likely has stretched over 50-100 years. There are no factories in China making fusee chains for British or American pocket watches from the 1890s, so take care when winding it.
  6. Top winders are more durable, as this is late Victorian tech, so made with more precision as machine tool manufacturing advanced. Any excess clicking, resistance or `crunching’ is a bad sign. Don’t wind it, don’t try to fix it with WD40.
  7. If your old Waltham runs for 15-18 hours it’s doing well. Don’t expect it to run for a full day, or kep the right time. Many lost 1-2mins a day when they were new, so losing 5 mins a century later is acceptable. Be kind when you wind!

If you have a pocket watch problem then email me at; thenorthernwatchco@outlook.com and maybe I can help. Or it may need the A Team. Estimates and sympathy are free!

Workshop: Battery Change and Clean of Omega Constellation

The Omega Constellation is one of the most popular ladies watch models out there. Nice combination of diamonds on the dial, two-tone bracelet and longevity make this a winner. Ladies tend to shun automatic or mechanical watches in general, unless of course they are made by Cartier or Rolex. But for around £1000-£1500 you can get a prestige pre-owned, Omega Manhattan quartz, with box and papers etc. It’s all good, as a new one is about £4500.

But after a few years it may need some TLC and  a new battery and this can come as a shock to many ladies used to paying £12 at Timpsons on their Michael Kors. Many Omega dealers will ask about £60-£90 for a battery change and it gets sent away to a service centre, often for three to six weeks, to accomplish this fairly simple task;. There is a better way, get an independent watch fettler on the job – like me.

What’s involved?

First I remove any excess dirt from around the caseback, this is because when I prise it open some may fall inside and get into the movement. Once that’s done, open using a special caseknife. This Omega features a battery held in place by a very thin metal strip and great care is needed when removing it. You have to turn the tiny screw to loosen it, then push it across – without causing damage.

Use tweezers to remove the old battery, bin it, then screw in the retaining nut again, as you don’t want to lose it. Now inspect and clean up the movement if needed. Obviously you need a magnifying glass or head loupe to see tiny gragments of dust or dirt in there. I use an air puffer as well.

This Omega takes a 321 sized battery and I always use Swiss ones, as it’s a false economy using other makes.

Very careful when fitting the new battery not to touch the copper coil near the battery holder. Quartz movements are quite delicate so tweezers and a steady hand is required. Once the thin retaining strip is in place then the nut just needs a turn and a half to secure it in position. Another go with the air puffer and use the special tool to press the caseback on again.

Omegas have a thin silicone seal on the back and this needs inspection for damage – and dirt – before refitting. It’s a tight fit, so again, extra care needed not to damage this sealing ring, as genuine Omega parts are expensive.

Now we begin to clean the bracelet. This one has gold plated sections on the linkage pins and the bezel, so attacking it with a power tool and a selection of polishing mops isn’t a good idea. The plating on modern Swiss watches is generally very thin, say 10 microns, compared to 40 microns 30 years ago. So it doesn’t take much speed or pressure to take the plating off.

I use cocktail stick, with a soft cloth wrapped around the end and dipped in a cleaning solution, to get into those tricky areas, like the sliding clasp mechanism. On this watch there was a build-up of hair and skin in there, plus gunk stuck to the quick release mechanism. Nasty. It takes time, about an hour, to deal with sticky skin based residue, then add some polish as well. But it’s well worth it.

Check out the before and after pics on the clasp.

Years of dust and dirt can get trapped in the slider clasp mechanism, and button actuator.
There’s no easy way to get all the residue out of the slider channels and push button section. Worth it though.

Final task is using Polywatch on the crystal and bezel area. I tend to use one cloth to apply, use a cross-hatch pattern and then circular motions on watch crytsals, or `the glass’ as some call them.

I’ve experimented in the past using a Dremel and soft mops, plus jewellers rouge, but the heat transfer on mineral or sapphire crystal means that you have just a few seconds before some watches are hot to the touch. That’s bad news. Even worse, you can crack the crystal as the heat makes it try to expand beyond the bezel. That’s my feeling anyway, slow and steady is best.

All done and a great looking watch, ready to wear.

If you have a watch problem, or you’re a trader looking for help with trickier jobs in your jewellers or ebay shop, then email me at thenorthernwatchco@outlook.com.

Advice, and estimates, are free.