Whether you have invested thousands or merely hundreds on a mechanical watch, it will need looking after. When you buy a car, you automatically factor in the cost of regular servicing, but oddly this is practically never the case for watch purchases.
If it’s not digital or quartz powered, a watch is essentially a mechanism made of metal parts that move against each other or are under tension. These parts need to be lubricated to reduce wear. Worse still, worn parts can damage others, so, for the cavalier watch fan, you get to the point that once there’s a problem then the damage is already done.
An official Rolex service, for example, will start from £600 for a Submariner, but although older models are recommended to be professionally looked over every three years, a few years ago the company stated that new Rolexes only require servicing every ten years, which is a significant saving for careful owners.
There are large numbers of cheap kits on Amazon with all the tools you need to give a watch a full service yourself, of course. But should you? Don Cochrane, owner of Vertex watches, offers this sage advice. “It’s incredibly empowering to work on a watch, and it completely changes your relationship with it. You don’t need a lot of tools to do it, but it all goes back to the value,” he says, “because you don’t want to destroy a watch. The most important thing is the right tool to remove the case back, and then some quality magnifying glasses preferably with a light on.”
“But, realistically, don’t ever service a watch that you don’t want to then have to get re-serviced by a professional. It takes a long time to learn how all the bits go together,” he says. “Also, with all modern watches, the lubricants are synthetic and they’re much happier if they don’t get opened at all. The only possible reason for opening them is water ingress.” Water damage can get very costly if not dealt with quickly. If there’s a lot of moisture inside the case, parts can rust.
Is polishing your watch a wise idea? Maybe not. Firstly, a nice patina can add charm (and possibly value) to a piece. Second, if you want to try and remove small scratches from acrylic, mineral glass or sapphire then make sure you have the correct polish. But it’s hard work and results are not guaranteed. And as for deep scratches, forget it. PolyWatch has a number of options to try, but do be careful. We’d suggest getting an expert for this.
There are, however, two things you should definitely do with your watch. Clean it, and experiment with additional straps. Both can be done at home safely.
Cleaning is simple, easy and needs only a slightly damp microfibre cloth and toothbrush. Keep the lug spaces and the caseback clean. Not only will this keep your watch looking its best, it will stop it resembling the examples from which you cannot tear your gaze in the “Toxic Tuesday” stories on Roldorf’s Instagram. Check it out to experience the full horror of what gunk can lurk in a watch case and strap.
As for strap swapping, this is something of an increasingly popular trend. Not only are more and more quality third-party strap companies, such as Crown & Buckle, producing excellent alternatives, high-end watch brands are becoming wise to this lucrative market. Tudor has been offering leather, metal and NATO straps for years. Initially you got a selection two with the watch – either leather or metal, plus the NATO with each – now you pay extra.
“Changing a strap completely changes the watch, and it’s a brilliant thing to do. I can’t recommend it enough,” says Cochrane. “Also, it’s relatively straightforward. Even with an expensive watch, they’ll usually work on the same general principle. All you need to know is your lug diameter. Most watch lugs are 20mm in width, but some are 18 and some are 24. You just know to measure that space between the two.”
Then you will need a pin tool to put pressure on the end of the lug pin and push it back into its tube. Here we have gone for the Worn & Wound’s excellent Strap-Changing Multi-Tool, which can handle just about any situation.
“Do watch some online videos before doing this,” says Cochrane. “It’s not scary, but do try and get a lug tool rather than using a penknife. A lug tool will fit around the end of the lug pin. With a penknife you’ve got much more chance of it slipping off the pin and scratching your case.” Once you have it down, switching should take no more than five minutes at most.
When choosing a style of secondary strap, go for a pop of colour if the original is a metal bracelet. A top tip here is to look for hue clues on the watch face, then get something to match. Green Lume, or blue markers? Reference this in a NATO choice.
The classic black and white face of Omega’s new 2021 Speedmaster Moonwatch (from £5,100) means that it can take any colour with ease. While the brand has an extensive range of complementary Omega NATOs from which to choose, WIRED’s creative director has gone for the 3-stripe white, blue and red (£140) in our image above, but there are more than 50 others in the range. Crucially, it alters the look of the Moonwatch completely, effectively giving you two timepieces in one.
If you have a coloured dial, like on Glasgow-based Paulin’s stylish 38mm Neo C (£395), shown above, where each blue face is individually hand-dyed by artist Helen Swan, pairing it with Crown & Buckle’s monochrome Checker mélange Perlon strap dramatically alters the aesthetic. And it does so for just $16.
Essential watch maintenance kit
MagicFiber microfibre cloth
With microfibres 200 times thinner than human hair, MagicFiber’s cloths can cover 40 times more surface area than a regular rag. This is why they are so effective at wiping away fingerprints and dirt without the need for chemical products. What’s more, aside from your watch, they are good for cleaning smartphones, laptops, tablets etc as well as being washable and reusable.
Price: £9.26 (pack of 2) | Amazon
Worn & Wound Strap-Changing Multi-Tool
Possibly the best designed strap-changing tool we’ve found, W&W’s Multi-Tool in anodised aluminium consists of two capped ends, a knurled body and two reversible bits. On each bit is one standard strap-changing tip for spring bars, a poker (for drilled lugs) or a fork (standard lugs), as well as a flathead screwdriver. When having two screwdrivers is necessary for removing a lug bar, the multi-tool splits in half: one for bracing, the other for turning.
Price: $25.50 | Windup Watch Shop
More great stories from WIRED
💊 A dying child, a mother’s love and the drug that changed medicine
😷 Coronavirus vaccines are making some long Covid sufferers feel better
🎧 Upgrading your headphones on a budget? We tested all of Amazon’s cheapest sets
🔊 Listen to The WIRED Podcast, the week in science, technology and culture, delivered every Friday
👉 Follow WIRED on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn