How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

Thread: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

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  1. #1
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    How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    Hi guys,

    I just bought a great 1896 pocket watch with an absolutely beautiful Elgin 18s 17 jewel adjusted movement. The watch and movement were recently serviced; it looks absolutely minty fresh and runs great.

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    Unfortunately, even though it seems to have been packed very well (bubble wrapped and shipped in a large box filled with peanuts), the watch still got bumped during shipping. When I received it, the minute hand was loose inside the case. It was easy enough to repost using a pair of fine tweezers (although the tip is a little bent, I unfortunately didn't notice that until I had already pressed the hand back onto the post, and I lack the tools required to unpost it or straighten it. That's only a very minor cosmetic issue and no big deal for me personally).

    My main concern is that the watch seems to be gaining a couple minutes every day, which seems a high degree of error for a movement of this quality (I also have a 17 jewel Gruen from the 1920s and a 15 jewel Waltham from 1907, both of which only gain a minute or so per week at most). I figure maybe the regulator or something else inside got knocked around, since the watch was hit hard enough to dislodge the minute hand.

    Now, although the seller accepts returns, I really don't want to send it back, as it's a absolutely stellar watch and (other than the larger-than-expected margin of error) looks and runs great, and I think I got it for a pretty good price. I was wondering if I could take it to a watchmaker and get it re-timed. I don't think I would need to have the movement completely serviced as that was done recently already; I just want to get the error rate down to more acceptable levels for a watch of this quality.

    I was wondering if anyone knew how difficult it would be to have this done, and how much it would cost. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    Basic regulating of your own pocket watches is pretty easy. I do it all the time. You need a reliable time-reference, though. I use the Master Clock of the US Naval Observatory as my time-ref (check their website for the master-clock link).

    For basic regulators, I use a simple push-pin to nudge the regulator-arm TINY increments.

    With something like this, I imagine you could just roll it along with your finger.

    But regardless of the regulator-type, this is how I regulate my watches:

    1. Put the regulator on the very end of 'FAST'.
    2. Wind your watch up fully. Set it to the right time. Leave it.
    3. Next morning, wind up the watch again and check on the timekeeping. If it's still fast, nudge the bar back a bit.

    Continue doing this each morning until the watch doesn't gain or lose any time after winding it each morning. It may take a couple of days, it may take a week. It depends.
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  3. #3
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    Re: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    There is the possibility that your watch needs to be demagnetized.

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  5. #4
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    How does a person know if his watch has been magnetised, Ron? How does a watch become magnetised? And added to that, how are they demagnetised?

    Oh by the way Waffleking,

    I do hope that you will show us more photographs of your new pocket watch! I love pocket watches...(I think that's rather obvious!)
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  6. #5
    Member Erik_H's Avatar
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    Re: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    A watch can be magnetized by exposure to an electric field or a strong magnet. I have had watches magnetized while handling heavy electric motors, the result is they suddenly start to run faster by several minutes a day. A watchmaker can demagnetize a watch in seconds, without having to disassemble it.
    Erik_H
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  7. #6
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    Would going through the security systems (metal-detector, x-ray scanner) at the airport magnetise a watch? I'm going on a holiday in a couple of weeks and I intend to take my pocket watch with me.
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  8. #7
    Member AbslomRob's Avatar
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    Re: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    Depends on the security system, but most shouldn't magnetize your watch.

    Magnetism mostly affects the hairspring. If you watch closely, you'll see some of the loops stick togeather when it's breathing. That shortens the amplitude, making it run fast. How much faster depends on how badly magnezited it is. Last one I had was gaining over 5 seconds a minute, until I ran it over a demagnetizer.

    Note that magetism is only one of the many things that could cause it to run fast. Regulating a watch won't normally help to correct an error of minutes a day. Running fast would usually be something in the hairspring (like it catching on something. A weak mainspring or excessive drag on the train could do it too (sounds counter-intutitive, but if not enough power is making it to the lever, the balance doesn't get "pushed" enough, won't have a lot of amplitude and will run fast).
    My growing collection of "affordable" vintages: http://www.abslomrob.com

  9. #8
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    Re: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    Thanks for all the replies, everyone.

    Shangras, here are a few more pics of the watch. It's a really great looking piece. Sadly, I don't have a digital camera at the moment, so I'm just posting the pics from the seller's auction.

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    I'd be willing to take a shot at regulating it myself, but I'm a bit nervous that I might break something. Although I guess it should be fine if I'm careful, and don't move the regulator too fast or while the watch is ticking.

    If I do take it to a watchmaker to get looked at, what kind of price quote should I expect? If a full disassembly and cleaning costs about $100, simply re-timing the watch should be less than that, right?

  10. #9
    Member Shangas's Avatar
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    Re: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    $100 for a full servicing!? Damn I wish I could get that kind of price...Is it a proper servicing, though?

    Regulating your watch yourself shouldn't be that hard. Your regulator is one of the easier ones to move, so you shouldn't have any problems. Just roll the little knurled wheels with your finger-tip to move the needle back or forth, to adjust the time accordingly. Don't move the regulator too fast, but on the other hand, don't move it when the watch isn't running; the whole point of regulating is to get the watch to keep proper time. You won't know what that is if the watch isn't running at the time.

    As your watch's movement is almost entirely covered by the top-plate, there's very little chance of you damaging anything, I wouldn't be worried, but as always, be gentle.
    "Pipes are occasionally of extraordinary interest...nothing has more individuality save, perhaps, watches and bootlaces."

    - Sherlock Holmes.

    'The Yellow Face'.

  11. #10
    Member radger's Avatar
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    Re: How hard/costly is it to re-time a (recently serviced) pocket watch?

    Good advice but it is very important not to touch a watch movement
    with your fingers as a tiny amount of perspiration will rust steel parts.

    The steel regulating nut is notched so that it can be easily moved with
    a pegwood point, a cocktail stick will do it, don't use a needle or screwdriver
    as these can leave marks.

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