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Simple Stem Removal

by J.Edwards

A short while back we shared a video tip here on the blog about how to remove the barrel arbor from a watch barrel quickly and easily. Removing the stem from a watch calibre that has just had its hands installed is another area I have seen some struggle with. One of the very first watchmakers I ever apprenticed under would hold a pair of tweezers between his teeth to depress the setting lever with while holding the stem and watch in his hands to accomplish the task. I can’t say I’ve ever tried that. Nor do I ever intend to. Some other methods I’ve witnessed and would discourage, include pressing the dial and hands into a casing cushion, holding the movement dial down in a Slick movement holder, or pressing the edge of the dial down on the edge one’s workbench or hole anvil while depressing the setting lever. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is the over-engineered approach, as exemplified by the movement holding aid designed explicitly for the purpose of removing the winding stem of an ETA 2892, which was shown here on the blog back in 2009. One would be foolish, though, to make a specialized holder for every conceivable size and shape of watch calibre. I like to keep things simple effective, and there just so happens to be a quick, one-size-fits-all technique for removing the stem from watches that feature a depressible setting lever. This same technique also works equally well for screwed-in setting levers by simply substituting a screwdriver for your number 3 tweezers. So, without any further ado, here is another short video that communicates the technique far more effectively than words alone could ever do:

Explanatory Notes

In actual practice, this technique is even easier to perform than shown in the video, as it was a little awkward working around the camera. Here are a few key pointers to keep in mind when executing the technique yourself:

  1. Wear finger cots on the hand you use to handle the watch movement, in order to keep from contaminating the edges of the dial with natural oil from your fingers, and only handle the watch movement and dial by their edges.
  2. Keep the movement at a comfortable angle for you to depress the setting lever (or unscrew the setting lever screw). I like to hold the movement a little more parallel to the bench top than what was necessary to demonstrate clearly what was going on in the video. The odd angle necessary to capture the action on camera also made it difficult to carry the next tip out to perfection.
  3. It shouldn’t require very much pressure to depress the setting lever. The majority of the pressure applied should be taken up by the hand that is holding the watch movement. Keep the tool you are using to apply pressure down on the setting lever perpendicular to the watch movement.
  4. Keep the crown steady and firm against the top of your bench using the ring finger of your hand that is holding the tweezers (or other tool you may be using to release the stem). While absorbing the downward force of the tweezers with your hand that is holding the watch movement, carefully draw the watch movement away from the crown and stem with this hand, while keeping the movement inline with the stem. The crown and stem should not move from their starting position.

Another Alternative

A similarly effective technique I have seen and tried, but don’t use myself as I prefer the expedience of the above method, is to depress the setting lever on a balance tack using one hand, while keeping the other hand free to extract the crown.

If you have another technique you like to use, or if you have any further tips to add to the techniques mentioned above, let us know in the comments below.

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  1. Brandon
    Posted April 16, 2011 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Nifty method. I will definitely give it a shot. I have always used the movement holder method with extreme care.

  2. Posted April 16, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Brandon. I would definitely encourage you to give it a try.

  3. John
    Posted April 17, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Can you describe your method? The video is broken.

  4. Posted April 19, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    @John Tip 4 pretty much covers the entire method from start to finish. If you can’t get the video to play, try visiting and switching to their Flash based player if you’re on a desktop. The H264 version of the video only appears to be working on mobile devices at the moment.

  5. J. Mitterando
    Posted October 20, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    This method is fairly intuitive. Been using it since day one. Works like a champ!

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