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Think like a Watchmaker

by Jordan Ficklin

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You may have missed the first puzzler back in March. I don’t have any prize available at the moment but I would love to hear what you all think about this one. Don’t forget to think like a watchmaker.

The customer brought this watch to me today. The crown came off in his hand with a short portion of the stem attached. The stem was broken clean off with no rust. The pictures includes all the clues you need to tell me: What caused the stem to break on this watch?

Next week I’ll post pictures of the other side of the watch including a close up of the broken stem, but you can figure out with this one picture. Kudos to all of you who figure it out. Don’t be afraid to guess if you aren’t sure.

Rolex Day-Date

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  1. Seth Hollen
    Posted December 12, 2008 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    He didn’t keep the crown screwed down? the wobble in it eventually sheared the stem off I’m guessing.

  2. Chris
    Posted December 12, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I hear you’re not supposed to set the date on a Rolex between 2200h and 0200h due to the way the date complication works.

    I’m thinking the owner decided to set the time before bed. Maybe he accidentally pulled the crown out to the date setting position, rather than time setting. the mechanism jammed, and the stem broke.

    My other theory is that the the crown was not screwed down and through normal daily activity, it got bumped into the date setting position. The owner decided to wind the watch before bed, and gave it a spirited twist which broke the stem.

  3. J.Peter
    Posted December 12, 2008 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Chris & Seth Good guesses.

    Let’s keep them coming. I’m not saying what the right answer is until next week.

  4. Posted December 13, 2008 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    The stem was cut too short for the watch. Thus not allowing the crown to center itself and properly disconnect from the hex/spring mechanism. Eventually putting too much pressure on the stem and snapping the somewhat brittle blued steel stem.

  5. J.Peter
    Posted December 13, 2008 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Via E-mail

    just a guess, but does it have to do with setting the time while the watch was advancing the day/date?


    Dear Peter,

    The time may be near midnight based on the dial setting. He may have tried to change the date and jammed the calendar mechanism; thereby twisting off the stem. This would take some big time abuse to break the stem. Did he also damage the calendar mechanism?

    In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a watchmaker, just a confirmed watch nut.

  6. Posted December 14, 2008 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    Without looking at the comments above, it looks to me from the cyclops alignment that the movement is not in the case straight, so after many revolutions of the stem the wear from the edge of the case caused it to wear down and eventually snap off.


  7. Dave
    Posted December 15, 2008 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Looks to me like the stem-tube is coming unscrewed, and probably took the stem with it?

  8. Andrew DeKeyser
    Posted December 15, 2008 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    i’m gonna have to agree with the movement not lined up with the tube. the dude tightened the case screws before screwing down the crown so the stem is always bent. but then again that could just be a parallax error.
    if thats the case i would suspect the cannon pinion has frozen- but you can’t “see” that in a picture. or the hands are touching each other or a dial marker but you can’t see that here nor would that be enough to break the stem, you’d bend a hand first. gold vs. steel, steel will win every time.
    this looks like a 1555 so there is no quickset feature eliminating any problems with setting the time near midnight. the stem being too short wouldn’t break anything on an automatic watch, it would just make it challenging to manually wind the watch.
    Well you might be thinking with a 1500 that the automatic mechanism is always engaged with the manual winding mechanism and it turns the stem as the rotor winds the watch. in fact only the crown wheel and winding pinion turn- the sliding pinion simply skips over the Breguet teeth.
    kudos Mathew, i didn’t notice that until i read your comment.

  9. Jake
    Posted January 1, 2009 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Was the customer Yuri Geller by any chance?

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