Mechanical watches are marvels of engineering and design. Crammed into a very small package are all the things needed to acquire and store energy, then release that energy in a highly precise fashion to create a means of measuring time.
Mechanical watches have their charms, but they also have their peculiarities. While watches are built to tolerate a wide variety of conditions and occurrences (they have to be to survive on the average person’s wrist!), not all watches are equally tolerant, and of course, as machines age issues can arise. Few timepieces on this site are less than 50 years old — indeed most are significantly older. Though we only deal in higher quality mechanisms, you should still try to exercise some care (and some sense!) in the handling of your watch.
We view vintage mechanical watches as wonderful little works of art. Styling and craftsmanship at this level are hard to find. These beautiful littles machines were built to last, and with just a bit of care, your vintage mechanical watch will easily last another 50+ years and please yet another generation of users.
How mechanical watches work
There are no batteries. Mechanical watches have to be wound — the physical act of winding the watch adds tension to a spring and thereby stores energy in the spring. Once the spring slowly unwinds, it propels a set of gears that move the hands. See our points below on winding and setting the mechanism.
What you should expect from your watch
If you are looking for a watch to wear in difficult environments or during hard manual labor or sports, the watches you will find on this site are not your best choice. If you are looking for a daily wear watch, some of the watches on this site will serve you excellently, others less so (and we tend to note in the descriptions which we feel are great for daily wear). On the other hand, if you are looking for a watch for special occasions, these watches are perfect — beautiful, functional and with a story behind each one. For the same reasons, they make great gifts.
Mechanical watches generally won’t keep time with the same level of accuracy as quartz watches. Most vintage watches will keep time to about plus or minus 2-5 minutes a day (Railroad grade watches and high-end pieces can do better). Expect to wind and adjust your watch on a daily basis.
Storing your watch
No special requirements relate to the normal day-to-day storage of your watch. The finishes of the watches are meant to deal with handling and usage. We always recommend that you wipe down your watch after you take it off, but this is not a requirement. If you plan on storing the watch for long periods, take care to protect them from humidity and direct sunlight; over time these environmental factors can affect the appearance and performance of most watches.
Winding your watch
Most watches will need to be wound on a daily basis. Wind your watch until the crown (the winding knob on the side) stops. Do not be afraid to wind it until it stops turning, but be gentle once you feel it start to resist you and stop winding when the crown stops turning. You can wind the crown in a back and forth motion; one way winds the watch, the other does nothing. (Many people feel it’s just easier to wind when you go “back and forth”.)
Setting your watch
To set the time on your watch, grasp the crown with the thumb and forefinger and gently pull it away from the case — the stem will pop out a (very) short distance. Once you have pulled out the stem, you can turn it to move the hands and set the time. Once you have set the time, push the crown back in. If you have trouble pulling out the crown, try using your fingernails to get a better grip — don’t use metal objects that can mar the finish on your case.
Cleaning your watch
Cases can be cleaned with a soft dry cloth, preferably a jeweler’s cloth. If your case is really a mess, you can remove the movement and drop it into an ultrasonic cleaner — DO NOT drop a vintage watch with a movement into the ultrasonic! Use chemical cleaners only with great caution.
Servicing your watch
Have your watches serviced about every 2-5 years, depending mostly on how well the case seals and how you use it. Make sure the person working on it knows what they are doing.
Few vintage watches are truly water proof, dust proof or shock proof — regardless of what it says on the case! Do not shower with your watch on and do not submerge it in water. If your watch gets wet, take it to the jeweler the same day — do not wait! Watch parts can begin to rust almost immediately once they have lost their oil coating.
Mechanical watches really don’t like power tools or strong magnetic fields, so avoid those. Do your best to avoid dropping your watch, as this is the most common cause of damage to watch components and crystals. Note that if you crack or scratch your crystal, don’t dispair. Repair options and replacement parts do exist — simply visit a jeweler (one with a watch repair service!).