Almost every week or so folks who want to get started on watchmaking ask an eternal question: What tools should I buy?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Let's try a new approach this time. Instead of just listing the tools, let's focus on a job. Clearly, if your objective is to take apart and put back together a movement you will need one set of tools. But if you are taking apart a watch, and properly servicing the movement (disassembly, inspection, cleaning, assembly, lubrication, timing, casing), you will need a larger set of tools.
Let's start with a bare minimum.
STAGE I: TAKING APART BARE MOVEMENT
I am opposed to wasting money on subpar tools. Which doesn't necessarily mean buying top-of-the-line, top-dollar tools. It simply means getting quality tools that would not only last, but will also prevent "accidents" and help you learn proper skills. If you are planning to become a professional, only get the best tools. If you only plan to work on vintage movements as a hobbyist, there are money saving opportunities for less critical tools (mostly listed in STAGE II).
To take apart a movement that is not in a case and has no dial/hands, you will need to secure the movement in movement holder. To be able to see what is going on, you need an eye loupe. To disassemble the watch you will need precision screwdrivers and tweezers. A parts tray helps to store movement parts. This is basically all you need to take a movement apart, and put it back together. Here is the shopping list with typical prices (I also included part numbers from O. Frei for easy reference). Keep in mind that this kit does not contain tools for replacing mainspring in the barrel. You can still open the barrel, but don't take out the mainspring. Cannon pinion can be removed by cheap heavy-duty tweezers, like FB-2024 $3.99 (just don't use it for anything else). Alternatively, you can use a pin vise (method, recommended by Henry Fried).
1. Movement Holder, Bergeon 4040 Classic Large FB-807 $21.50
(Good alternative: FB-807-P $22.60) (*)
2. Covered Parts and Movement Tray FB-117 $5.95
3. Bausch & Lomb 4X Loupe FB-603 $11.50
4. Bergeon 5461 Headband for In-the-Eye Loupes $5.20
5. Style #2, Original Dumoxel (Anti-Mag Stainless) Dumont Tweezers FB-1403 $22.20 (**)
6. AF Switzerland Screw Driver Set, 9 assorted sizes, AF18980, $72.60 (***)
(Alternatives: buy individual screwdrivers, sizes 0.60, 0.80, 1.00, 1.20, 1.40)
7. (Optional) Brass OO style tweezers, Low Cost Made in India (for removing cannon pinions) FB-2024 $3.99 or a Pin Vise ~$20 at O. Frei for Bergeon, or ~$5 from eBay.
(*) I personally own the plastic one. I like it better because it is well made and will not leave marks on the movement. IMO, well worth the extra $1.
(**) Notes on tweezers: While there are cheaper tweezers out there, Dumont #2 is well worth the few extra dollars. Do yourself a favor, DO NOT SAVE MONEY ON TWEEZERS! This is by far the most important tool.
(***) Notes on screwdrivers: There are many options here. It seems like Bergeon screwdrivers are considered overpriced and not that great. I can't really comment on these as I never used Bergeon screwdrivers. I personally prefer to keep my screwdrivers in a wooden box, and my own screwdrivers are AF Switzerland MSA-01.300 ($84.95). I really like them, but prefer to buy more expensive Horotec spare blades as they seem to be better finished and last longer. Another option is to buy several screwdrivers without rotating base or wooden box. 99% of the time you will need the following sizes: 0.50, 0.60, 0.80, 1.00, 1.20 and 1.40. I can't remember the last time I used the 1.60mm screwdriver (maybe when I was working on a 19 ligne pocket watch). Sometime in the future, when you start working on balances/hairsprings, you will need to buy 0.50, which is typically not included in sets.
STAGE II: TAKING APART A WATCH
So the main difference here is that you need to be able to open a case without causing damage. It is also essential to be able to replace plastic crystals on vintage watches. And finally, remove hands and dial without scratching the dial and bending hands. Obviously, you still need the tools listed above, plus a couple of case opening tools (Jaxa-type and snap back case opener). Jaxa-type tool selection seems to be a controversial subject. Typically, the cheaper the tool, more issues you may encounter. I was lucky to pick mine for around $6 and it works great, just like a $100 one. But I heard many horror stories from owners of inexpensive Jaxa tools. Read the reviews, proceed with caution. Same is true for Presto-type tool to remove hands. I bought a couple on eBay for a couple dollars each including shipping from China. Selected a better one and slightly adjusted - now works well. As a hobbyist, I can't justify buying a $50+ Bergeon Presto tool. But if I worked on expensive watches, I would! Dial protection is essential and inexpensive. To install hands, it is helpful to have a hand-setting tool. There are many available. I own a hand-setter that looks like Horotec MSA05.015 that goes for $98.10. Mine cost around $5 (eBay, from Chinese seller). Works great! I highly recommend to get a crystal lift. Bergeon tool is more expensive and better made, but Anchor (India made) works fine.
1. New Economy Case Wrench for Small and Large Watches CWR-602.00 $24.50
(Alternatives: FB-240 $14.95, or many other kinds available on Amazon or eBay)
2. Swiss Case Knife FB-287 $19.95 (there are many cheaper alternatives - this one is just an example of what you will need).
3. Bergeon Dial Protector BERG-6938 $1.38
4. Presto-type hand remover - est. $5 on eBay (or FB-405 $52.50)
5. Hand Setting Tool - est. $5 on eBay (or a variety of quality tools costing $50-$800. For me the choice was obvious)
6. Economy Crystal lift 159.102 $26.50 (or Bergeon Crystal Lift FB-2210 $67.95).
NEXT STEP: Making Life Easier And Other Important Accessories
So you tried it and you liked it. A few tangled hairsprings and lost parts didn't stop you from wanting to do more. Like taking apart the balance, shock-protection devices and servicing the mainspring. And them moving on to cleaning and lubrication. Good!
By now you probably realized that you need a few more tools, and most importantly, an ergonomically proper watchmaker's bench. Unless you are a professional, or want to build your own, there is a very decent alternative. It's called Tabletop Mini Watchmaker's Bench. It is simply awesome! Best $89 I spent in a while. Unfortunately, this bench is known to have inconsistent quality of finish. If you order online, make sure you ask them to inspect it before shipping. I was buying on site, and had to choose from 3 (all of them had cosmetic blemishes).
A few observations about mainspring winders. Any watchmaker needs them. I believe that any serious hobbyist needs them too. In fact, this was one of the first tools that I bought. Here is the caveat. If you buy them new, they are obscenely expensive! So you will need to do some research on the subject and find decent usable vintage winders. There are generally 2 types, and if you want to work on both wrist and pocket watches, you will likely need 2 sets: one for wristwatches, and the other one for pocket watches. There are also different styles of winders. I own 3 sets. 2 for wristwatches up to 13 ligne, and 1 set for pocket watches. The reason for having 2 sets for wristwatches is because hooks are somewhat worn out on vintage winders, and 2 sets compliment each other. Expect to spend $30 and up for 1 set of winders. Mine cost more.
Pith, Pegwood and rodico are essential accessories. You need them. So is lint free watch paper. For hairspring work, you need style #5 tweezers, 0.50mm screwdriver, and 10x loupe.
Dust blower is good to have. You can get one for ~$12, or save money and get one on eBay for much less.
1. Tabletop Mini Watchmaker's Bench DBP220-1 $89.00
2. Mainspring Winders $30+ (eBay)
3. Pithwood Buttons FB-107 $7.80
4. Peg Wood Bundle FB-106 $7.90
5. Rodico FB-309-1 $5.30
6. Bausch and Lomb 10x Loupe (or you can get a more expensive one, but that's not critical) FB-602 $13.49
7. Style #5, Original Dumoxel (Anti-Mag Stainless) Dumont Tweezers, Swiss MadeFB-1802 $23.20
8. Lint Free Watch PaperFB-308 $8.50
9. French Made Screwdriver AF18978.050 $9.85
10. Dust Blower FB-302 11.60
STAGE III: INTRODUCTION TO CLEANING
This is a controversial subject. There are different opinions how to properly clean movements. I personally use a generic ($50) ultrasonic cleaner, which I only use for "modern" (1950-) movements. I've had great success with this ultrasonic cleaning machine, and I always use L&R cleaning/rinsing solutions. I never had any modern movement parts or finish negatively affected by ultrasonic cleaning. WARNING: Ultrasonic cleaning may and will damage plating on old movements. For these I do not use ultrasonic machine, but manually clean plates and bridges. So basically you need to understand what you are doing. Cleaning solutions are relatively expensive: $40/gallon. They last a while, but the cost is high. I heard success stories of using lighter fluids and other L&R surrogates. I haven't used any, so I can't recommend any replacement solutions.
You need 3 containers. I use 100ml Ball Glass Jars that are very cheap and work great. One for washing and two for rinsing. Cleaning baskets from Bergeon are obscenely expensive ($29 apiece). Instead you can buy Indian-made brass baskets on eBay, but use them at your risk! These baskets have inconsistent quality, so sometimes tiny parts get stuck inside. I couldn't justify spending >$100 on Bergeon baskets, so I have to very carefully load my brass ones. Some folks use tea infusers, but these have similar flaws.
One Dip hairspring cleaner can be used on its own, or before/after normal cleaning. I usually use it for cap jewels and pallet stones only. Exercise caution - it is dangerous to inhale the fumes. Use adequate ventilation and limit your exposure to it.
1. Ultrasonic Machine L&R LR-PC3 $199 (or ~$50-70 on eBay for a Chinese-made)
2. L&R Ultrasonic watch cleaning solution (LR-112 $42, or FB-330 $41)
3. L&R Ultrasonic watch rinsing solution (FB-331 $41)
4. Ball Glass Jars (4-pack, $5)
5. Cleaning baskets. (2x23mm, 4x16mm) ~$25-35 for India-made, $$$ for Bergeon.
6. Rubber gloves ($10+ at your favorite pharmacy. You don't want to handle these liquids without gloves).
7. One Dip Hairspring Cleaner 142.0501 $14.80 (USE WITH CAUTION!)
8. Lint Free Watch Paper FB-308 $8.50 (if you don't already have it, now is the time to buy)
9. Covered Parts and Movement Tray FB-117 $5.95 (You need 2. First one for dirty parts, the second one for clean. It is very cheap and convenient).
STAGE IV: OILING/LUBRICATION TOOLS
Assuming the movement is now clean and is being assembled, there are some obvious tools needed for oiling: Oilers and oil cups. There are a couple of easy/inexpensive choices for oilers, and it's a bit more complicated when it comes to oil cups. I used both options listed below - standard Bergeon plastic handle oilers, and metal handle ones. Main difference between plastic handle oilers and metal is the are the tips. Plastic handle oilers have flat tips, and metal - round. I liked both. They work well for oiling anything, but not fine enough to oil through jewel holes on vintage movements. Proper oiler costs $80, and I don't have first-hand experience with it, so not recommending below. Similarly, nice oil cups from Bergeon cost a fortune. I have a cheap Bergeon Plastic Oil Cup 3 holes in 1. I paid less than $10 for it. Unfortunately, I don't think O. Frei sells them. I bought mine on eBay. It works very well, and is easy to clean. To transfer oil from vials into the holes, I use precision screwdriver, which is thoroughly cleaned before dipping into the vial.
This is pretty much everything you need to take care of 95% of lubrication needs. I am reluctant to give recommendations on oil, as this proves to be a very controversial subject. I used Moebius, Novostar (almost full range) and KT-22. If there is interest, I can share my thoughts, otherwise do your own research and buy accordingly.
1. Bergeon Precision Dip Oilers (FB-904, FB-921, FB-905, FB-906: $3.20 per oiler) or Set of Four Metal Handle Dip Oilers (OL-359M $12.99)
2. Bergeon (or generic) Plastic Oil Cup 3-in-1 (est. $6-12 on eBay, Amazon, etc).
In the next few days I will be adding pictures of these tools, and also adding more sections. Stay tuned...