While a watch can be considered a decorative accessory, it is also a tool that needs cleaning and tuning from time to time to ensure its accuracy, looks, and longevity.
Read the Manual
Timepieces with chronographs or specialized complications, such as dual time functions or day-and-date subdials, can be complicated to set for the first time (or remember after several months of not using the function). The first resource you should turn to is the manual that came with your watch, and you should keep it for future reference, as well as warranty and service information.
If you have a watch with
automatic movement, the manual will also specify maintenance intervals. Should you lose your manual, be sure to check your manufacturer’s website as many provide downloadable PDFs.
The Case for Cleaning
Just as you wash your car to keep its exterior looking fine and protected from corrosion, you’ll want to periodically take a few moments to make sure your timepiece is a clean machine. Here’s a few tips for overall care and cleaning.
Wipe with a lint-free cloth and use a toothpick to extract dirt from crevices. If your watch is water-resistant, you can wipe it with warm water and mild soap, and dry it with a cloth.
After wearing in salt or heavily chlorinated water, rinse the watch in fresh water and dry with a soft, lint-free cloth.
Wipe your watch with a soft cloth after heavy perspiration.
A watch may have a scratch-resistant crystal, but no crystal is truly scratch-proof, so you shouldn’t toss your watch onto the dresser or into a drawer at the end of the day. It’s better to store or wrap it in a soft cloth before placing it down. The more care you take with the watch, the less scratches the watch will acquire. Replace broken or scratched crystals immediately. Even a hairline crack can let dust or moisture into the mechanism, threatening its accuracy. If you place the watch in a drawer with other jewelry, this too may scratch the watch, as it might rub against the other pieces. You might also store the watch in its original case since these cases are generally soft and made specifically for the watch.
Wash it in warm, soapy water and use a soft-bristled toothbrush to extract excess grime. Dry with a soft cloth.
To keep a leather strap looking its best, avoid submersion in water. If it does become wet, wipe it dry with a cloth. Never use a hairdryer.
In the summer, wear leather straps loosely to avoid absorption of perspiration (and to prevent perspiration rash on your wrist). Dry with a cloth, or let it dry in a well-ventilated spot.
No crystal, whether it be mineral or sapphire, is scratch-proof, so you should take care in storing your watch at the end of the day. Wrap it in a soft cloth for optimal protection.
If a crystal has even a hairline crack, replace it immediately.
Automatic watches require a bit more care than those with battery-powered quartz movements, as the self-winding mechanism is more complex. For one thing, an automatic watch is powered by the kinetic movement of your arm, and it will require winding if not worn for several days. Automatic watch mechanisms also benefit from continued movement to keep it calibrated and prevent lubricants from congealing. If you have more than one automatic watch that you switch between, you should consider a watch winder, a device that holds one or several timepieces and moves it in a circular fashion to emulate the human motion that keeps it ticking. They’re also a great way to display your watch collection. When choosing a watch winder, look for devices that have a “turn-and-rest” program, which stops the motor after a specified cycle of spins to more accurately emulate daily activity.
If you don’t wear your automatic watch daily and don’t have a watch winder, wind the watch twice a week and try to do it at approximately the same time of day. (A fully wound automatic watch will keep running for approximately 40 hours.)
Avoid wearing mechanical watches when playing high-impact sports or those that require continuous arm motion (such as tennis).
To help keep your watch protected from the elements:
- Never submerge even the highest rated water-resistant watch in a hot shower, sauna or hot tub. The extreme heat can cause the metal parts to expand at a different rate than the rubber gaskets. This creates small openings that can allow water droplets to penetrate the watch. Sudden temperature changes are especially harsh. Take care not to jump into a cold pool after wearing your watch in the hot tub.
- If your watch has a screw-down crown, make sure to screw it tightly into the watch case to help prevent any chance of water getting into your timepiece.
- After swimming or diving in salt water, immediately rinse the watch in a stream of fresh water. If your watch has a rotating bezel, turn the bezel several times while rinsing it. This will prevent salt buildup and corrosion of the bezel ring.
If you detect any moisture in the watch or the crystal begins to fog, take it to a service professional as soon as possible.
Leather straps can be made to be water-resistant too. Generally however, leather straps are more easily damaged by frequent exposure to water, so if you are going to wear your watch while swimming, think of buying one with a metal bracelet or a rubber or nylon diver strap.
Let the Professionals Handle It
While there are several things you can do on your own to ensure that your watch can be handed down to the next generation, you’ll need to turn to professionals for a few things.
While some metal bracelets can be sized on your own with the purchase of a sizing tool, a watch professional can take the stress out of it and help you size it correctly.
Changing batteries in quartz movement watches (about every two to three years).
If you notice your timepiece running slow or fast, bring it in to a professional for a tune-up that includes internal cleaning and oiling.