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More Wisdom From the Experienced

by J.Edwards

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Here’s a handy tip that one of the more veteran watchmakers at work offered me this week: If magnetism is proven not to be the problem when a client brings in a fairly new (or recently serviced) mechanical watch and expresses that it is not keeping time very well, pay careful attention first to the beat error. Don’t even bother paying attention to the rate of timekeeping yet. If the beat error is off by more than one or two tenths of a millisecond, adjust that first. Many times, in this type of scenario, you will find that the watch had been subjected to a minor shock (short fall, hard knock, etc.) and the carrier holding the stud for the hairspring had shifted slightly. As the pin-regulator typically rides on the stud carrier, it shifts as well, causing an unwanted variation in the rate of the timepiece. Moving the stud back to its rightful position reverses the beat error, in turn remedying the variation in rate. It won’t work every time, but it works out often enough that it is a tip that is well worth keeping in mind.

Note that this trick only applies to watches that are not freesprung and use a pin-regulator to make adjustments to the rate of timekeeping (translation: if the watch in question is a modern Rolex, you’ll never have this problem).

If you missed November’s Wisdom from the Experienced check it out here.

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  1. J.Peter
    Posted January 22, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for that tip J.Edwards. This is the kind of problem you’ll see on an ETA based movement. Those little regulators and stud holders can be difficult to move, but amazingly enough they can move quite easily when given just the right (wrong?) jolt.

  2. Nick Diieso
    Posted January 22, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Hey guys,

    Love the blog. I posted a few months back in the Hublot discussion and the Omega movement copper v gold plating discussion…

    So do you find that watches with swan neck regulators are tougher to knock out of position than standard ETA movements? Does that micrometer adjusting screw help with keeping the movement in beat (ie- my vintage Constellation with the Calibre 564 vs my modern Seamaster 2255.80 with the Calibre 1120?)

    Thanks for your input!


  3. J.Peter
    Posted January 22, 2009 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    I can’t say that I have any evidence to support the following claim but here it is. Unless the watch had a double swan neck regulator (one for rate and one for beat) there would be no advantage here relating to shocks. Typically the regulator is designed so that when you move the stud holder the regulating pins move with it so the rate should not change, but it usually does some. When you move the regulating pins they should move independently of the beat. The swan neck (micro-regulating screw) holds the rate adjustment in place but the beat adjustment would still be free to move.

    In any case a swan neck regulator is usually found on high quality watches and the higher quality the less likely the stud holder will “just move” on its own. In a watch like a Rolex for example the stud holder is held in place by a screw and will almost never move unless the screw is loosened.

  4. DaveN
    Posted January 23, 2009 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    I think that this tip only relates to balances with a moveable stud carrier (e.g. the newer ETAs).
    Your vintage Omegas have a fixed stud holder. Beat adjustment is carried out on these by rotating the hairspring collet on the balance staff. In these movements it ‘should’ be impossible to put the balance off-beat with a knock.
    Using a moveable stud carrier makes it much easier to adjust beat errors (the balance wheel has to come out each time with a fixed stud) – but also easier to knock.

  5. Nick Diieso
    Posted January 23, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    J and D,

    Thank you for your prompt responses!! It’s nice to see that there are still people who appreciate mechanical watches in our increasingly “quartz” world! Can’t wait to see how the predictions for SIHH turn out!

    Take care,


  6. Posted January 23, 2009 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Hi Everybody,

    This tip is, indeed, only relevant to watches with a moveable stud holder. Modern ETA calibres, of course, being the most ubiquitous.

    I would be very careful in painting vintage Omegas with such a broad brush, DaveN. It is true, that very early vintage Omega calibres, like the Omega 321 and 501 have the stud fixed in the balance cock. However, many other vintage Omegas, such as the popular 861 or 551 calibres et al, have stud holders that can be moved. The stud holder on these calibres is plated the same colour as the balance cock, and is fixed more solidly in place than ETA stud holders, so I could see how one might be led to think that it is part of the balance cock, but it is most assuredly a mobile stud holder. I would dissuade any watchmaker from altering the beat on such movements by rotating the hairspring collet, as many of them are notable, chronometer certified timekeepers and the positioning of the collet relative to the balance wheel was accounted for during regulation.

    Nick, regarding the swan neck regulator. I agree with J.Peter’s comments regarding a double swan neck being a surer bet. Unless of course the stud is fixed in place or another means of fixing the stud in place such as the means employed by Rolex, which he mentioned, or the Geneva stud lock used by Patek Philippe and other high end manufactures. Like J.Peter though, I can’t vouch for this from experience, as I’ve never had a watch with a swan neck regulator come in that was only in need of a minor adjustment.

    Regarding the 1120, it is susceptible to being knocked out of beat by a strong jolt, as it is derived from the ETA calibre 2892. It is a good example of a watch for which this tip could come in handy.

    All of that said, this tip isn’t “groundbreaking”. Adjusting the beat is always the first thing I tend to when regulating a timepiece (given that it already has good amplitude). Timing comes second. What I felt was noteworthy about what the watchmaker told me, was that prior to his advice, I would tend to check the watch in several positions before passing judgement on the problem and making any necessary corrections. By zeroing in directly on the beat error and then checking the timing in multiple positions , I’ve found I’ve been able to save a few minutes now and then. And it’s little timesavers, here and there, like that, that make you more productive and, ultimately, more profitable in the end.

  7. Nick Diieso
    Posted January 24, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    J. Edwards,

    Thanks so much for the advice! I reviewed Desmond Guilfoyle’s wonderful piece on the Cal 56x movements and noted that they do, in fact, have a mobile stud carrier as you’ve also noted in your terrific response! Thanks again and enjoy the remainder of your weekend!


  8. Posted January 26, 2009 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    My ETA 6497 experienced a minor shock from a fall, just as you describe. I wind it, and it runs for a bit, maybe a few minutes, then stops. If I tilt the case around it starts again and stops a short while later. What can I do to figure this problem out? The watch is probably 2-3 years old and I hvae never serviced it. I’m trying to fix it, as most watch repair places I have shown it to want to charge $200 for the repair……oy vey! I can buy an ETA 6497 for that.

    Please help.

  9. J.Peter
    Posted January 26, 2009 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    If it did fall it is very likely that the balance staff has broken, even with shock protection a fall is a pretty good shock. The symptoms you describe seem to suggest that this may be the case. You might check and see if it runs better, or longer in dial up or down. This would definitely suggest a broken staff. As for the service estimate. $200 is very fair for a full service on a manual wind watch. This isn’t a few minutes fix. We’re looking at several hours at the very least, plus parts, to do the job right. Even replacing the movement, adjusting and regulating it plus a water test perhaps is going to cost at least $200.

  10. alex e
    Posted January 27, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the reply and I did notice you get better results when the dial is facing downwards. I have a watchmaker here locally that has been referred to me this morning and will let him fix it. These last guys damaged the case, etc. just estimating the repairs……

  11. Posted January 28, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi Alex,

    I’m glad you have decided to take your watch to a professional watchmaker. J.Peter is right, $200 is a very fair price for a complete service of a watch of this calibre. If you would like to see a video of the movement contained in your watch being assembled, I’d recommend you check out this page regarding the 6497. Keep in mind that this video is just one aspect of the work that a watchmaker would carry out on your watch. If you would like an idea of some of the finer work involved in overhauling a mechanism like this, I’d recommend checking out this video on lubricating the anti-shock system.

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