Owning and wearing a valuable watch entails a responsibility — the responsibility of caring for a valuable item. There's a reason why parents don't buy their children expensive watches before they reach a certain age. In this article, I will provide some tips for those who are new to watches, as well as some new insights for those who are more experienced watch enthusiasts. I also hope that those in the latter category will provide some additional helpful insights and advice in the comments section below.
Five ways to keep your mechanical watch in good working order
Let's start with some pointers on how to use your watch without damaging the movement or any other components.
1. Use caution when changing the date.
Most watches will come with an instruction manual, and if not, the manual will most likely be available on the manufacturer's website. There's usually a section in the manual about manually changing the date and when it's safe to do so. While the date changes automatically around midnight, there may be some variation depending on the movement. Some movements take their time and begin the date change several hours in advance. Others immediately turn over at midnight. However, even in the latter case, the mechanical components involved may begin to engage earlier. Furthermore, it may take some time for the parts to disengage after the date change.
If you use the crown to manually advance or reverse the date while the movement is already in motion, you risk damaging the mechanism. As a result, the date may become misaligned. Worse, you may break parts within the movement. To be on the safe side, avoid changing the date between 9:00 PM and 3:00 AM. And, if necessary, move the hands out of the "danger zone." Some watches may have slightly different danger-zone windows, but this is a good rule of thumb to follow. This is also true if your watch has other calendar functions. Just make sure to read the instructions before using it. Some brands include a failsafe to protect the date change mechanism from damage.
2. Avoid winding the watch while it is on your wrist.
When my colleague Jassy notices someone winding his or her watch while it is on the wrist, he can be quite harsh. There is no violence, but there is a pair of rolling eyes. Winding the watch while it's on the wrist can put too much strain on the winding stem. The stem is the part of the watch that connects the crown to the inside of the case; it is also the interface between the crown and the movement. It's also worth noting that an automatic watch cannot be overwound. A manual-wind watch, on the other hand, will provide noticeable resistance when fully wound. It won't be possible to turn the winding crown any further without pushing it and breaking something. So, if you encounter this resistance, please refrain from attempting to turn the crown.
3. Avoid using the crown or pushers underwater.
This may seem logical to you, but it can also happen by chance. If the crown is screwed down, leave it that way while in the water. Chronograph pushers should not be used in the water unless the watch is specifically designed for it. Some watches are designed in such a way that the chronograph can be used safely while submerged (such as the Seamaster 300M Chronograph above). Other watches, such as the Rolex Cosmograph Daytona and the Royal Oak Chronograph, have screw-down chronograph pushers to prevent them from being accidentally activated when the watch is submerged in water. If you do use the pushers or crown underwater, the watch may still survive, especially if it has some level of water resistance. However, there is no guarantee that it will, and in the end, it is not worth the risk.
4. Be cautious of magnetism.
When it comes to mechanical watches, this is a very old topic. Though some brands have addressed the issue, most watches are still extremely vulnerable to magnetism. Magnetic fields will affect the traditional alloys used in movements, causing the watch's accuracy to suffer. When a watch's accuracy is seriously off, one of the first things people do is de-magnetize it. There are small devices that you can use for this. For many decades, watch companies have battled magnetism. Previously, the solution was discovered by using a soft-iron inner case, also known as a Faraday cage. The IWC Ingenieur and Rolex Milgauss watches from the past are examples of this solution.
Today, some brands, such as Omega, Rolex, and Tudor, use anti-magnetic alloys for movement parts. This eliminates the need for special case construction. Other brands are also making strides in this area, and the Oris Calibre 400 is a prime example. If your watch is not anti-magnetic like the ones listed above, keep it away from magnetic-field-emitting electronic equipment and appliances.
5. Apply common sense
Your mechanical watch most likely cost a lot of money. It stands to reason that it should be treated with care and respect. I've gotten messages from guys who were wearing their AP Royal Oak 15202s while shooting rifles, diving with gold Rolex watches, and putting their watches through various tests to see how they held up. I even saw a guy put his watch in the freezer to see if it still worked. Although everyone should make their own decisions about how they treat their possessions, I doubt you want to damage your priceless watch. There is a distinction to be made between using a tool as intended (diving, sports, etc.) and attempting to play the role of the mad scientist yourself. Using common sense will undoubtedly help. Remember, you're dealing with a small mechanical machine.
For starters, don't put a watch through its paces. However, make certain that it is not exposed to extremely hot or cold temperatures for an extended period of time, and that it does not fall to the floor (keep it in a soft tray on a nightstand, for example). Also, don't wear it if it hasn't been tested for water resistance in a long time, and don't wear it if the leather strap is nearly worn out. That seems logical, but I've seen a lot of watches with nearly disintegrated straps. And, as stated in the first paragraph of this article, keep your watch out of reach of small children. They have no idea what money is worth yet.