13 May 2017

Watchmaker repairing a vintage Huguenin watch

Cheap mechanical watches are often not worth repairing - unless the watchmaker offers to do it for free!

By In Gear, Make, Style 4 min read

You may remember that I bought a vintage Huguenin watch, a test to see if smaller dressy watches in gold-colored cases would be something I’d enjoy wearing. So good news: I loved this watch, and the smaller size and gold color fit me very well. Bad news: After a few months the watch started running extremely badly. The watch would suddenly stop running, requiring a firm tap on the case to get it ticking forwards again.

The problem with cheap watches like these is that it’s just not worth it to repair them. A watchmaker is not cheap, and you’re basically paying their hourly rate to repair a watch. If you’ve got a Rolex worth a few thousand dollars it’s no problem, but for this scenario… not really.

Luckily, a fellow forum member offered to give it a shot! He just finished his watchmakers degree in his spare time and relished the thought of practicing on someone else’s watch – for free. That sounded like a deal to me. And not only did he repair it, he also took a lot of pictures for me of the process!

First he put the watch on a timegrapher, a device that analyses the deviations of the watch movement. The diagram on the screen is supposed to be straight line with an amplitude of about 270 and a rate that should be as close to 0 as possible. As you can see the watch is performing quite badly – the beat error is so large that the timegrapher can’t even display a number for it.


Time to pop the back and take a look inside. The movement turns out to be an old ETA 1100 a movement that has not been made for a very long time now.


Removing the movement from the top case reveals the flecks of dirt on the dial, lying on top of the more elegant patina.


Under a microscope you can see that the dirt isn’t just on top of the dial, it’s also all over the inside of the movement. It’s not extremely dirty, but it’s definitely not clean.


A closer look at the jewels reveals dried oil, which has long since stopped lubricating the jewels. The movement is supposed to have nearly friction-free movement in these purple jewels, but that hasn’t been the case for ages.


The least of my problems, but still interesting to note, the gasket that keeps the watch watertight has deteriorated to the point where it probably does absolutely nothing. The old gasket is on the right, the one on the left is the replacement – spot the difference.


It turns out the movement wasn’t just dirty, it was also broken. The part that gives you haptic feedback that you’ve set the crown to the set or the wind mode? Broken off.


Luckily, a replacement part could be sourced. The ETA 1100 hasn’t been made in ages, but some companies dismantle old movements for their parts to sell as spares for repairs like these.


The view of the entire watch in pieces is actually kind of impressive.


When you take a close-up view of those gears you really appreciate the detail and intricacy that goes into these mechanical movements. Those things are precision instruments.


After a good cleaning the watch movement is reassembled and put back on the timegrapher to see if all that tender love and care made a difference to the timekeeping abilities.


Actually, that looks a whole lot better. The rate is almost down to 0, the amplitude has gone back up – not 270 but not too far off – and the beat error doesn’t just register anymore, it’s also at a good 0.0ms. Not a bad result!


Time to start reassembling the entire watch. The dial and hands go back on.


And then the whole thing is put back in its case.


Which means it’s now back in my possession and running smoothly on my wrist again!

Vintage Huguenin dresswatch, back from service

Thank you so much Peter! It’s awesome that you could fix this one up for me.

(Original post in Dutch)

What do you think?