I received this poster in a batch of clock and watch related stuff I purchased last year. The poster shows a beautiful and complicated IWC Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Moonphase watch. Based on the date on the watch face, the poster is circa 2000.

The Da Vinci Perpetual Calendar Chronograph Moonphase is apparently still made.

The current model is a bargain at only $40,000 USD or so for the stainless steel version (precious metals versions are up from there), and as the poster clearly states, is for men only; women need not apply. The target audience is apparently further limited to men married to perpetually unreliable and/or tardy women. Or maybe not – the poster seems to indicate that all women are unreliable, and that dropping $40K is a completely justifiable compensation so as to have ‘at least something in my life that keeps time’.

As I mentioned above, I think this watch is very classy looking (even if the makers were boorish at the time) and other than the fact that I’m about $39,500 short, could totally see myself wearing this watch.

The base movement is the venerable ETA 7750 – a movement I like very much. Here is my very well-loved Hamilton Khaki Chronograph from about 2006 using the 7750. You can see the similarities to the IWC in terms of some basic layout elements.

IWC has done what is very common in the modern watch industry – take a meat and potatoes workhorse movement and then modify it.

Aside – There is a lot of creative interpretation about whether a watch is powered by an “in-house” movement or not. Some firms like Rolex and Zenith scratch-build everything (I know Rolex is 100% in-house; Zenith may have some models based on 3rd-party movements but they definitely have their own designs including the El Primero), while others change basically nothing and are essentially case makers. Whether or not that makes any difference in the watch’s absolute performance is debatable; a Toyota Camry is arguably a superior car to a Jaguar for far less money, but if you’re the kind of person with $40K floating around, I’m sure you will find whatever justification you need to pull the trigger.

In this case, IWC has done extensive modifications to the point that it bears only a passing resemblance to it’s raw form, and IWC has dubbed it their Calibre 89000.

You will see from the rest of my site that my interest is primarily in horological things pre-1950. I own one relatively expensive modern watch – a Zenith El Primero Moonphase which I purchased pre-marriage and pre-children. It’s a beautiful watch, and in many ways very like this IWC, so it’s not much of a surprise that I find the IWC attractive, but lack of means as well as lots of opportunity to pick up unique old stuff relatively inexpensively means I will likely never own anything like this.

As a lover of anachronistic things and the owner of more of them than any reasonable person should possess, I hesitate to pass judgment on someone else’s passion or the direction their disposable income takes, but I admit I have to hold my nose on some of the prices of the super high-end modern watch world and the marketing gymnastics makers have to perform to attempt to separate well-heeled potential customers from their money. We always knew that sex sells; in this case, IWC took a shot to see if sexism sold.

Before anyone jumps on me, I write this from a position of amusement, not anger. The world was very different twenty years ago. Relative to the behavior in some of the early James Bond films 30 (or now 40 – yikes) years before that, this poster is quite tame. That said, while the watch in this poster may keep accurate time, the poster itself hasn’t stood the test of time as well as the watch likely has.

I have been in Columbia, PA for the last few days. After arriving a day early to do some clock and watch related sight seeing including a visit to Merritt’s Clocks and the NAWCC Museum, class time arrived.

I have been doing clock repair for a while now and feel like I can generally take care of most things wrong with a clock. I have been hoping to get to that level of skill on the watch side as well, as my collecting habit exceeds my financial ability to pay for someone else to service my watches. I received an email announcement about the NAWCC’s Introduction to Pocket Watch Repair class and decided it would be a great opportunity to take some of the fear out of tearing into a watch.

The Introduction to Pocket Watch Repair class is a two-day class that covers removing a watch from its case, disassembling and cleaning it, and then reassembling the watch. Implicit in this I suppose is that the watch is supposed to work when I’m done with it.

I have been pursuing clock repair for several years now and feel reasonably comfortable tearing into time only and time and strike movements. The advantage of these clocks is they’re relatively simple one and two-train clocks, and the parts are largely big enough to see (though pivot polishing benefits from magnification), and large enough to repair or re-fabricate if necessary. Watches on the other hand – even relatively large pocket watches are a different story. Much of the work needs to be done under magnification and parts replacement in the modern era is largely done by scavenging from parts movements sourced on Ebay or antique stores due to the difficulty of creating replacements.

I was under no illusion that a two-day introductory class would make me a watchmaker, but I hoped that a guided walkthrough would be a good first step for someone like me who has some desire to be able to do this but will never have the time to go to watchmaking school.

This class covered disassembly, cleaning, and oiling and reassembling an Elgin 12-size watch. All materials were provided – I just showed up and sat down. 

My victim, er, repair subject was this Elgin 12-size watch.

Elgin 12-size watches were chosen because they are extremely plentiful and inexpensive, and so that everyone in the class would be working on the same movement.

The first day of the class consisted of learning how to use a loupe, tweezers, and screwdrivers, and basic disassembly and reassembly of the watch.

Around lunchtime we had been guided through full disassembly of our watch.

 

The afternoon of the first day covered partial reassembly, again just to get us time on the tools.

I have an Optivisor at home which magnifies for both eyes, however we used a single eye loupe. This took some adjustment – at first closing the other eye, but then learning to keep it open and let it go unfocused. In the end, I grew to understand why watchmakers work this way – the focal distance of your loupe eye is 2 to 3 inches, and the screw you need to pick up is 8 inches away. With only one loupe, you have a close-focusing eye and a normal-focusing eye. The hardest thing for me to adjust to was trying to gauge depth perception with just one eye. I found myself not knowing where my tweezers were relative to what I was trying to move with them. Our instructor told us that adjustment isn’t too difficult and our brain uses cues like shadows to know where things are.

The balance assembly is the most delicate part of the watch, containing the hairspring, the balance, and the balance cock. The balance rotates around the balance staff, the pivots of which are microscopically small and very fragile. Normal disassembly of a watch requires removing the balance assembly, and while doing that, the balance hangs precariously from the stretched-out hairspring.

This picture shows the winding and setting mechanism on the left side, and the gear train. The pallet fork is silver at the bottom of this picture, and has two jewel stones which contact the escape wheel.

The second day of class included disassembling the watch again and cleaning the components in a solvent with a small brush.

The classroom was equipped with a pair of cleaning machines each costing as much as a very nice used car, but thankfully we learned a method that, though it wouldn’t impress a real watchmaker, is reproducible at home.

After cleaning the parts, we re-oiled the appropriate locations and began reassembly. The most difficult part is aligning the pivots into the bridges. A fellow classmate attempted to pound the bridge back on, resulting in our instructor crying “That’s not how you put a watch together!” Thankfully I didn’t have too much trouble. I think many hours of pivot alignment on a larger scale with my clock repair work gave me a sense of the mechanics and I was able to translate it to the watch.

In the end after losing one screw and dislodging one of my pallet stones by being overly aggressive in cleaning the pallet fork, my watch ran approximately as well as it did before I started “fixing” it, which I consider a personal success.

I thought the class was well worth the time and the trip. I’m sorry that I am unavailable for the second part of the class later this year. Hopefully I can catch other classes in the future as time allows.

 

Mechanical watches are amazing. Tracing their history back over 1000 years to the Nuremberg Egg watches and affordable only by royalty until less than 200 years ago, the industrial revolution brought them to the masses for us to enjoy.

Winding

Watches are either stem-wind or key-wind. The transition from key-wind to stem-wind happened starting around 1880 as people began preferring the convenience of not having to keep track of a key. Wind your watch gently until you feel resistance. A common misconception and sometimes excuse for explaining non-working watches is that a watch has been “overwound”. This is not possible. Watches are regularly fully wound. If a watch is fully wound but not running, that means that the watch is either damaged or is severely in need of cleaning, as the watch is too dirty to run.

 

Keywind Watch

Setting

Watches are set in several ways.


Key Set

 

 

Most keywind watches are also set using the winding key, either by placing the key directly over the watch hands or by a winding arbor in the back of the watch. For watches wound from the dial side, be sure to use care to not touch the hands as they can easily become bent and interfere with each other.

 


Pin Set

Pin-set watches have a small pin near the winding stem. Press the pin with a fingernail and turn the winding stem to set the watch. On the picture at right – a Swiss watch from perhaps 1900 – the pin is just after 11 o’clock. Many European watches from 1880 – 1930 are pin-set.

 

 


Lever Set

 

Lever-set watches are set by pulling a small lever under the bezel of the watch and adjusting the time using the winding crown. To access the lever, unscrew the watch bezel. The lever is usually near the 2 o’clock position. When pulling out the lever, use care to not damage the winding mechanism. Sometimes jiggling the crown is necessary to release the setting lever.

Lever-set watches are common in American watches from 1880 – 1950 and were one of the requirements for a watch to be certified as “railroad-grade”, as lever-set watches are less-likely to be accidentally mis-set than pin-set or stem-set watches due to needing to remove the bezel to go into setting mode.

 


Stem Set

Stem-set watches work similarly to modern wrist watches. To switch to setting mode, pull out the winding stem.

Note the similarity to the lever-set watch shown in the picture above and the stem-set watch at right (shown with crown extended in setting position). Both are Hampden Wm. McKinleys from similar time periods. Many watch models were available both as lever-set for the railroaders (or aspiring railroaders) as well as stem-set for people who preferred an easier to use watch.

 

 


Regulation

Watch timekeeping is regulated by adjusting the regulator, which changes the length of the hairspring. Watch regulators vary in style – some can be adjusted directly, while others are adjusted by turning a screw. Check out this article for examples of different styles of regulator.

The rate of a pocket watch is regulated by the mass of the balance wheel and the length of the hairspring. Heavier balances and longer hairsprings slow the rate of a watch, while lighter balances or shorter hairsprings increase the rate of a watch. The coarse rate of a watch is set from the factory and/or servicing watchmaker by adjusting the weight of the balance by adding or removing timing washers or adjusting the hairspring. As timekeeping is dependent on many factors including temperature, nearly all watches have a fine timekeeping adjustment of up to a couple minutes per day that is user-adjustable.This is called the regulator. There are quite a few different styles of regulator, but all essentially work the same way – moving a lever makes the hairspring slightly longer or shorter.

Regulator Styles


Direct Adjustment

Direct Adjustment
Elgin GM Wheeler keywind

Some regulators – particularly on older watches – are a simple lever that can be adjusted directly. Simply move the lever in the direction you wish to adjust the watch – slower or faster.


Star Regulator

Hampden star regulator

There are a number of different styles of “star regulator” made under a variety of patents and used by Waltham and Hampden, among others. The star wheel connects to the regulator arm with a rack and pinion gear arrangement. To adjust a star-style regulator, use something soft like a toothpick to spin the arms of the star. Hampden used a variant of star regulator with 4 arms. The adjustment process is the same – use a soft object to spin the arms of the star. Do not use metallic objects as they may scratch the watch.

  


Traveling Nut Regulator

Traveling Nut Regulator

A Traveling Nut regulator uses a small nut that travels along a threaded shaft to guide the regulator arm. These can be slightly more difficult to adjust as the nut is very small. Normally the nut has flat sides that can be spun with a soft object such as a toothpick. 
Sometimes the regulator arm can be outside the nut. This does not typically happen during normal operation, but if the arm is bumped, it can be dislodged. You can carefully move the regulator arm back into the nut without damaging the regulator.


Screw-adjust regulator

Many later pocket watches use a screw-adjusted regulator arrangement where a spring presses on one side of the regulator arm and a screw presses on the other side. There are many variants of this with different-shaped regulator springs, but the operation is the same – loosen or tighten the screw to adjust the watch rate.


Measuring the beat rate of a watch

Watch rates are given in Beats Per Hour, or bph. The vast majority of pocket watches operate at 18,000bph, which translates to 5 “ticks” per second. Older pocket watches (mostly European watches before 1870 or so) operated at 14,400bph, and modern watches typically operate at 28,800bph or even 36,000bph. You can observe the rate of your watch over hours or days to determine how accurately it is keeping time, but that takes a very long time. To get a more immediate answer, you can use a watch timing machine or computer or mobile phone software. Dedicated timing machines can be very expensive, however there are Smartphone apps that are very effective and cost only a few dollars.

WatchTuner Timegrapher

I have had good luck with the app WatchTuner Timegrapher, which is available for iPhones from the Apple App Store. It is moderately priced, performs auto beat detection, and pretty much just works.

WatchTuner uses your phone’s microphone to listen to the escapement. because of this it is sensitive to the background noise in your room, including other clock or watches. For best results, take your phone and your watch to a quiet room and remove the back cover. Place the watch as close to your phone’s microphone a possible and start the capture.

The above photo shows the setup. Note the dots on the graph. They represent every tick and tock of the watch. It’s a little hard to see because this watch is fairly poorly adjusted (running about 90 seconds/day fast), but the dots are rising as the graph moves to the right and wrap around the graph from the top to the bottom over and over. If the watch was running slow, the dots would wrap downward.

This picture shows the same watch after being regulated. You can now see the graph trends in an almost straight line as the graph populates.

Let’s take a closer look at the screen.

When you press Start, the samples counter starts incrementing (right side of the screen). You should see this number increase steadily for each tick. If it doesn’t advance or if the numbers turn red, the application isn’t getting a good signal. Try moving to a quieter environment or adjust the sensitivity up slightly. After getting the samples field to increment steadily, the app will collect data for a few seconds and then begin displaying data.

In the upper left corner of the screen is the measured rate of the watch. The image above shows the watch running very slightly fast – approximately +1.2 seconds/day. If the watch was slow, this number would be a negative value. Note the quality parameter just to the right of rate. This number is a representation of how well the app is hearing your watch. If the quality is below 80% you will likely get bad data and should retry in a quieter room or with higher or lower sensitivity. If the quality is above 80%, the values should be fairly reliable.

Accuracy target

For antique watches, running within +/- 5 seconds/day is very good. If you can adjust your watch to get within this range using the regulator adjustment, your watch is running within spec. If you are unable to adjust the watch to within +/- 5 seconds/day without going off scale with the regulator arm, the watch needs attention. Demagnatizing the watch may solve the issue relatively simply, or there may be something more serious that needs attention.

Amplitude

One other parameter WatchTuner displays is amplitude. This measures how far the balance rotates each tick and is another indication of the health of the watch. This setting is measured indirectly based on audible clues, and its accuracy is highly dependent on the signal quality. If the quality is bad, this number will be way off. If the quality is better than 80%, this number should be reasonably accurate. Amplitude greater than 200˚ is acceptable. Values less than that indicate that the watch needs service.