Using your watch

WIP - being moved from the web site to free up space!


This is not intended as a comprehensive guide but to give basic instructions on how to use a pocket watch. Other FAQ's can be selected from the bar above.

Page down for:
  • What to do when the watch arrives.
  • Starting a recalcitrant watch.
  • Winding a watch.
  • Opening a watch.
  • Setting the time.
  • Regulating

When it Arrives

All of my watches are over 70 years old, many have been around for 100 years or more and most will not have run for many years and been in a bit of a state when they got to me, some having been broken when put to one side. Even after a service they are likely to be a little temperamental until they are fully settled down. Watches will have been run by me for at least a week so there should be nothing seriously wrong, it there is please see the warranty info.

You will appreciate that an old watch will be worn; the watch will be “happiest” when everything is in its normal place and the wheels are literally running “in the groove”, originally an engineering term referring to this phenomenon dating back to the times of wooden water mill machinery where one gear wheel (usually the larger) created a groove in the other.

With sometimes quite large tolerances in the design, after being bashed around in the post coming to me and having been taken completely to pieces for restoration the various components may very well end up not “in the groove” which even with a full weeks run-in by me might cause the watch to run weakly or to stop after sitting in the cabinet for a good while. So you may need to give the watch a little TLC.

I suggest that when you get your new watch home (and hopefully admired it!) you wind it up and let it run for a day or two in peace and quite before being used for real. BUT, if the weather is cold or the watch may have come by air (and the post office uses airfreight for quite short hops in UK) let the watch reach room temperature before winding.

If necessary giving it a little shake to get it started. Do not be too violent with it, a gentle swing back and forth so you can hear or see the balance moving should do the job. The best indication of a watch running is the second hand moving as the sound of the balance wheel going back and forth but not operating the mechanism can be mistaken for it running. Be aware however that all hands are friction fits (see below) so a watch can be running but not turn the second hand!

Starting a Recalcitrant Watch

Watches will normally start by themselves as they are wound but after being bashed around in the post may need some help first time.

This video shows how to get it going, you may need to do this a few times, when it starts be very gentle with it and lay it down whilst it gains strength.

The camera makes this look much more violent than is good for a watch, so be gentle and don’t overdo it!
If the watch starts then stops or is clearly not running well (perhaps after not being used for a long time) fully wind it then keep a little pressure on the winder for about 30 seconds until it gets up to speed and stabilizes.

Winding your watch

"Be careful not to over wind your watch", this is much overused advice, particularly on ebay, where an “over wound” watch invariably has a broken balance or some other fault! Indeed many horologists say that there is no such thing as an overwound watch.

If you wind much too hard, which is very difficult to achieve, then you will probably break the winding gear or worse, in a fusee movement (which I rarely deal in), the chain or stop work. So do not be too concerned, just use reasonably strong pressure, if necessary, from a finger and thumb and stop when the force required suddenly increases. If the watch has Geneva Stop Gear then the there will probably be no noticeable increase in pressure but you will suddenly not be able to wind further.

A Lancashire Watch Co movement, known as the "Dummy"
 after the dummy fuse wheel (top left) used to give
anti-clockwise winding
First, for key wind watches, make sure you know which way it winds up! American and most Swiss movements wind clockwise, Fusee watches wind anti-clockwise, English going barrel movements can wind either way although a small majority wind anti-clock wise to be the same as the fusee.

Keyless watches wind clockwise but have a ratchet or "click so they can be wound by turning the crown forwards (clockwise from above) and backwards.

The following is from a guarantee and instruction leaflet issued by J.W. Benson, its rather prescriptive but is the advice from a very good maker:

The Watch should be held in the left hand with the dial up; with the right hand thumb and first figure turn the milled winding button away from you until it will go no further - it is important that the Watch, which runs for 30 hours, is wound up fully once daily, preferably in the morning. During the action of winding it is the winding button that must be turned - not the watch itself; this must be held perfectly still.

The reference to keeping the movement "perfectly still" is probably to avoid sudden movements that could cause a movement to "over bank"

It’s difficult to give written guidance as to when a watch is fully wound; the springs can be quite strong so some effort may be required but if you feel a sudden resistance stop! And stop if you are unsure. Be aware that generally a fusee spring will not feel as strong as one in a going barrel and also that it has a stop mechanism to prevent the chain overflowing the fusee, so when you feel the sudden stop – stop winding!

A keyless watch will generally require at least 20 "shuffle winds", say 8 or 9 complete turns clockwise from above.

Opening Your Watch

Someone's attempt to open the back of a Consular case
(with a non opening back) with a can opener.
Clearly the back cover of key wound and set watches has to be opened and, if set from the front the bezel has to be opened as well. Also we all like to look at the workings of our new watch.
A key set watch may have a button on the top of the pendant to open the back.

There are two rules to follow; the first is ALWAYS be sure you know how a watch opens before you try it! The pictures and description on the card or on the web site should help. The marks on the watch are not necessarily a good indication as someone may have made a mistake previously. So check where you need to apply the pressure and don’t try and open the non opening inner back of a watch with a swing out movement (as someone did on this example, perhaps with a can opener?!!) or try to lever off a screw on back! For key set watches, this may help in determining how to get at the movement:

  1. Check the inner dust cover, if there is a hinge on it (next to the hinge for the back cover) then the dust cover is opened with a knife, there will usually be a slot at the edge, top right, to get the edge of the blade into (not the point!).
  2. Otherwise it will be hinged out from the front, open the front bezel with a knife or finger nail at 1 or 2 o’clock. There should be a catch, usually at 6, which you push in and the movement will swing out.
The Second rule is if you need a tool, NEVER use a screwdriver or similar item to open a watch, most of the scratches you find inside a watch cover and much of that on the outside near the opening flange is caused by doing this. You might also damage the movement or dial.

Watch Case Knives.
The majority of more modern European watch cases and many American have a hinged back which snaps shut, a few are "snap on" with no hinge. Both are opened by using a finger nail, a watch case opener/knife or a domestic knife (not serrated) with the edge (not the point!) pressed between the back and the body of the case, there is usually a small gap or lip at 1 o'clock to facilitate this. The inner dust cover, will generally be the same as the back.

A case with a hinged back will have a hinged or snap on Bezel but it should only be opened when necessary.

Finally be careful of the glass when the bezel is open, many crystals are simply press fitted into the bezel without glue and can be pushed out from the back quite easily.

Opening & Closing “Swing Ring” Keyless Watches

A Keystone Howard Series 10 Railroad Watch
in a Swing out case.
This arrangement is most commonly found with American watches, the movement is mounted on a ring which hinges to the case which is similar to a “Consular” type with a fixed back but no outer cover which is not needed to keep out dust as there is no key hole.

To avoid damage it is important to ensure that the crown is pulled out to the “set” position before the movement is swung out or swung back in, if there is resistance do not force them movement or you will break something.

When swinging the movement back in, the crown will need to be turned a little once initial resistance is felt so that the square male shaft of the winder can locate correctly into the female part in the movement.

Opening Screw Back Cases

It can often be very difficult to open a screw back case as there is nothing to get a grip of on the back (or on the front if trying to remove the bezel). The first thing to try is to place the palm of your hand over the back (or front) then press and twist. If that does not work then try it wearing rubber gloves or covering the back with tape to give some purchase, electrician’s tape is best as it normally does not leave any residue when removed, then try again. It is also worth turning clockwise to tighten a little as this can break the friction lock. Good luck!

Setting the time

Setting the time can stop the watch, particularly on a front key set watch if you press too hard, so make sure that it is still going when you are done.
Most antique watches without special features (that is with just the three normal hands) can normally be turned in either direction without damage but it is good practice to turn clockwise.

A late Waltham 1908-Vanguard lever set at 11:00
Lever Set: There will be a lever somewhere, usually peeking out from under the bezel at 2 o’clock or 5 o’clock, pull it out, set then push it back in making sure it is all the way back or the watch will run slow and there is a danger of breaking it and it could catch on something.
On some lever set watches, particularly American ones, the lever is underneath the bezel which has to be removed (unscrewed) or raised before changing the time. Some of these, as in the picture, have the lever at 11, rather than at 1:00.
Front Key Set Watches: Open the front bezel, place the key on the square on the end of the shaft (arbour) the main hands are attached to and turn. Be very careful with the hands, it is very, very easy to break or misplace them.
After setting the watch (only press hard enough to get the hands to turn) check that you have not pushed the minute hand down so that it will touch the hour hand or the hour hand so it will touch the second hand. All hands are friction fit so they can be knocked off, which is preferable to them breaking if you snag them, but still not good news. If you knock one off gently straighten and press it back on.
A  Benson "Ludgate" Key Set from the back with the
dust cover open.
Rear Key Set Watches: Open the back cover by pressing the button on the pendant or levering open if there is no button. There will be two holes, if one is dead centre that is the one to put the key into for setting. If both holes are off centre then they should be marked to show which is for winding and which is for setting.
Crown Wound & Set: Pull the crown out – it should click, set the time and make sure you push the crown back in afterwards, left out the watch will run slow because of the extra drag of the setting mechanism.
“Pin” or “Nail” Set: Press in the small pin to one side of the crown and set using the crown.

Regulating the Watch

The accuracy and consistency of your watch will to an extent depend on how often you use it; clearly many very old watches are not really suitable for day to day use but running and wearing them every now and then will do them good. Wearing them running is better than running them in a single position.
As explained above the total run time since the service will also affect timekeeping so after a while it may be necessary to retime a watch, however I frequently wear pocket watches but rarely for more than 12 hours or so at a time, if that is your usage pattern then I suggest that, unless accuracy is “your thing”, it is not worth bothering with reregulating a watch if it is within a minute or so over that time.
Getting many watches within a minute a day should be straightforward and half a minute is often achievable even on very old watches. On many older and simpler watches achieving better accuracy than that, just by adjusting the regulator, will to a large extent be a matter of luck! And remember that the timekeeping is affected by temperature, position (e.g. face up, face down etc.), how much the watch is wound up and other factors so what appears to be spot on timekeeping on a table may be somewhat different when carried outside in summer!
There are really only three things to remember when timing a watch: 
  • Keep a written record of what happened and what you did or you will get confused.
  • Convert the gain or loss to a percentage of the time run which will make it easier to judge how big an adjustment to make each time.
  • To make the watch go faster move the regulator to Fast, “F” or “A” whichever is shown on the watch and to make it run slower move the other way to Slow, “S” or “R”.


lyonedes said...

Have you ever done any work on John Bennett watches?

John Lashbrook said...

Yes on quite a few but the majority, if not all, were not made by him. He got watches from several English makers and quite a few Swiss.

John said...

as a new enthusiast I find this post most informative and hope that my son's two watches, both originally 'made' in Leeds (now at a watchmaker for assessment) have intact impulse jewels!

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