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Diary of a watch breaker

The art of losing very very small parts

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Iain Downs28/05/2022 20:27:15
861 forum posts
756 photos

How it begins

I'd no intention of looking at watches for a while. My next project (more or less in the planning stage) was to be a clock. And maybe, just maybe, I would one day try my hand at a watch.

But then my son got interested in watches. Probably because of heirlooms. I have my dad's WWII Vertex watch (radium and all), we've been given my father-in-law's Rolco (cheap Rolex, sort of) and I have a 19th century gold hunter which I used to wear when my waistcoats still fitted - and I got invited to parties...

We looked at getting the watches serviced, which resulted in various jewellers sucking air between the teeth and offering initial estimates in line with the price of houses when the watches were first made!

So I thought, perhaps I can learn to service them.

And it's been downhill since then!

Even more than in mainstream hobby engineering it seems that cheap tools are entirely useless and useful tools are quite honestly unaffordable!

So I'm approaching this by getting mid range tools (and tweaking), second hand stuff and making my own. To be honest I'm likely to get more fun (and much more success) out of making them than the actual watch stuff.

First is my approach to imprisoning small parts...

watch tray.jpg

The innards are a soft leatherette intended to absorb the bounce of a 1mm screw heading for the unknown at mach 1. I'm not entirely sure it works, but the sides might intercept the odd bit. Also in the image is a screwdriver holder. I was pleased with that.

The screwdrivers a bit less so - as mentioned the midrange tools (VERY cheap compared to bergeon's . They needed to be stoned thinner and will also need demagnatising.

My 'watch repair kit' from ebay came with utterly useless tweezers and screwdriver and an equally useless movement holder. So I made one

watch holder big side.jpg

I may well have to make another having used it in anger a couple of times. Mainly the frame needs to be bigger and the screw smaller.

I think that's enough for one post. Next I will explain my successes and failures so far. Hint. not many of the first!


Iain Downs28/05/2022 20:41:53
861 forum posts
756 photos

My First Fumblings

Clearly starting with a valuable watch is a terrible idea. Even my my standards.

I bought a cheap Chinese watch (that worked) with the idea that I could take it apart and then put it back together.

Note the subtitle.

Yes a number over very small parts transported themselves to the 5th dimension. So I bought another very cheap Chinese watch. I was fortunate in that the parts that went missing this time were not the same as those of the first watch.

I got something back together and it ticks and tocks. Not particularly rythmicaly, but I decided to quit whilst I was ahead. I will go back and try and get this running better, but not right now.

Next mistake was ordering a batch of watch mechanisms 'for repair' from eBay. These watches (I think about 20) mainly have broken balances, but there are 3 which are not broken. However, the watches are slightly smaller than my thumbnail and very difficult to work on After spending an hour trying to get a click spring (1.3 mm in diameter and 0.3 dia wire) back into the barrel bridge (don't I sound professional!) with a 3.5x magnifier I gave up and decided I needed a microscope (ordered at some expense, but nowhere near a professional's - I'm hoping it's OK).

next a bunch of visibly larger broken watches (so I thought) from eBay.

Next a Seiko - much recommended as a nice mechanism. And it is, though the mechanism (2119B for aficianados) is much smaller than the watch.

I hate to tempt fate, but I've not (yet) lost any bits. I stripped it and cleaned it (ultrasonic bath) then found that my manual mainspring replacement technique didn't work with this one (it did on the tiny ones, mind you).

So I made a mainspring winder which (surprisingly) wound back the mainspring into the barrel. Once there I found that (somehow) the centre curl had expanded so the arbor wouldn't grip. Attempting to hamfistedly fix this quite naturally broke it. SO that ones on hold until a new '2119B for repair) turns up (hopefully with a working mainspring).

That's enough for tonight. I'll try and post some watch and other pictures in the next post.


derek hall 129/05/2022 03:27:50
233 forum posts


You probably know this but the British Horological Institute run courses on watch and clock repair. I have been on a couple of clock courses, cannot vouch for the watch repair courses but found the courses excellent.

They are expensive though but at least you get to use the correct tools and techniques.

I dont work on watches they are so small and one sneeze and everything disappears !



Iain Downs29/05/2022 20:58:41
861 forum posts
756 photos

Derek - thanks for the reminder on BHI. Sadly, all their published courses (to the end of 2022) are fully booked. The other options seem to need a fairly full time commitment and or are at the other end of the country from me .

I mentioned, 'the art of losing very small parts'. below is an example. the watch (one of the bulk purchase mentioned earlier) is about 15mm in diameter and has been something of a challenge to deal with.

small parts.jpg

Also in the picture - and no it's not a scratch on the ruler is a rather small screw from the Seiko. It's just below the 3mm marker. By contrast the sprint is almost massive! Try dropping one of those on a modern flecked carpet and see what your chances of finding it are!

Below is the main spring winder. For those who don't know of this instrument of torture, it winds the spring into a cylinder that's just a tad smaller in external diameter than the internal diameter of the mainspring barrel.

mainspring winder 01.jpg

Here is the spring loaded on the arbor. It then gets put into the barrel at the end of the handle (you have to have different barrels and arbors for different watch sizes). Wind the spring in through in through the gap in the barrel..

mainspring winder 02.jpg

see the mainspring barrel just to the right of the spring. It's about 7mm across and 1.3mm deep.

mainspring winder 03.jpg

once the arbor is removed you put the tool end into the mainspring barrel and eject it with the rod that goes through the middle.

Oh - one thing I meant to mention is YouTube inspirations.

Wristwatch revival is an amateur who shows dozens of repairs in a particularly clear and well photographed way.

There's also the almost unnaturally happy Kalle from Chronoglide in Holland. Prolific with some very clear tutorials and live streams. I do wonder what sort of coffee shop he frequents, though!


roy entwistle29/05/2022 21:12:11
1551 forum posts

Have you tried 'The Nekid Watchmaker' videos ?


old mart30/05/2022 14:04:17
3908 forum posts
268 photos

The title made me smile, imagining a very small skip filled with tiny scrap. teeth 2

Martin W30/05/2022 16:59:10
921 forum posts
30 photos

For lost screws and springs a powerful rare earth pulled across the carpet will certainly recover some of the errant items plus a lot of bits of unknown origin. Just don't get it anywhere near the a tray of watch parts as it will likely cause chaos angry.

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