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Lessons from a day of watchmaking

by J.Peter

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About a week ago somebody called asking whether I could change a battery in a Baume & Mercier. I told him I could. We have the necessary case opening tool. He was ecstatic, apparently we were the 18th store he had called looking for somebody with the appropriate tool to change his battery. Today he came by because he was in town and we changed his battery, he was very grateful. It’s nice to be able to deliver a unique quality experience and have the customer truly appreciate it.

It should be noted that some Baume & Mercier have a unique keyed screw back, similar in nature to Rolex, but with more rounded grooves. It is just different enough that a Rolex wrench won’t open it and just uncommon enough that there are not a lot of generic openers like there are for Rolex. We used to carrier Baume & Mercier so we have their proprietary tool.

Yesterday a customer dropped off a Seiko quartz whose second hand was missing the marks every time. Today I went to adjust the second hand. I placed the hand precisely on the mark, but there is enough play in the gear train on this (and many inexpensive quartz watches) that the hand only hits the marks on either the rise or the fall, not on both. Luckily this one was really close in one direction and right on in the other direction (after I adjusted it). I hope that is good enough for the customer, it is all the watch will allow.

Today I had two watches which needed new power cells and water resistance tests. One of them passed the test and the other failed. The watch that failed was an older Tag Heuer, but that is a little bit unusual. Tag Heuers seem to be almost as good as Rolexes when it comes to passing water tests (of course the Rolex is by far a better watch and way more water resistant, it just happens that Tag Heuers meet their specifications consistently). Probably 1 in 50 Rolexes I test fails the water test the first time, but I quickly remedy the situation, it is usually due to some debris on a gasket that I overlooked. Maybe 1 in 20 Tag Heuers fails the water test the first time. I usually have to replace a crown and tube or crystal gasket to get them to pass. Today’s watch had a small chip in the crystal right at the gasket, so the crystal and gasket will need to be replaced but I am confident that will resolve the problem.

It amazes me how many people pass up a water test because, although Rolex and Tag Heuer do a pretty good job of passing water tests I have much less luck with other brands, the problems are almost always resolved, but with a simple power cell change and no water test the customer would discover this problem later, which brings me to the last watch of today’s post.

About 6 months ago I serviced a vintage Hamilton which came back today and was not running very well. I hate to see a watch come back; it just makes me sick to my stomach but it is always a learning experience. Today, however, the reason the watch came back was not my fault and not covered under warranty. Beneath the dial of this watch there was a coating of rust! I checked back in my records and I had informed the customer and noted on the job that the watch was not water resistant, but it clearly has seen some water. With vintage timepieces you really need to be careful. Even just washing your hands can cause a serious problem if the watch only has a dustproof crown.

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