I Destroyed My Watch – You Should Too!

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When I was wide-eyed youth, I destroyed my first computer. And my second one. Taking them apart, trying to put them back together, and learning (usually the hard way) how things work helped me build the foundation for the skills I have today. Thirty years later, I’m a professional computer wizard, paid to write magic incantations to trick electrified rocks into doing my bidding. And it all started with a pile of junk in my bedroom . . .

Flash forward a few decades and I’m a watch nerd – for the same reason I’m a gun nerd and a pilot. I like systems. I like complex, complicated systems that work in perfect harmony to achieve a practical goal. I enjoy understanding what makes them tick (literally, in the case of a watch). Once I understand, I gain a new appreciation for that system.

That’s why I’ve always preferred mechanical watches over their quartz companions. Not because they are more expensive or more fashionable. Because they’re a self-contained miracle of engineering on my wrist performing a relatively mundane task. It’s the reason I really liked the Hamilton Jazzmaster Viewmatic – all that magic is on display in an attractive manner.

The problem for me: I never actually understood what was going on inside that case. It really was pure magic to me. A collection of gears and springs that I vaguely understood to be keeping time, but I didn’t really understand the mechanics.

Earlier this year I found a YouTube channel called Wristwatch Revival and I fell down the rabbit hole. Hard. By my count I’ve sunk about 31 hours of my life into watching this guy painstakingly disassemble, repair and reassemble mechanical watches of all types, learning everything I could about watch design and the internal mechanics of what’s going on. That’s not counting the countless other hours watching similar folks on YouTube do the same.

Watching someone take apart and service a watch on YouTube is one thing, doing it, another. I felt the need. Which brings me to the pile of junk currently in my office, which used to be a watch.

There’s a watch in my collection that I’ve had for almost a decade. It’s not anything exciting or interesting, just a generic watch that I bought from somewhere that uses a sourced Miyota movement and an A-11 style dial card in a nondescript stainless steel case. I liked it a lot, and wore it for quite a while. Its position in my lineup has been taken by a newer Hamilton Khaki Automatic that looks and feels much better. Add in the fact that after 10 years it’s in desperate need of a service and its value as a watch has pretty much gone to scrap value. Which is exactly what I needed.

Armed with a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers and some tweezers I cranked the caseback off the watch and for the first time in ten years actually saw the movement that had powered my companion. In that moment, staring at the back of the watch, I felt an intimacy with this mechanical object that I couldn’t have experienced any other way. Prodding at the automatic winding works, manually moving the bits and pieces, I was more connected with this timepiece than I’d been during a decade of wear.

Over the course of the day I carefully disassembled the watch, removing all of the screws and pieces, carefully arranging them on my desk to keep track of what went where. I’d decided I wasn’t going to try to clean and oil it; I just wanted to see if I could get inside and tinker without damaging anything.

Generally, the surgery were according to plan. A couple of tiny screws momentarily disappeared and flew out of sight, but at the end I had the watch in the state you see at the top of the article here, all laid out.

Putting things back together was a tougher challenge than I’d imagined. Getting gears to mesh together that are smaller than I could see with the naked eye was difficult – to say the least. At times, I relied on feeling and a gentle touch. In the end I finally got everything back into place.

There’s a feeling of pride and accomplishment that comes with doing something for the first time. That same feeling I had the first time I flew solo. When I felt the train bridge finally settle into place, after correctly positioning all of the gears and getting them running again, I was elated. This is what the watch looked like at the end of the day — back in one piece.

But not running.

I’m probably going to need to open up the back a few times before the watch can actually run. I’m guessing I broke a couple things along the way. The keyless winding works is probably the biggest challenge; I think I mangled the gears trying to get it all to come together. The rotor will wind the watch but not the crown. I think I may have also put the pallet fork in upside down. Likely fixable issues.

Even if those issues never get resolved, the experience of opening up a watch and tinkering with it was well worth being one watch down in my collection. That feeling of learning new concepts and applying them to a practical situation feels like a capstone to my introduction to mechanical watches, kinda like Luke Skywalker building his lightsaber. The moment of moving from theory into practice, proving your understanding of a subject to yourself and providing an experience you can draw on in the future.

This won’t be the last time I destroy a watch. Or, at least, turn a runner into a non-runner. Hopefully, at some point, I’ll start adjusting that win / loss ratio and put some runners back on the shelf. In the meantime, I highly recommend you try it as well. Just don’t be frustrated when things don’t work perfectly the first time, and start with something you’d be O.K. never putting on your wrist again.

1 COMMENT

  1. When you take things apart make notes and even drawings when necessary to help you put it back together again. That is how the professionals do it with something they might not fully understand. If I may suggest… start with pocket watches. The parts are larger…

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