Horology is the art and science of time measurement. Professionals who make or repair timekeeping devices are called “horologists.”
Watchmakers who belong to the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI) are part of an organization of industry professionals that sets technical standards and encourages ethical practices. Watch makers who go the extra length to join the national trade association are displaying pride in their profession. They are also demonstrating the value they place on their reputation, integrity and professionalism.
Unfortunately the simple term certified watchmaker is not protected and can be used by anyone. An AWCI certified watchmaker, however, has passed a stringent certification exam given by the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI), the premier trade association for professional watch makers and clock makers. These professionals should adhere to the Standards and Practices set forth by the Institute. The first level of certification is known as CW21 which means “Certified Watchmaker of the 21st Century.” The top level of certification is known as CMW21 (“Certified Master Watchmaker of the 21st Century.”) These watch repair professionals are required to maintain their certification by taking continuing education courses.
You’ll find certified watch makers in your area on the Member Directory.
Most mechanical watches should be serviced every 3 to 5 years. Some manufacturers recommend as much as 8 to 10 years between services.
The majority of quartz watches on the market are made from inexpensive materials and built to be disposable items. In contrast most mechanical watches are built to last for generations. Mechanical watches are built from durable materials like steel, brass, and ruby. The basic mechanical principles will never change and the technology to maintain and repair mechanical watches is here to stay. An inexpensive quartz watch can easily be more accurate than a mechanical watch. Many mechanical watches, however, a works of fine craftsmanship.
Often a mechanical watch is more expensive than a quartz watch. This is because mechanical watches are made from more expensive materials like steel, brass, and rubies. Unlike quartz watches which are machine assembled, mechanical watches are usually hand-assembled and often adjusted, regulated and finished by hand. A mechanical watch is a machine with artistic touches.
The jewels in a watch are small bearings. The pivots (or axles) of the gears rotate in a hole drilled in the center of the jewels. Ruby is chosen for its resistance to wear and ability to take a very fine polish which results in very small amounts of friction. The jewels make a watch run more efficiently and last longer.
An automatic, or self-winding, watch is a mechanical spring driven watch which captures the motion of the wearer to wind a spring. Inside the watch is an eccentric weight that rotates from the wearer’s movement turning gears which wind the spring. When worn every day an automatic watch does not need to be hand wound. Most automatic watches can also be wound by hand and if the watch has been at rest and come to a stop it is a good idea to wind the watch using the crown before placing it on the wrist.
A watch is a tiny machine with components which can wear out with use. During a routine service of a watch, the watchmaker cleans out old and dirty oils replacing them with fresh clean oil. The watchmaker will also examine each component and replace any damaged components. Perhaps the most important part of the service is when the watchmaker replaces all of the gaskets and seals in the watch case which protect the movement from dust and moisture. The servicing of the case prevents catastrophic failure and very expensive repairs later on.
There are several reasons to service your watch, even if you don’t wear it regularly. Whether you are wearing the watch or not, the oils inside are aging and losing their effectiveness and the gaskets which protect the movement are aging and drying out.
Service prices vary widely based on the complexity of the watch, the cost of components from the manufacture, and the business expenses in the area where the watchmaker has their business. Usually an independent watchmaker with a relationship with a manufacture will be less expensive than sending the watch directly to the factory service center. Proper service takes lots of training and should not be rushed. An expensive service may seem like a great deal initially but you may pay for it in the long term.
A mechanical watch will not keep perfect time. While they are very precise they are still machines which operate in harsh conditions. A watch which loses or gains as much as 20 seconds per day is still 99.99% accurate. A certified chronometer should not lose more than 4 seconds per day or gain more than 6 seconds per day. Some watches are more accurate. If when you go to correct the date at the end of the month you find that your watch is off by more than 5 minutes you should probably have a watchmaker look at it.
You may have heard someone tell you that Rolexes never keep time. This is a myth. They don’t keep perfect time and you can’t possibly compare them to the accuracy of quartz watches, but the modern Rolex (made after 1950) can be regulated such that it is incredibly accurate as far as mechanical watches are concerned. The factory standards for a Rolex require that it not gain more than about 5 seconds per day (3 minutes per month) and they are capable of even better when serviced by a skilled watchmaker.
** AWCI is not affiliated with Rolex USA
The best watch is the one that appeals to your senses. Some watches hold their value better than others. Some watches are amazing works of art. Some watches can withstand tremendous abuses. Not all watches are created equally. The most important thing is that you enjoy the watch.
Your watch should fit comfortably, so that you can enjoy it. Wearing a watch too lose will cause it to get scratched easily and if it is an automatic wristwatch, wearing it loose may mean it doesn’t wind very well. Typically the bracelet should be snug enough that it doesn’t rotate on the wrist and not so tight that it leaves a mark.
Watch winders are designed to keep automatic watches running when you are not wearing them. They are not necessary. They are no worse for a watch than wearing it normally and no better for the watch than keeping it in the drawer. Unless the watch has some unusual complications that make the watch cumbersome to set you can simply wind and set the watch when you decide to wear it.