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Unpopular opinion: things a watch collector should know (without having to go to the watchmaker)

It was way back in 2015 when I got my first vintage watch - a 1930s Longines Art Deco manual wind.

Since that fateful purchase, I've had many, many (many, many) more watches come and go, and wth them each an experience in watch handling and care.

Along the way I've also acquired the know-how of taking a watch apart and then putting it back together after cleaning and oiling. There were ,of course, a few (dozen) casualties, but all in all, it was a good experience that I wish I had gone into further and probably made a career out of.

I've also read articles from esteemed publications about the dangers of taking the case back off your watch, not sending it for regular service, or just plain doing anything with it than take nice photos for IG.

To them I say "Bah!", and share some skills that I think would benefit any vintage watch collector. As per all opinion pieces, they are that of the writer (me) and you should very well not treat it as medical advice for your timepiece.

Buyer beware, reader be warned - do something stupid, your watch be mourned. Do your research, do if you dare - if your break you watch, there's plenty more out there. You get the drift.

Regulating your watch

In many a watch description for a vintage piece, we will read "tells vintage time". From this we can gather that the people of the past do not care much about accuracy, and that you can expect a certain degree of tardiness when it comes to timetelling in a vintage piece.

Not to blame the seller of course; I have not seen a senior citizen in need of stringent time telling yet. They have earned their time (har har) on the planet and deserve to very well go about things at their own pace. Ditto vintage watches.

BUT, in the off chance you NEED to make your vintage watch hit more respectable time telling standards, you can of course crack / twist / pop open that case back (GASP) and have a little poke around.

Nudging that adjuster towards the balance cork centre makes time move faster; the other way for slower. I reckon you get about 5 mins a day either ways all-in, but I'm usually just giving it that millimeter or so for that 2-3 minute adjustment.

Cleaning the indices and dial

The appeal of vintage watches come in their wabi sabi. They have braved the elements and accumulated their wealth of experience (wnd wrist cheese), surviving to tell their tales on you wrist. Scars, scratches, dings, and cracks adorn their surfaces as proud ornaments of times past.

But you'll be surprised what a quick and simple wipe can do to their indices, many of which are gold and shiny. Contrasting against a weather case and patina dial, cleaned up indices will give you better appreciation of your beloved vintage time piece.

There are two main ways - take off the crystal with a crystal clamp, or pull out the movement and crown in order to access the dial.

The former doesn't expose the movement and interior (some really old watches have those screw-down crown locks that are a PAIN to work with) but risk cracking old acrylic. Also doesn't work on glass, and if your metal grip ring thingie is broken.

The latter is by far easier for me, since findin replacement crystals can be quite difficult.

Once extracted, I use a q-tip and lightly brush the indices (use a loupe) in one direction, avoiding any pressure whatsoever and avoiding the edges. You don't want to have the fine hairs of the q-tip catch on the indices and remain on the dial. Don't be stingy with the q-tip and change them out once they are dirty.

Polishing and cleaning the case and bracelet

Toothbrush, green rouge, water, tissue. Goodbye wrist cheese forever.

Avoid too much water or your vintage time piece might get moldy inside. Or drown.

Adjusting the hands

Now this takes a little more training. Be sure to practice on duds before going in live. You want to avoid a scenario where you damage the dial or bend the hands, or lossen the pinion.

I usualyl do this to the watch when previous attempts at service result in misaligned hour/minute hands. You want to start with the minute hand at 12, and then place the hour hands in alignment lightly before testing and applying a firm pressure slowly downwards. Seconds come last.

There are more considerations for chronograph hands and watches with day and dates. Watch a video and try them out. Go to a watch maker if you must, but it's one of those things that are good to learn (and have fun with).

With that, I think I've stopped enough hearts and dropped enough jaws. While what I've shared really should be left to the professionals, doing them yourself (especially the index cleaning) can be a lot of fun and add new layers of appreciation to your hobby. I know it has for me.


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

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