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Frequently Asked Questions

My watch runs fine but I can't seem to set the time. Can you tell me how to set it?

If you are unable to set the time by pulling out the crown of the watch, chances are it's a lever-set model. Please see the next question in this FAQ. If you wind the watch with a key it could also be a key-wind / key-set watch. If you don't wind the watch with a key then it's probably a lever-set.

My watch is a "lever set" model. What does this mean and how do I set it?

The lever-setting mechanism was a safety feature of higher grade watches, especially those used for railroad service. It prevents the watch from accidentally being set to the incorrect time. In most cases you have to unscrew (or open) the front bezel and pull out a tiny lever in order to put the watch in setting mode. On a lever-set watch, pulling out the crown (the winding button) doesn't do anything..

Can you "over-wind" a watch?

Practically speaking, no. You should be able to wind a watch until it naturally stops. If you use great force and continue to wind it past the stopping point, then yes, you can do damage to the watch, but you would have to really put some muscle into it. If a watch is fully wound and it does not run, there is something else wrong with the watch and it needs to be serviced. This is usually caused by old, dried-out oil that is binding the coils of a worn-out mainspring together. A thorough cleaning and a new mainspring can usually correct the "over-wound" watch.

What can you tell me about the age or history of my watch?

The watch manufacturing industry in America has a rich and fascinating history, and there is a vast amount of information available to those with an interest in the history of a particular manufacturer. The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors is an excellent resource for those with a desire to collect or simply learn more about watches.
For the major manufacturers, watches can usually be dated by the serial number on the movement. For watches that cannot be dated by serial number, a watchmaker who is familiar with vintage watches can usually assign a date range based on style and methods of construction. We have assembled brief histories of some of the more prominent American watch companies, including date and serial number information. 

How can I tell the size of my pocket watch?

Watches are measured in an arcane English system of measurement called the Lancashire system or Lancashire Gauge. In this system, 1 5/30th inches is the "base" measurement and is called 0-size. Each 1/30th of an inch adds 1 (or subtracts 1) to this base. A watch is measured through the center of the lower plate of the movement (the dial side) at it's narrowest point. Note that the case is NOT included in this measurement, only the movement. Measuring the dial is a reasonable approximation of the dimensions of the lower plate. 

How do I know if my watch is quartz or mechanical (wind-up)?

A mechanical watch uses a wound spring for its motive power, while a quartz watch uses a battery. If your watch uses a battery, then it is a modern quartz watch. (There were a few early electro-mechanical watches, like the Hamilton Electric, that also used a battery, but you probably don't have one of those). If you have to wind your watch to make it run, it's mechanical. Some (but not all) quartz watches say "Quartz" on the lower portion of the dial. If your watch is a mechanical watch, you should be able to hold it to your ear and hear it ticking when it's running.

What is the proper way to open a watch case?

That depends on the style of case. Cases can be screw-back, hinged-back, swing-out, or pop-off, and each opens differently. The most important thing is that you don't force the case open. If your watch case doesn't open with normal amounts of effort, don't force it - you're only going to break something that will be expensive to fix! If you study the problem and still can't open the case, write to us or take the watch to a local jeweler who can probably help you get it open.

What is the proper way to open a "swing-out" case?

If the back of your watch doesn't screw off or have an obvious hinge-point, then it's likely a "swing-out" case. To open a swing-out case, you must first remove the front bezel from the watch, then the movement will swing out... usually in a hinged movement ring. The key is to make sure the crown is pulled out into its most extended position before you try to swing the movement out of the case... even if it is a lever-set watch. Failure to do this will likely result in a broken stem! Again... just don't force it.

What is the proper way to close a hunter-cased watch?

The most important thing is to not "snap" the case-lid closed with the thumb on the cover. There is a spring-latch that catches a small notch in the rim of the case-lid. With years of "snapping" this notch gets worn out and the case will no longer stay closed (especially in karat gold cases). In close-fitting hunter cases, it's also possible to break the thin glass Geneva crystal if you snap the case shut... so DON'T DO IT! Using the fingers or the flat of your hand, close the lid to the point of latching, then depress the crown to release the latch, then close the case and release the latch button. Get into this simple habit and you'll never have a problem with your hunter case.

Why does magnetism adversely affect a watch?

If a mechanical watch is exposed to a strong magnetic field, its parts can become temporarily magnetized. When this occurs, there is no longer free movement of the balance and the watch can no longer run properly. Often, adjacent coils of the balance spring will "stick" to each other when magnetized. This has the effect of shortening (or stiffening) the hairspring which makes the watch run very fast, if it will run at all. To avoid problems with magnetism, don't place your mechanical watch on top of your TV set, your stereo speakers, near a strong electric motor, or anyplace else where strong magnetic exposure is a possibility. If your watch becomes magnetized, your watchmaker can quickly and easily demagnetize it for you.

What does "water resistant" really mean?

Water resistance is the term used to indicate the amount of pressure a watch can withstand under water at a specific depth without leaking or losing accuracy, but the number can be very deceiving. "Water-resistant" is the term approved by the Federal Trade Commission, the term "waterproof" may not be used under FTC regulation. Water resistance and depth are not the same. A watch is tested at the specified depth at a temperature of 18c-25c and stationary. Any movement through the water changes causes pressure changes. Note that no watch, no matter the level of water resistance, should be worn in the shower or bath as the chemicals in soaps and shampoos could damage the seals and gaskets.
There are several levels of water-resistance as defined by International Standards Organization (ISO 2281):
  • Non-water-resistant: These watches will leak if any water gets on the case or crown.
  • 30meters/100feet/3BAR: General water-resistant watches can withstand minor moisture from splashing but should not be worn for swimming, diving, bathing or showering. These watches are the most misunderstood. Most people believe that water-resistant printed on the dial means the watch is sealed for swimming, diving, showering, etc. This is not true! General water-resistant watches should not be used underwater.
  • 50meters/164feet/5BAR: May be used for swimming in shallow water, but not for snorkeling or other water sports.
  • 100meters/328feet/10BAR: Often called diver’s watches. May be used for snorkeling, swimming and other water sports, but not for high board diving or scuba diving.
  • 200meters/662feet/20BAR: Suitable for high-impact water sports and scuba diving not requiring helium
  • 300-1000meters: Watches bearing this rating are professional diver’s watches and can be worn for deep-water diving.