Feature: 5 Things You Must Never Do With Your Watch
If the digital age has taught us anything, it’s that there’s something unquestionably appealing about analogue. Whether its hi-fi, photography, cars or watches, being in control of a machine with moving parts that we can manipulate and understand is inherently satisfying. But as technology moves forward, knowledge of the old ways wanes, some of it to be lost forever. It is our responsibility to pass that knowledge on to new generations of aficionados, our duty—so with that in mind, here are five things you must never do with your mechanical watch.
Change Date At Midnight – Graham Chronofighter RAC Trigger 2TRAB.B01A
To most people living around technology, getting hold of an accurate date is as hard as lifting up a phone or tablet, but that kind of complacency doesn’t just affect the most tech-savvy; even for people who still enjoy the beat of a balance wheel, a self-changing date is something of a modern convenience.
Truth is, mechanical watches have only been imbued with a self-changing date since the 1940s, and a quick-change date for even less time than that. What’s the difference, you might be wondering: firstly, the self-changing date is the one that ticks over at around midnight, advancing the date window forward by one day to hopefully—assuming the next day isn’t the first after a thirty-day month—display the correct date.
Five times a year, however—plus the times you let your watch run down and the date falls out of sync—the date window will need to be adjusted. There was a time when this had to be done the long way, spinning the hands around the dial twenty-four hours to click the date wheel forward one number. That’s a bit of a pain, though, and so the quick-set date function was created to address that minor inconvenience.
This feature offers the ability to slip through the dates with ease to select the number of your choosing with utmost expediency. Problem is, and you probably won’t have seen this because you’ll have been asleep: most date changes don’t happen instantly. Well, some happen instantly, snapping from one number to the next at the stroke of twelve, but being a mechanism of slow-moving gears and wheels, most take about four hours to fully transition.
What this means is that, while the date wheel is engaged with the mechanism and changing, an adjustment with the quick-set feature could damage the driving teeth and even shear them off completely. For most watches it’s advised to avoid using the quick-set date between 10pm and 2am; your watch’s manual will confirm. Here’s a tip: if you’re unsure whether your watch is showing morning or evening, advance the hands until the date changes and you’ll be calibrated to midnight.
Put Near A Magnet – U-Boat Thousands of Feet MB 1918
If you’ve ever had one of those tickets with a black strip on it and found, after a period in your pocket, that the ticket machine spits it straight back out again, you’ll have experienced the effects of magnetism. Like the precursor to the precursor of digital music, the cassette tape, these tickets use magnetism in that strip to store information about whatever it is you’re trying to access, and whether or not it’ll let you in.
It’s obvious at the point the machine tells you to speak to a member of staff that something has failed, and you know the ticket should work because you spent five minutes arguing with the cashier about it—so what happened? Technology, that’s what happened. The tiny speakers in your phone contain magnets, and they’re responsible for stripping your ticket of data and the subsequent altercation with the ticket inspector.
And these little speakers with their little magnets are everywhere, and they’re bad news for your watch. More and more watches are being manufactured with anti-magnetic alloys and materials, but there are far more that have no resistance to magnetism whatsoever. A watch relies on such a delicate balance of motion to run, and so something as invasive as magnetism can cause utter chaos.
The effect occurs primarily with the hairspring, the fine coil of wire that dictates how far the balance wheel can bounce in and out, the regulation that determines the speed at which the watch runs. At barely one hundredth of a millimetre thick, it doesn’t take much to alter its behaviour. When it becomes magnetised, it binds together, unable to separate the fifteen or so turns in the coil; this effectively shortens the spring, makes the beat faster, speeding the watch up by a considerable amount.
If it does happen, though, don’t worry too much—you can get your watch demagnetised at your nearest retailer and it’ll go right back to normal.
Wear Over Clothing – Rolex GMT-Master II 116749 SABLNR
The next ‘never do’ is as simple as this: unless you’re an active diver or astronaut, you must never, ever, ever wear your watch over the top of your clothing. Just don’t do it, please.
Use A Chronograph Underwater – Zenith Defy Xtreme Open Stealth 95.0527.4021/02.M530
Since forever, watchmakers have been devising ways to make their watches more and more impervious to foreign objects. Dust and moisture in a movement is a recipe for disaster, binding it together, slowing it down and rusting it solid. Best to keep them separate.
For day-to-day use, worn under a sleeve or in a pocket, this is no great challenge; short of having the movement completely exposed, a simple covering is enough to keep a movement lint-free and serviceable for many years, but with the advent of underwater exploration, good enough just wasn’t good enough.
Water has a nasty habit of being able to make its way into almost anything, free-moving molecules capable of finding and exploiting even the smallest of vulnerabilities—and stopping that takes a whole lot of thought.
From the early twentieth century, watchmakers tasked themselves with overcoming this challenge, refining designs from clunky housings that fully encompassed the watch to the watch itself becoming the waterproof housing. This was achieved with compression seals, bound tight with precise screw-threads; this is why you have to unscrew the crown on your dive watch before you can set the time.
The matter perhaps isn’t so clear with the chronograph. We know that unscrewing the crown underwater would spell disaster, but the same isn’t quite so widely understood of chronograph pushers. You’ll note on some divers that the pushers have an outer sleeve that requires unscrewing before use—that’s not to seal the pusher, rather to lock it, the spring-loaded button already watertight in the resting position.
So, unless your chronograph is one of the very few that can be used below the waves, or you’re happy with your watch taking on water, then best leave the chronograph alone when submerged.
Be Mechanically Unsympathetic - Bvlgari Diagono Professional Aria GMT40SVD
It’s generally understood that the smaller something is, the more care it needs to be treated with—think a model aeroplane, a piece of jewellery, children—but in a time of touchscreens and wireless charging, the art of mechanical sympathy can be easy to forget.
Mechanical sympathy isn’t simply a technique or an understanding; it’s a way of life. It’s a sensitivity, a feeling, a delicacy that reads what can’t be seen through the lightest of touches. Mechanical sympathy can be executed with the merest brush of the fingertips, and even with the potent stroke of a hammer. What mechanical sympathy isn’t is forcing something in a way it shouldn’t until it breaks.
If you can shut a door without it slamming, run up a set of stairs without stomping, crack an egg without dispensing it all over the counter—you have mechanical sympathy. If you can’t, and you want your mechanical watch to stand a good chance of lasting, you should learn.
Unlike a modern digital device, which uses electrical signals to impart information, a mechanical watch enacts a command by the physical interaction of moving parts in sequence. Be that changing the date, adjusting the time, rotating the bezel or screwing down the crown, mechanical sympathy is required to judge the execution of the input.
Go too fast, use too much force, screw too tight, and you could end up with a problem. Take your time, feel the mechanism, and you’ll learn to understand how it works, what its limitations are. If you own a mechanical watch in this day and age, chances are that’s because you admire the mechanism inside and the history it brings with it; why not give it the respect it deserves?
Now you know what not to do with your watch, it’s up to you to decide what you can do with it. Whether you go diving, flying, exploring, adventuring, or wear it at your desk in front of your computer—make sure you enjoy it and appreciate it. It’s more than worth it.
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