A vintage, mechanical watch’s timekeeping may vary by as much as 30 seconds per day — but they’re still incomparable, functional works of art. Treat them right, and they’ll stay in your family for generations more.
As long-lived as vintage watches may be, they’re also surprisingly vulnerable. Some of their internal pivots are as slender as a human hair and, despite the labeling you may see on some older watches, they’re almost never shock resistant or waterproof. (The advent of consumer protection laws put a stop to these spurious claims.)
That’s why, as simple as it seems, one of the best things you can do for your watch is standing over a soft surface when you put the watch on or take it off. If you happen to drop the watch, that soft surface offers some protection against jarring. You should also protect your watch from dust, heavy rain, and any extremes of humidity or heat. That means no leaving it in a parked car or keeping it in the restroom while you shower.
Did You Know?
Here’s another little-known hazard for mechanical watches: They can become magnetized, and thus less accurate timekeepers, by exposure to strong magnets. You shouldn’t worry about having your watch near regular electric outlets or wiring, but do keep it as far away as possible from audio speakers, telephone handsets, electric motors and unshielded electrical transformers.
Think your watch might be magnetized? Hold a compass near the watch’s movement. If the compass needle vibrates in time with the watch’s movement, the watch has been magnetized. This can be reversed by a jeweler or matchmaker with the proper tool.
What Else Can I Do?
Use your watch! Your personal habits — from how you carry your vintage watch to the heat of your body — will affect how well it keeps time. Once a professional watchmaker has adjusted it to suit your habits, it’ll be most accurate when it’s on your wrist or in your pocket. If you’re dealing with a pocket watch, you should wear it with the crystal facing in toward your body.
If you’re still using the watch, wind it every day — that will also improve its accuracy. Modern oils mean you don’t have to wind unused watches every single day, but some experts still recommend winding them once a week or, at a bare minimum, once a month to keep the movement functioning smoothly.
Having your watch serviced regularly is also critically important. It might be tempting to leave the maintenance until your vintage watch stops running — but by then it might be too late to repair the delicate internal workings.
Take your watch in for a servicing as soon as you purchase it, or if you notice it gaining or losing time regularly. The watchmaker will remove dirt/dust from the inner workings of the watch, and remove any gummed up old oil that might skew its workings. If your watch gets wet, take it to a watchmaker immediately — before corrosion sets in.
When it comes to caring for your vintage watch, a watchmaker is your most treasured ally — but ultimately, you’re the one whose choices will determine just how long your vintage timepieces last.