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Quartz Retro-fit

by Jordan Ficklin

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To watchmakers and watch lovers the quartz retro-fit is an abomination. It is the act of removing a mechanical movement from a watch case and replacing it with a quartz movement. It can be sad to see it happen but here are some reasons why people want to do it:

  • Old ladies often have a hard time winding their little watches with the little crowns and want to wear their watch with out having to mess with it.
  • The mechanical movement is incredibly rusty and the watch is sentimental so the customer wants it working.
  • Convenience

I’ll make a case against retro-fitting watches. I haven’t had to do it in my professional career but I have had to replace/repair the quartz movement in many watches that had been previously retrofit.

The biggest problem with retro-fitting quartz watches is that the elements that damaged the mechanical movement will do even more damage to a quartz watch. Quartz watches rely on very small driving forces and the smallest fleck of dust will bring it to a grinding halt. Quartz watches are almost always put in water resistant cases because you need to keep out the dust. So called “dustproof” watch cases don’t actually keep out dust very well and when you put a quartz watch in the case it will need to be serviced (or replaced) very often (every 1 to 2 years.) Another problem is trying to find a quartz movement which has the same size hands as did the mechanical movement and whose stem position is the same. Often the case needs to be modified to allow the stem to be closer to the dial because the quartz movement is much thinner. The quartz movement is usually held in place by a plastic movement ring or by a two part epoxy rubber which fills the extra space in the case. The dial feet often don’t align so they need to be moved (or more often they are filed off and an adhesive is used to affix the dial.)

When a damaged mechanical movement is the reason a retro-fit is being considered I like to try and find another movement of the same caliber which is in better condition.

A quartz retrofit could be done in such a way as to avoid some of the problems. Here are the best steps when a retro-fit is unavoidable.

  • Don’t use “dial dots” (adhesive) – Reposition the dial feet if necessary.
  • Use a high quality quartz movement
  • If the movement is to small for the case make a metal movement ring to hold the movement securely and create a better barrier for dust (this may include a tube for the stem fit with a gasket.
  • Modify the case to accept a waterproof crown.

I have never followed all these steps but after much thought I think this is the best route for a durable quartz retro-fit. If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, feel free to comment.

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One Comment

  1. Shawn
    Posted June 3, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I have a watch that looks great but has a very cheap broken non-jeweled movement. I have often thought that a quartz replacement would serve me well.

    (Love your blog!)

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