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Break-In Period — True or False?

by J.Peter

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I don’t spend tons of time in watch forums like Timezone, but I have spent a fair amount of time over the past few years. One of the things people are always discussing is a “break-in period” for a mechanical watch. Here is my official opinion on the matter. I say opinion but it is based on experience.

There is a break-in period for a mechanical watch but it is measured in hours not days. After new lubrication is applied to the watch (by the factory or at time of service) it needs to distribute itself evenly. Since the slowest wheel in a watch is the hour wheel (rotating once every 12 hours) a full rotation should ensure even distribution of the watch, but the hour wheel isn’t going to affect timing. The barrel rotates about once every 6 or 7 hours in most watches, even giving it a couple of rotations a day would cover any distribution of lubricants.

One thing I have observed is that sometimes the amplitude will change over the first 24 hours, especially when using 9415 and epilame on a watch operating at 18,000 beats per hour. Weeks, or months (both of which I have heard) are hardly necessary. A watch has broken in within the first few hours, or at most a day.

Of course, over the entire length of the service cycle the watches rates my fluctuate as the properties of the lubricants change. This is normal and watches can be brought to your watchmaker for regulation if this happens, if the change is more than about 5 to 10 seconds however, there is probably something at fault which needs to be corrected.

Lastly, I might add that as watchmakers we are partly to blame for the myth of the break-in period, but it’s not the watch that needs to be broken in it is the wearer. We sometimes tell a customer who comes back after two days and wants his watch regulated to wait a couple of weeks. This has nothing to do with the watch “breaking-in” however. Since all kinds of different activities somebody might participate in affect the watch in different ways we want to be able to compare the average rates over a little bit longer of a time before making any corrections. Nobody wants to slow it down, only to find out that the customer hardly wore the watch the first two days but normally wears the watch much more and the watch ends up running slow because their routine changed. No watch is perfect, yet, but some are really good!

In conclusion, hopefully your watchmaker timed out your watch for a couple of days before returning it to you. If he did, the break-in period has passed already.

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