The Basic Guidelines

In this brief guide we aim to answer some of the questions people frequently ask regarding watches. Some aspects of watch maintenance are regularly disputed by watch enthusiasts for example as how often to service the watch and whether taking a shower with the watch on poses poses a high risk etc. The basic guidelines below should help you to avoid these pitfalls.

Winding a Mechanical Watch

Before you do anything, make sure it's really a mechanical. If it says Quartz, Eco-Drive, or Kinetic on the dial somewhere, it's not a manual wind. If your Quartz watch has stopped, you can get it running by replacing the battery at your local jeweler or mall watch shop. Some military watches are Quartz even though they may not say so on the dial. Best way to tell is to look for a battery hatch on the back, or, if it's running, watch for the second hand to jump between each second. Mechanical movements usually have a smoother transition from second to second with a few transitional movements in between. If you're sure it's a mechanical watch, and it needs winding, follow these steps.

1: Check to see if it has a screw-down crown, if it does unscrew it to ready it for winding*. If, when you start to wind the crown, it starts to screw itself back in, you may need to gently pull the crown out one stop. If you have a normal crown, i.e., non-screw-down, you can just wind it without any preliminaries.

* IMPORTANT: If the watch has a screw crown I often recommend winding at night and screwing in the crown in the morning because it can sometimes be the case that screwing in the crown further tightens the spring which could damage the movement.

2: Wind the watch by turning the crown clockwise a number of complete revolutions. With the watch face-up in your left hand, pinch the crown between your right forefinger and thumb and rotate the crown clockwise. "Clockwise" means rotating it away from you. Wind slowly and consistently. Wind the crown as far as you can in each turn and then release it and start again.

3: Wind it this way until you start to feel some increased resistance. Be patient. For a completely unwound mainspring, this can take from 20 to more than 40 or 50 revolutions.

4: After you feel resistance stop winding. NB: Some watch experts suggest that you wind the crown backwards (counterclockwise) five or six turns. This may help re-distribute some lubricant, and, in the case of some early or special models, it may relieve some strain on the watch's inner workings. In any case, doing this "back-winding" won't harm your watch.

Many people prefer to wind a watch using a rocking motion, i.e., alternating rotating the crown clockwise and then counter-clockwise. You can wind the watch in this way without having to remove your fingers from the crown. This has exactly the same effect on winding the mainspring as the clockwise-only approach, and it has the added benefit of putting a little back-wind into each cycle.

If you have a manual wind watch, try to wind it at the same time every day. Winding it in the morning is best because you will have consistent power throughout the day. This may also contribute to more accurate timekeeping.

When the watch is fully wound you will feel resistance as the mainspring tightens. That's enough winding. Don't try and force it any further. You could damage both the mainspring and components in the escapement.

NB: When winding a manual wind watch, it is advisable to take off the watch. If you keep the watch on while you wind it, you may put unnecessary strain on the winding stem at all points but particularly where the stem attaches to the winding crown.

What about Automatics? Some self-winding mechanical watches (also known as "automatics") can also be wound manually. Check your documentation or with your dealer to see if your watch can be hand wound although in the case of military watches most will have this option. Assuming it can be handwound you may want to wind it, at least several revolutions, each day to insure an adequate power reserve, or, if its power reserve has run out and the watch has stopped, you can wind it to give it a jump start.

Adjusting the Strap or Bracelet

With bracelets, there is often some adjustment available in the clasp itself, this is achieved through the use of a spring loaded pin which locks into the holes in the clasp. This adjustment is easily made using a pin, paperclip or anything thin enough to press the pin in and release it so it can be repositioned. Be cautious when you do this because the pins can fly out and you could spend a considerable time searching the floor for it. I tend to recommend the watch is on table top of flat surface and that you lay out a cloth or towel to ensure the watch glass is not damaged while the job is carried out.

There are various types of bracelet and some use use push pins and others use screws for attaching the links to one other. If you don't have the tools to do this then maybe its best left to a jeweller or watchmaker but as a guide a small electrical screwdriver or one designed to tighten the arms on spectacles can do the job. Whatever happens use a screwdriver that is the correct size because if the thread is damaged or the head of the screw it might have to be drilled out.

Push pins are very different and I find more awkward but keep in mind there are usually small arrows on the underside of the links to show which way the pin should be pushed out. These pins are quote easy to remove if you tap them and once removed they are replaced from the opposite end. The key with this job is holding the bracelet firmly and a vice is ideal but use cloth to prevent scratches to the bracelet.

Water Resistance

We are often asked what are the main factors which affect water resistance? Basically the thickness and the material from which the case is made is a big factor in determining whether a watch can safely be worn underwater. The case must be sturdy enough to withstand pressure without caving in. In general, this means a steel or sometimes a titanium case. A screw-in case back, as opposed to one that pushes in, also contributes to a watch's water resistance. A screw-in crown, a feature of most divers' watches, helps prevent water getting into the case through the watch-stem hole. When it is screwed down it forms a water tight seal like the hatch on a submarine. Generally screw crowns are used when the watch is rated at water resistant to 100m/330ft or more and it is vital they are screwed down before the watch is used in water.

The various different levels of water resistance as expressed in meters, atmospheres or feet are only theoretical. They refer to the depth at which a watch will keep out water if both the watch and the water are still. These conditions, of course, are never met in the real world. When you are swimming the movement of the wearer's arm through the water increases the pressure on the watch dramatically; so it can't be worn to the depths indicated by lab testing machines.

The following water resistance recommendations are accepted by most watch manufacturers.

  • Water-resistant to 30 meters (100 feet/3atm). Will withstand splashes of water or light rain but should not be worn while swimming, in heavy rain, sailing or diving.
  • Water-tested to 50 meters (165 feet/5atm). Suitable for swimming in shallow water such as crossing rivers and in a pool.
  • Water-tested to 100 meters (330 feet/10atm). Suitable for swimming and snorkeling.
  • Water-tested to 150 meters (500 feet/15atm). Suitable for snorkeling.
  • Water-tested to 200 meters (660 feet/20atm). Suitable for sports diving.
  • Pro Diver's 150 meters (500 feet/15atm). Meets ISO standards and is suitable for scuba diving.
  • Pro Diver's 200 meters (660 feet/20atm). Meets ISO standards and is suitable for professional scuba diving.

Please note that we do not recommend swimming or diving with your watch unless it has a screw-down crown (also known as screw-lock or screw-in crown) and is water-resistant to at least 100 meters. 

One thing which is very important to keep in mind is that it is not generally recommended to wear your water resistant watch in a hot shower, sauna or bath. Many people ignore this and get away with it - occasionally me included! - but the fact remains though that it is not recommended and is at your own risk if you do it because the extreme heat causes the metal parts to expand at a different rate than the rubber gaskets. This creates tiny openings that can allow small traces of water to penetrate the watch. Sudden temperature changes are especially harsh if you lie in the sun and dive into cold water which can result in thermal shock.

Some buyers ask if they have to do anything to care for the watch after they have been in the sea but our advice is to rinse the watch in a stream of fresh water when you get home. If your watch has a rotating bezel, turn the bezel several times while rinsing it in case any bits of sand or mud have got between the bezel and the case it will also prevent salt build up and corrosion of the bezel ring. Whilst salt water is not a great problem generally some chemicals can corrode the gaskets and make them vulnerable. Heavily chlorinated water can also cause problems, as can chlorine bleach, bath foams and hairsprays that work their way into the watch's seams and damage the gaskets. (They can also damage the watch's finish although this is rare with military specification watches.

The Best Straps for use in Water

Generally leather straps are easily damaged by frequent exposure to water and also start to smell unpleasant so I tend to dislike them. My recommendation if you are going to wear your watch whilst swimming is to think of buying a model with a metal bracelet or a carbon fibre, Kevlar or a rubber strap, Nylon NATO straps are ideal too and can be washed easily and also dry fast. 

What about heat and sunlight?

Heat in the form of saunas etc. isn't really recommended, particularly if you take a sauna and then enter the icy waters of the plunge pool! Quite simply, rapid hot to cold like that means that something may contract rather rapidly, if that something relies on a seal which has softened due to the heat then you are asking for trouble. Also, any watch will have some moisture in it simply because it has air in it; rapid cooling means this may condense, probably only to disappear again but it could leave a stain under the crystal or worse.

Heat in terms of wearing the watch in hot weather maybe can't be avoided, fair enough and as this is fairly constant compared to the above then shouldn't be too much of a problem. However, if at all possible, avoid leaving/wearing the watch in direct strong sunlight; firstly the watch is going to get very hot which won't do the lubricants much good; secondly, direct sunlight like that can prematurely age dials and cause dial lacquers to lift or micro bubble and in the case of GTLS Tritium watches it could negatively effect the vials themselves. This isn't to say that your watch should be kept under shirt sleeves whenever the sun is out! It's just a case of using common sense; don't fry your watch!

Shock Resistance

Your watch might well be shock-resistant but it's best not to test its ability to withstand shock; mechanical watches are almost always fitted with certain shock absorbing devices and this especially applies to military watches but even so, do not expose your watch to sudden shocks, vibration, dropping etc. Mechanical watches are pretty tough but there is a limit; exposing the watch to severe shock can at the least affect timekeeping and at worst will cause mechanical failure. In our experience firearms can have very negative effects on a watch because of the sudden violent recoil with heavy calibres.

General Maintenance

Assuming the watch is rated 50m or higher as far as water resistance we recommend clearning the watch with an old toothbrush around the bracelet, lugs and caseback which will remove debris.

Scratched Crystals

If the watch has an acrylic (plastic / plexiglass) it is easy to remove scratches. People use all sorts of things to get a good result, personally I find smokers toothpaste or even standard toothpaste works but other people swear by metal polish or car rubbing compound but there are also specialist polishes such as Polywatch. Applying whatever you plan to use and rubbing in circular motions should work for minor or medium scratches. Deeper scratches are harder and it is often better to polish back and forth along the scratch. Once these steps are taken an acrylic
crystal will often come up like new.

A glass crystal is a much more awkward problem if it gets chipped or scratched and might need to be replaced although on the plus side it is harder to scratch in the first place when compared with an acrylic crystal.


We are often asked the question how accurate can I expect my watch to be?
The answer is that when it comes to accuracy there is one very important fact you need to know in advance. A $15 watch from the local discount store will keep time just as well as, and possibly better than, a top of the range MWC, CWC or Marathon mechanical or possibly even a $20,000 solid gold mechanical Omega, Rolex, or other high end watch.

If that last statement surprised you, read the rest of this section carefully.

All watches tend to gain or lose a few seconds over a period of time. These are small mechanical or electro-mechanical devices that are counting out 86,400 seconds per day. Even if a watch is 99.9% accurate, it will still be off by a minute and a half in only 24 hours! So even a mediocre wristwatch has to be well over 99.9% accurate to even begin to be useful on an ongoing basis.

So, what is a reasonable expectation of accuracy from a wristwatch? As a guide a modern mechanical watch could vary between +/- 15 seconds a day at worst and +/- 2 or 3 seconds a day at best and both figures are generally within tolerance depending on the type of watch and age. For example an automatic watch is usually more accurate than a handwound mechanical but quartz watches are better than any mechanical watch by a large margin. As a rule a quartz watch could be as accurate as +/- 0.01 although +/- 2 seconds a days is within the acceptable limits of most manufacturers.

The question people often ask is why would anyone want a less accurate watch that costs more than a cheap watch that is more accurate? The short answer is that pretty much any modern wristwatch from a reputable brand is more than accurate enough for normal use. So some people (myself included) prefer older mechanical watch technologies over the small accuracy advantages of quartz watches. In the 1970s everything was heading towards quartz watches but by the 1990s handwound and automatic mechanicals were once again firmly establishing themselves in the mid ranges and high end market. The thing to keep in mind is that quartz watches as a rule are always more accurate than mechanical ones but not always. Accuracy and precision are not exactly the same thing.

Another consideration is that even when a mechanical watch is allowed to vary +6/-4 seconds per day, that does not mean it will consistently vary by that high an amount each day. Mechanical movements--except the very rare 'turbillon' movements that correct for it--are noticably affected by the gravitational pull of the Earth. It only takes a performance distortion of 1/1000th of a percent for a watch movement to be one second less accurate in a day. This causes the performance of mechanical movements to be somewhat different from day to day when not stored in a fixed position. The good news is that the actual variations of a mechanical watch will often cancel each other out. This means a mechanical watch will tend to be more accurate over a longer period than the single-day COSC measurement may imply.

Regardless the day-to-day performance of quartz is much more consistent than mechanical under identical conditions. Quartz performance is affected mainly by temperature changes and weakened batteries. So a quartz watch that you measured to gains 0.5 second yesterday will be consistently and increasingly off the correct time by about that amount. You can be pretty certain that in 60 days, it will be about 30 seconds off. At the end of a year, it would be likely be over 180 seconds off.

Compare that to a mechanical watch that you measured to gain 2 seconds yesterday. It would seem that our example quartz watch is 4 times more accurate than this. But while the daily measured daily variations seem much higher, they are not likely to be as consistent, so will have a dampening effect. You cannot accurately predict that this mechanical would therefore be off by 120 seconds at the end of the same 60 days. It might be right on time, or it may be 200 seconds off. That broader range of variations allows most mechanical watches to stay closer to correct time than the daily variation rate implies. Over a year, some mechanicals can on average stay closer to correct time without having to be reset than a quartz watch might where others always tend to gain roughly the same amount each day.

Alignment of the sweep second hand

We get quite a few emails asking if it is a fault if the second hand of a quartz watch does not fall exactly on the markers around the outside of the dial of the watch. The fact is that this is almost always within manufacturing tolerances, and occurs on almost all watch brands to a certain degree. A slight inaccuracy of the hand alignment is always possible, but he does not deem this to mean that the watch is faulty or has a manufacturing defect.

The reason this occurs is because the parts which move the hands of the watch are all controlled by mechanical parts, e.g. springs and gears. The stopping point of these components vary slightly after the manufacturing process due to the 'breaking in' process. This does not mean that a watch will become more misaligned over time, it just means that it is impossible to predict with perfect accuracy whether a second hand will line up perfectly after it has been manufactured.

We understand this is annoying to some clients and that it is quite easy to stress over the most minor of inaccuracies - however minor hand misalignment is absolutely normal and is even evident in many high-end Swiss brands.

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This is a subject open to a lot of debate but much depends on whether to use the watch in water.
Much of the area around servicing is common sense for example a diver's watch used in water on a daily basis will be subject to a much harder life than a diver's watch worn by someone who goes to the local pool or in the sea once a week. We tend to recommend that people who surf, diver or snorkel regularly get the watch checked for water resistance yearly and fully serviced around every two years. In the case of a watch that has an easy life then the water resistancy check might be extended to two years with a full service every five years. My feeling is a rule of thumb is that a mechanical watch needs service at somewhere been three and five years.
I have known watches to run for ten or more years without any attention but the issue is that when a service is needed it can be very costly and this applies particularly to old watches where the parts might have to be made.