"I can't seem to wear mechanical watches. Either
they work sporadically or they don't work at all on my wrist. Why is that? Luigi Zanneti,
La Spezia, Italy
Answer by Professor J.C. Nicolet
There may be several reasons why a mechanical watch does
not work. Most people who have this problem fall into one of the following categories.
- 1. An old and worn watch
- 2. A new but not water resistant watch
- 3. A manual-winding watch
- 4. Automatic and water resistant watches
- 5. Watches used under rigorous conditions
- And what about quartz watches?
1. An old and worn watch
Sometimes a person inherits a high quality watch which had worked well for more than 20
years when worn by its previous owner. Therefore, the new owner expects it to work as well
for him. Well, it's precisely because the timepiece has given good service for so long
that it has become worn out and it deserves a good retirement alongside other
"antiques". Nobody expects modern exploits from a classic car, even if it was
the best during its era. Why should we expect anything different from a watch?
2. A new but not water-resistant watch
A modern watch, even if housed in a magnificent case but one which is not
water-resistant, can have problems when it is subjected to many of life's daily
activities. If worn during sleep, dust can enter the watch just from rubbing against the
sheets. On the other hand, if the watch is removed before going to bed, its internal
temperature decreases creating an airflow into its interior. As the air enters, so does
the ambient dust, but unlike the air, these small particles do not leave.
Non water-resistant watches need more care that other timepieces and it is necessary to
have them cleaned more often; usually once a year for small ladies' models and once every
two years for less delicate men's watches.
The use of perfume can also damage these watches as it can negatively affect the oil
used to lubricate the delicate watch parts. Happily, synthetic oils used today are more
resistant to the chemical in perfumes.
3. A manual-winding watch
All hand-wound mechanical watches, water-resistant or not must be wound regularly.
Modern mechanical watches can often work for 40 to 50 hours between windings as compared
to earlier models whose power-reserve was 30 to 36 hours. It is preferable, however to
wind these watches every day and at about the same time because this will increase their
Some wearers wind their watches whenever they happen to think of it, that is, several
times during one day and not at all the following day. It is not wonder, then, that their
timepieces sometimes stop. If this sounds like you, you should consider wearing a quartz
or an automatic mechanical watch.
4. Automatic and water-resistant watches
Automatic and water-resistant watches can also present a number of problems that may be
due to two factors:
-the wearer is too still,
-the wearer is too active.
People who are bedridden or confined to a chair because of illness, old age or, as is
more likely the case, have low activity desk jobs, are not getting enough activity to
rewind their automatic watch. When these people were healthier or just more active, their
watches worked well, and it is perhaps difficult for them to admit that they are the
reason for the poor operation of their faithful timepieces.
On the other hand, people who are too active, especially those who gesture a lot, tend
to overwind their watches. They should remove their watches at night to better maintain
the automatic winding mechanism. For those who are less active, they should wear their
watches at night to keep them wound.
Watchmakers have defined what they call the "winding speed" of manual-winding
mechanical watches by using a very simple formula:
||Time worn + time not worn
Example: An unwound automatic watch (but wound just enough so that it will start
functioning) is placed on the wrist and worn during 8 hours. Taken off, it will work for
16 hours without stopping.
||8 + 16
A normal winding speed is between 2 and 3. Below 2, the watch may stop. Above 3, it
will work very well at the beginning but the mechanism will wear out faster than normal.
5. Watches used under rigorous conditions
Everyone who wear a watch under difficult conditions should use a water-resistant or
even a diver's watch, especially when this watch is exposed to shocks, water (especially
sea water), acids, dust or sudden temperature changes. Watches used under such conditions
should be equipped with resistant crystals and anti-shock devices. For doing housework, it
is also preferable to wear water-resistant timepieces because they can be unintentionally
exposed to water.
The magnetic doors on refrigerators and cabinets may magnetize a watch if they come
into direct contact with it. In these cases stainless steel offers better protection than
a gold case. A magnetized watch works very poorly though, at first glance, it is not
apparent that there is the problem.
And what about quartz watches?
Quartz watches with analog display, that is with dial and hands (the only kind of
quartz watches manufactured in Switzerland) can be damaged by water and dust. If they are
in a watertight case, they are well protected and should work fine as long as the battery
is good. They are also less susceptible to the effect of magnetism than their mechanical
counterparts. However, they have the additional disadvantage of stopping with no warning
once the battery is low. If it has not been changed for a long time, it is a good idea to
replace the battery before going on a trip or on vacation since the right one my be
difficult to find outside major centers in most countries.
Swiss companies selling quartz watches are able to ensure good maintenance and repair
as long as the component parts are available. Once parts are no longer being made, the
watches cannot be repaired. On the other hand, mechanical watches can be repaired as long
as a watchmaker can be found who is capable of handmaking defective parts. This, of
course, is expensive, but if the watch is a collector's item, it may be worth the effort.