You may be new to vintage watch collecting and totally baffled by the wide range of models and limited editions, different dial colours, hands, winding crowns, case designs, straps etc. There can sometimes be over 100 variations on a basic design like a Seiko 5, or an Omega De Ville can have an extended family of models, that evolve over 40 years.
But there are often fairly obvious clues to spot a fake from a genuine old Swiss watch and it’s worth carrying a loupe around, or enlarging photos online to see details.
Take this JLC automatic on ebay recently. Looks like the real JLC logo on the dial, nice script, although the scratched glass obscures it somewhat? But look again at the header image above – specifically at where the number 6 is located compared to 12 and 9 – bit wonky eh?
You think JLC would have let a watch with those dial errors out of the factory? No way.
Take a gander at this pic, which shows the back.
See thru casebacks are rare on older JLC watches, but the giveaway here is the crude oscillating weight, with JL stamped in it. It doesn’t even sit straight on the mounting screw, there’s a bigger gap on the left side. The finishing on the screws looks too cheap, too low rent for a JLC watch.
If you look at a real JLC see-thru watch, you will also notice how beautiful the finishing on the metal is, plus the engraved script on the rear of the watch.
It is often the same story with fake Rolex, Omega, Breitling, Cartier, TAG or other watches. The logo script, the dial lettering and the second had sweep are all perfect. Fakers know that people look at what’s right in front of them.
But feel the metal, the fit and finish. Does the metal bracelet feel loose, easy twist? Not good, although older Rolex bracelets are poorly made in my view and so a genuine one can feel like a 20 year old Sekonda sometimes. But check the pins that secure the buckle, the strap to the case etc – are they all identical, or do some look messed with? Does the winding crown look a perfect flush fit on the case? Because it should be, even on a 50 year old watch, that’s how the Swiss made them.
Look inside at the movement and you should see well finished components, plenty of rubis there – unless it’s some budget built watch like a Josmar or basic Sicura. Screws and automatic rotors should look well polished and fitted to a mere micron or two of clearance.
In older Omegas the movements often have a beautiful burnished, coppery tone, so anything that’s a different shade, like a balance bridge, could indicate that a part or two has been replaced.
Study pictures online, read watch books. Knowledge is power baby.
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!
You know how it is watch lovers. You wear a fave wristwatch for a special occasion and then bang – it picks up a scratch on its pristine crytsal. You will go through several stages of anger, loss, frustration, rewinding time, blaming the hotel for placing the wall so close to the lift door exit…all that stuff.
If you have a nice Seiko, Swiss watch, or perhaps a new British model like a Bremont or Harold Pinchbeck, you’ll be faced with two choices. Take it back to the dealer, or try a specialist watch repair shop. By specialist, I don’t mean Timpsons, OK? It’s important we need to rule cobblers and key cutters out of the equation – if they aren’t dealing with a variety of watch problems every day, then the chances are they don’t know what they’re doing.
There is a third way. Like Theresa May’s Brexit deal, it more or less works and unlike May’s dog’s breakfast this tip saves you money.
Now if you’ve tried Polywatch you’ll know it’s basically toothpaste for watch crytstals. Actually very good on acrylics, less good on mineral glass and sapphire. Why? Glass – reall glass – is very tough and it takes hours, lots of hours, to hand polish a scratch so it kinda fades into the background a bit.
Ehibit One; Seiko Automatic, everyday watch, bashed around my workshop, rattled along on my bicycle in the rain etc. It’s got a couple of tasty scratches on the crystal, so as the shop was quiet this afternoon I thought I would get busy with soft cotton pads, and some Polywatch.
In terms of action you simply squirt some on, rub clockwise, then anti-clockwise, then cross-hatch across the scratch. Repeat until your wrist and fingers ache like an Inbetweener watching the Stacy’s Mom video for the first time.
After two hours, I could see – and feel – that the main scratch was gradually being worn away. Drag your fingernail gently across the scratch and you can feel the `lip’ of it slowly recede. Keep going. Have a cuppa and biscuit. The polish some more. Yes, this is very tedious work, but given that a tube of Polywatch costs under £4 and cotton pads £1 per pack, it is vastly cheaper than rocking up at Goldsmiths and booking your watch in for a workshop polish and service.
Yeah, you see those big name jewellers generally don’t do one simple job. No, they like to persuade you that your precious Swiss timepiece needs a general makeover; new bezel, movement clean, bracelet links dismantling and polishing. Ker-ching, you just agreed to spend about £650. On a TAG Monaco that’s OK, it’s a £3000 watch, but on a £300 Seiko Pepsi or a 10 year old Raymond Weil quartz worth about £150? Hmmm, maybe not.
OK, bottom line – the Polywatch has NOT eradicated the main scratch completely. It is there, like a faint shadow of misery playing at being a smile on Lily Allen’s lips, but there is undoubtedly a big improvement in the overall appearance of my workaday Seiko.
You can DIY this same anti-scratch therapy yourself, or pay Warrington Watch Co the handsome sum of £15 and we will set elves to work at night, slowly and methodically polishing your watch, until they achieve a Zen-like state of grace.
Paint a fence Daniel-san. Or Polywatch my crystal. Your choice.
Chuck `em in a skip obviously! OK, I’m being flippant, but in reality, you often need to fit a new movement – assuming there is a compatible Miyota/Ronda. This can be pricey to do, which is why many people do bin old watches – a great shame as not all them are useless, some just need a battery and some TLC.
Tip Of The Day: Any older quartz watch that’s behaving erratically, showing symptoms like a twitching second hand, that freezes, then jumps 2-3 seconds in one go, is often a sign that the movement is on the way out. A new battery will only delay the inevitable, so if you love it, get a price on a movement swap.
Generally a quartz movement will last about 20-30 years, depending on how well it was made in the first place, plus how well the owner cares for their watch: Bashing it against stuff at work, or doing DIY, dunking it in swimming pools on holiday, or leaving it in sweaty kitchens – these can all kill a watch fairly rapidly. Even ladies lotions, creams and scent can see off a quality Citizen, Michael Kors, DKNY, Skagen, Armani or similar decently made fashionista watch.
This slow death-by-moisture even happens to Swiss quartz watches too, eventually killing off £1000 Longines, Omega, TAG, Rado, Tissot and many more, which is why I’m always wary about buying them in.
I once bought a slightly shabby ladies Omega for £60 at an auction and put a new crystal & battery in, cleaned it inside etc. It ran for a while, we cleaned it again, it stopped again, fresh battery…you get the picture. It’s in my spares/junk box under the sink – just in case the dial and hands ever come in useful – the rest of it is basically scrap.
Damage to the gold plating on a Swiss quartz often means perfume or scent has attacked it and wealthy ladies love to squirt that stuff on every date night! So, lesson learned there.
YOUR BASIC BITCH QUARTZ WATCH – ANY GOOD?
Hell yeah, we’ve got customers getting new batteries in a £10 Sekonda that’s 25 years old. Still ticking reliably. Some brands, like say Bench or ICE watches, don’t tend to last a quarter of a century, but you can get a decade from them. Not bad on a £20 watch I’d say.
Today I took a chance and bought in three fashion quartz watches; a Vostok with a tank on the dial, an unbranded Chinese gents, and a 2010 England footie themed watch. All dead, non runners. Customer wanted to trade them for a links swap job on his Citizen, which is normally a fiver in our shop – so I did the deal.
The Vostok and Chinese budget special ran fine. The Vostok still had its protective film on the crystal and caseback – never used! Result. The England watch howver ran for a while, then the second hand caught the minute hand at the twenty-to the hour position. Bent hand. OK, movement out..nope, pressing stem button did nothing, no resistance, no pressure. Hmm, OK…join the ladies Omega then in the dark side of the sink matey!