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It is known that a cook uses knives for cooking. A carpenter, on the other hand, works with planes. We can also imagine that the tools and procedures required for work become increasingly finer as the objects to be crafted become more delicate and smaller. For luxury watches, there are countless, particularly delicate components, some of which are even thinner than a hair. To be able to work on these as well as the external components of a watch, a number of specialized watchmaking and polishing tools are required.

The processes and tools of a watchmaker

One special feature at Watchmaster is that when you purchase a pre-owned luxury watch, it has been refurbished in our in-house master workshop by experienced watchmakers. This means that the watches at Watchmaster have not only been serviced, but are restored to their original condition with craftsmanship and attention to detail. In this article, we would like to give you a brief look at the daily routine of the watchmakers and polishers in the Watchmaster master workshop and show you the care and tools that are required to restore a second-hand luxury watch to first-class condition.

Watchmaker opening a watch case

The first look at the insides of a watch

First of all, the case and the movement receive our attention. Once the case has been removed from the bracelet, the watch is first subjected to a number of inspections. The case is opened for the first time and, after the initial inspection, the watchmaker now checks the authenticity of the watch again. A case wrench with special inserts for different watch models or a small opening ball is used to loosen the case back. However, in addition to these devices, another important tool is also used: the trained eyes of the watchmaker.

Inspection for water tightness and rate accuracy

A test for water tightness is then carried out to check whether the watch still meets its specifications for water resistance. The second measurement is carried out on a timegrapher. This records the movement's beats with the aid of a microphone attached to the case. Since the stress on the movement varies according to the position of the watch, the test is carried out in six different positions, for instance, with the watch in a flat position with the dial facing upwards or in the crown position with the crown facing downwards. This allows a possible rate deviation to be calculated. Only with the most precise measurement devices can reliable readings be obtained, which the watchmaker needs to be able to optimally service a timepiece. The best and most exclusive measurement instruments which are used at Watchmaster are manufactured by the Swiss company Witschi. Even after these initial tests, the experienced master watchmakers can estimate what work needs to be done on the watch.

Leak test of a Rolex watch using a Witschi measuring machine

Watchmaker: The trade of a thousand tools

After measurements have been taken, the watch is opened again in order to correct any defects that may limit the movement's performance. Most often, these are deposits or wear in the mechanism that increase friction thereby impairing its ability. Problems of this type, particularly in the escapement, cause the watch to slow. The mainspring exerts a great deal of force on the escapement, which is why even the slightest irregularity can cause it to slow or stop. The most common work steps and relevant machines and tools used by watchmakers can be summarised as follows:

  • Opening the watch and uncasing the movement (screwdriver)
  • Removing hands and dial to access the movement (hand remover)
  • Disassembling the movement and visual inspection of all parts (screwdriver)
  • Washing the movement (washing machine), reassembling (screwdriver) and oiling the movement (oil pin)
  • Encasing and adjusting the movement (adjusting key)

If you look around a watchmaker's workbench, you will immediately find the numerous tools: screwdrivers, containers with oils, fine tweezers, holders and magnifying glasses. The finest watchmaking tools are manufactured by Bergeon. "Watchmaking is the profession of a thousand tools", they say. All doubts you might have will immediately disappear if you look at how many different sizes and gauges of screwdrivers are present. Incidentally, an interesting fact is that the screwdrivers are usually all flat-head, since almost no Phillips screws are used in luxury watches. A good way to quickly identify a fake watch is to take a look at the case back. Phillips-head screws can be an indication of a counterfeit watch.

Watchmaker's tools in a black case

Whether or not all of these tools are really necessary depends entirely on the watchmaker and their personal preferences. Over time, each one develops a unique way of overhauling watches by applying their personal experience. Naturally, there are always specific situations in which specialized tools are used. While the watchmakers work on perfecting the movement, the individual parts of the watch case and bracelet are sent on to the polishers.

The final touches on a watch

The next step is the milling and polishing process for the outer components of a watch. Here, the workplace is primarily populated with large, box-shaped polishing machines in which various discs are mounted, which are then used to work on the cases and bracelets. For many people, "grinding" might sound like a major procedure, but the objective of this process is to restore the worn watch as closely to its original condition as possible. Each watch presents different work requirements to the polishers.

The various finishes of luxury watches

To understand why grinding and polishing is a challenge in its own right, it is important to understand that watches can have very different finishes. We can best explain this with a specific example. Most people will be familiar with the Oyster bracelet by Rolex. The three-row metal bracelet consists of polished inner segments and satin-finished outer segments. In the case of the satin parts, one can see the grain or the direction of the grinding. This must be retained during the reconditioning process.

If a watch has already been overhauled and how well it was done can especially be seen in the joints between polished components. On a new bracelet, the edges between the links are still clear and distinct. However, before a part comes into contact with a grinding or polishing wheel, the polisher has to decide what needs to and can be ground or polished at all. Deep nicks, for example, cannot be ground away because too much material would have to be removed. It is also impossible to simply use the same polishing wheel for all parts of the watch. The first step is usually to use coarse grinding wheels made of rubber which have been treated with corundum. Corundum is a mineral that is the preferred abrasive in industry due to its hardness and resistance to abrasion. These hard particles are used for grinding on steel-hard surfaces.

Grinding a steel watch case to remove signs of wear

Everything necessary for polishing

After coarse traces of wear have been removed by grinding, the roughened surface is then treated with softer polishing wheels. Unlike the grinding wheels, the polishing wheel is not made of rubber or felt, but of a large number of extremely thin cloths. The polishing wheel is only used in combination with certain polishing pastes. These are comprised of various polishing minerals and a base that creates the bond between the polishing agent and the polishing wheel. There are also a variety of pastes for coarse to fine polishes.

Polishing a blue bezel of a Rolex Submariner 116613LB watch

The character of a watch is determined by its shape and craftsmanship. It is essential to take this into account when grinding and polishing. For instance, where does the case have edges and what did they look like in their original condition? How were the joints designed? Which areas are satin or polished? Polishers must be able to consider these factors and keep them in mind during their work so that a pre-owned luxury watch can achieve the best possible finish and shine again like new.

A final inspection of all watches

At Watchmaster, a luxury watch goes through a final quality check in our watchmaking workshop to ensure that everything functions as it is supposed to. This means that every watch is put through its paces once again, confirming its water-resistance and accuracy with the Watchmaster certificate and a two-year guarantee.