How to Fix a Watch

Watches are more than a device that tells time.  They are treasured items that may have been a gift, family heirloom or just the perfect fashion accessory.  Being that watches are a mechanical device, at some point in time they will slow down or stop working and need some attention.  Knowing how to fix a watch will depend on what happened to it. Whether it was dropped, got wet, buttons are sticking or it no longer functions, each problem requires different methods and actions to fix.  Some problems are easy to fix while others are more complex and depending on your mechanical aptitude, you may be able to fix your watch or you may have to take it to be repaired.

While they are many common reasons a watch does not perform as it should, it is usually not difficult to diagnose the problem.  Before spending a lot of money with a repair shop for something you may be able to easily fix yourself, take a look below at some of the more common causes of a poorly performing/non-operational watch.  Please be aware that the advice given is generic, as we are not diagnosing your actual issue.  The actual steps of how to fix your watch may be different than our suggestions as well as your ability to fix the problem and as such we don’t take responsibility for any problems that may arise.  If in doubt, be sure to take your watch to a repair shop to not inflict any further damage.

Common Reasons for a Watch to Perform Poorly or Stop Working

The Battery
If your watch stops ticking, the most common reason is due to a dead battery.  Watch batteries will typically last about two years (there are several factors that will affect how long a watch battery will last, but check out when to replace a watch battery), so it’s easy to forget they will need to be changed.  Watch battery replacement costs are pretty minimal and fortunately it’s the most common reason a watch stops working.

Factors that impact how long a watch battery will last include:

  • The capacity of the battery. A larger battery will last longer.
  • Digital vs mechanical watch. Most digital watches will last longer as they do not have mechanical gears to rotate.
  • How often do you use the extra functions? For example, using the chronograph function often will cause the battery to run out faster than not using it.
  • Extreme temperatures. Will cause more strain on a battery, just like your car battery.

While this may sound counter intuitive, even if you do not wear your watch often, it is better to keep it running so the watch stays moving and lubricated.  A watch that is stopped for a length of time will cause the lubricants to harden, causing friction that may eventually damage your watch.

If your watch stops working and a battery change does not cure the problem, all may not be lost as the contacts may simply need to be adjusted to provide continuous contact with the battery.  This is typically best left to a professional to keep any further damage from happening.

Also if your watch is designed for diving, you will either want to take it to the shop or purchase a new gasket to keep water from getting into the watch.

Fortunately it’s getting easier to tell when a battery needs to be replaced as many newer watches have a function where the second hand skips to let the wearer know.

Water Damage
Even a single drop of water can stop a watch from working.  Water can come from many sources like the sink or a puddle but careful attention needs to be paid in wet environments where there is a rapid temperature change such as a sauna, hot tub or cold pool.  This change may momentarily decrease the waterproof ability of the watch and let water in.  Also, if the air under the glass is cooled quickly, condensation may occur.  While this is rare, water can get into the watch and damage it. What makes water so dangerous to watches is that water will create rust on the internal moving parts. This rust creates extra friction that will eventually destroy the gears.  While your watch may be waterproof, seals do get old and fail, resulting in water getting into the watch and causing damage.

If your watch gets wet and stops working, open the case or place it in a sealed bag with rice or desiccant packets as soon as possible and let it completely dry and see if it starts again.     If after allowing the watch to dry and it doesn’t start working again, the battery may have been damaged due to the water.  If allowing the watch to dry and changing the battery revives the watch, there is still a chance long-term damage from rust may occur and it needs to be looked at by a professional.

For cleaning a watch, a good rule of thumb is that if it has a water resistance rating greater than 50m you can use a small amount of soap and water to clean it, otherwise use is a soft cloth and a dry toothbrush to clean between the links.

Watches are complex and finely tuned machines.  Knowing how to fix a watch typically involves proper cleaning and lubrication to keep it performing at its best.  Common issues resulting from a lack of maintenance include a button stuck on the watch and when a watch is not accurate.  Figure on having your watch serviced every 3-5 years for best performance.

Physical Damage
When a watch is dropped or bumped, the internal workings may be damaged (typically the balance staff or axle) or the glass is scratched or cracked.

An easy sign that the watch is damaged internally is when shaken and you hear a loose piece inside the watch, it needs to be repaired and likely going to be expensive.

If the face is scratched or cracked your best bet is to take it to a shop as changing the glass is difficult on most watches.

Last, some other areas of damage include fixing an overwound watch and crown and stem replacement.

Knowing how to fix a watch can be a skill that is both enjoyable (especially if you get into collecting, refurbishing vintage watches, and/or fixing watches that others think are beyond repair and need simple maintenance) which can save you a lot of money.