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The gear

So let's get down to basics shall we?

Watch collecting is quite an investment, more so in emotions than finance I might dare say. Those who get really connected will want to get inside their watches and find out what makes them tick - these miniature mechanical marvels that will most probably outlive several of their owners.

And once we get to know them, we gain a better understanding of their inner workings, and what makes them so special. Visits to the watch shop become more than a beauty pageant where the nicest, shiniest faces get taken home.

We also gain a confidence on how best to care for them. We know that the steps involved in testing, dismantling, cleaning and then assembling these watches cannot be left to mere repairmen, no matter how experienced they are.

We know the intricacies, we feel the frustrations, we understand that servicing the watch there's nothing majorly wrong might lead to the innards of our timepieces being compromised.

And that's what we want to do it ourselves. Heck, if my watch were to be ruined it better be by my hands.

My urge to take timepieces apart came very early on in my obsession. This has led me to many an experience with the craft of watch dismantling. The above are the remains of my first Swiss watch servicing - an ETA 2452.

In the first third parts of the "Tinkering with Watches" series, I will introduce would-be watch explorers the basic tools you will need to be able to appreciate your timepieces on another level.

Most of these tools can be bought for cheap online, and my experience with various vendors have taught me that Swiss tools are the best in quality. However, they can cost as much as ten times more than their Chinese counterparts so I would advise a little discretion when purchasing your first set of gear.

Here's a photo of everything you will need. I will run through them from top to bottom.

1. Light Source

The one you see in the photo is but a table lamp that I have grown very used to. For everyone who reads this, I strongly recommend a bright white light where natural light is not available. Place your work bench next to a window where the whole work space is well lit. The goal is to have as little strain on your eyes as possible.

2. Work Bench

A work bench of suitable height is recommended so that you'll be able to work on the watch with both elbows on the table and your back straight. This will allow hours of work without the strain encountered with a lower working space. A chair with adjustable height is also recommended.

3. Set of Flat Screwdrivers

This is important, so you might want to expand a little more budget for this. Basically you'll need three widths - 0.6mm, 1mm and 2mm. The ideal situation would be to have a set where you can match the exact width of the screws with the driver heads, so that you'll minimise slipping and accidently scratching the movement. Screw drivers should also have free ends so that you can operate them while pivoting with your index finger.

4. Loupe (seen here with head band)

Swiss loupes offer a higher clarity than the Chinese ones, so those with dependencies on glasses might want to go for those. The one I use has a 2.5x magnification and I find that it is sufficient for most work. For the finer areas that require a higher magnification, I have a double lens with 10x magnification.

5. Non-Magnetic Tweezers

Perhaps the most important tool here, a good pair of these will allow you to perform a variety of actions from part removal to hairspring work, The ones show here are a fine-tipped, bent tweezer and a #3 straight. It's advisable to have a pair of #3s along with a bent one. For those who date to venture to hairspring work, even finer tweezers are needed.

6. Caseback Knife

This tool is mainly used on older vintages and pocket watches, and I've seen mainly two types. The one here is the more common knife-like tool, which the other more sturdy one resembles a bottle cap opener. Regardless of their shape, I would like to note the proper use of the tool - they are meant to be inserted with a firm pushing motion into the allocated gap in the watch case, and not to be pried open. Twisting the tool within the groove will severely damage the case.

7. Caseback Opener (Crab)

Casebacks that cannot be popped open are usually then screw-ons. The these you will need to employ a tool like this one to grab the little notches cut into the caseback and then turned to unscrew. Anti-clockwise to open, clockwise to close.

8. Movement Holder (Plastic)

The one I have here is Swiss made, and its primary function is to let me hold onto the movement while I work on it, safely lifting it from the surface of the work bench. I also have a aluminium one from China, and it works as well, though the precision of the Swiss one is superior (it closes better and is more level).

9. Bottle of Watch Oil

I'm still a little new at oiling, and I know that the standard is probably Mobius 8000 or 9002 but those are mad expensive. For starters who will probably experiment on cheaper movements I would recommend something a little more accessible like this bottle of 702 watch oil from China. Things to note about watch oil are its viscosity and freezing point.- you will want an oil that is sticky enough to not clump and also one that doesn't turn too clumpy when cold or liquid when warm. Also note to buy quality Swiss oils from trusted sources because those things have a shelf life of only 2 years.

10. Springbar Tool

These are used to manipulate springbars of your watch for use in bracelet or strap change. A lot of online strap retailers will give these away for free so I would refrain from buying.

11. Hand Fitting Tools

This set of three hands tools come in varying circumferences for use in fitting the hands of the watch back on manually. There are also machine presses for these but I've found the ones here to be of extreme practicality. These require a lot of practice to use well, with bent hands as a punishment for too little patience.

12. Dial Protector

An old watch repairer once told me never to use screw drivers to pry off the hands of the watch, but I find the tools adequate and have been using them since Day One. Using screw drivers also allow me to not touch the dial at all when removing watch hands, using my fingers as pivots instead. The dial protector helps me prevent the flat screwdriver heads from scratching and damaging the dial during the process of hand removal. Very handy for those like me who refuse to buy a specialised tool for hand removal.

13. Cleaning Putty

I never knew how useful these can be until I decided to spring for a tube. Putty helps clean oil and dust off the movements and a parts, and also help you to pick up small screws from the movement without tweezers to avoid accidently scratching.

14. Oiling Tips

These are used to catch oil that will be applied to parts of the movement. Available in different thickness for use in different areas of the movement. I've not used the Swiss ones before so I can't comment on the differences. The China-made ones work fine for me.

There you have it - a long list of things to spend your money on and a basic run-down of what they do. It's not the complete list, but I think these should do for something to start off.

For those who decide to venture into the area of watch dissecting, you will no doubt find a world of intricate fun. I hope this article has been helpful in helping you get started. You will no doubt find yourself a need for more specialized tools (i.e. glass changing and gasket replacement greases) as you advance in fellowship.

Navigte to the right for other "Tinkering with Watches" series articles.

Till next time, fellow tinkerers!

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Best viewed on desktop, because you should really take your time with vintage.

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