• mikeblazer

What do you mean, "It's not supposed to look that way..."?!?

Updated: Jul 5, 2020

I'm not one to get frustrated easily. Earlier this week, I was performing a restoration service during which I had to poise (rebalance by adjusting the mass or remove material from) a balance wheel. This is a tedious process where one is constantly spinning a balance wheel on a little poising tool, looking for a heavy spot. It's been a while since I've done a staffing job, so it took me a little over an hour. My wife was flabbergasted at how I could sit there focusing on something so minute for so long; I love living within the millimeter... but I digress.

What frustrates me to the nth degree is dealing with previously negligent repairs. Yes, I said negligent. What does negligence consist of? (1) Scratched parts, (2) excessive oiling, not replacing rusting parts, not replacing parts that are functionally defective and (3) general lack of cleanliness. On a good note, this post serves as a decent lead-in to my qualifications post that I hope to send out on Sunday, February 2nd.

Below are some visual examples of negligence that I am in the middle of correcting on an Omega caliber/movement 1120 - I will keep the model and serial number confidential out of respect for the client. Most of the pictures will be followed by pictures of another well preserved 1120 that I am servicing for a different client.

Scratch marks all over an oscillating weight. There is a special set of tools required to replace the ball bearing assembly on oscillating weights. We at House of Time have invested into these tools to prevent such damage. For goodness gracious, if one does not have the tool to do the job the right way, they shouldn't be performing the service!

Scratch marks all over an oscillating weight

Here's is the other, well-preserved 1120 that I am also servicing; one that was not abused by a previous... individual. The differences to me are as clear as night and day.

Oscillating weight

Next we have an amazing image of "precision lubrication" as it has been applied via a butter-knife. With the amount of butter... err, I mean grease... applied to the setting mechanism, we can be sure that those specific areas will never corrode.

Precision lubrication gone very wrong

True precision lubrication for Swiss timepieces requires professional watchmakers to lubricate (or lubrificate as the Swiss refer to it), means that oil or grease is applied ONLY where it is needed, in a specific amount, so as not to spread to areas where function could be affected. If you look closely, you can see a minuscule amount of grease/oil creeping up onto the parts, but not the filthy mess that is demonstrated in the previous picture.

Precision lubrication for a Swiss watch

The next few pictures show dirt, hair and scratches on parts that were handled in an inexcusable manner with no regard for cleanliness in the least. I won't comment on each individual picture because the carelessness is obvious and appalling.

Dirt, hair and scratches on the mainspring barrel of swiss watch
Dirt, hair and scratches on this swiss watch
Dirt, hair and scratches

Alright... you've read this far... now is time for the cardinal sin. Everything else above can be cleaned or replaced. Torn up oscillating weight? No problem, we'll order a new one. Scratched mainspring barrel as you can see on the cover photo and three pictures up? All good; we can get one of those. Dirt all over the movement? It's ok, we'll clean it up.

No, no, no. The most profound, gut-check, "this person lacks even the basics of how to sharpen a screwdriver blade" skills, is the damage caused on and near ever single screw in this movement. Using a screwdriver blade that is either too sharp or too wide to consistently damage ever screw recess is beyond unprofessional - it's unforgivable.

Damaged screw heads on this Swiss watch
Damaged screw heads on this Swiss watch
damaged screw heads on this Swiss watch
Damaged screw heads on this Swiss watch

In case you are having a hard time seeing damage, here is a side by side comparison of the same area on both movements.


Damaged screw heads on this Swiss watch


screw heads on this Swiss watch

Here is what screws and screw wells should look like. Some light deflection of the metal on the screw head is often unavoidable and often accepted by official service facilities because of how tightly the screws should be tightened. However, the screws should be clean, free of burrs or debris and other functional/aesthetic imperfections.

Screw heads on this Swiss watch

Conclusion, watchmaking is NOT a commodity. If you believe you are "getting a great deal" on your service, it's time to start asking simple questions:

What are your watchmaker's qualifications? --- Do they have any formal schooling? Did they train as an apprentice? When was they last time they attended ANY industry training? Continuing education is as important for a watchmaker as it is for a doctor. Investing into one's knowledge is equally important as investing into their tweezers or equipment.

What does his workshop look like? --- Is it clean? Free of clutter? Is their workbench neat and tidy? Is your timepiece being sent off-site? Is it being worked on by someone working out of their kitchen (true story)?

Are they using professional tools? --- Are their tools made by Witschi, Bergeon, Horia or VOH or are they using inexpensive India or Chinese made knock-offs?

Do they use original parts? --- Is the shop willing to return the old parts? Why not? If so, from where do they get their original parts? Can they prove the origin? Your service should include basic parts, such as a mainspring (sometimes mainspring barrel complete), reverser wheels, ball bearing assembly, gaskets, and such. If you are paying for new hands, aren't you still the owner of the old ones? Sometimes, major components such as complete oscillating weights, dials and movement bridges are required to be exchanged by the manufacturer, so requesting major parts could be denied.

How are their communication skills? --- Can they explain what they are doing? Can they explain why they are doing it? Are they able to name their cleaning solution and lubricants off the top of their head?

How long is their lead time? --- Do they have a lead time of 3-4 weeks or longer because of a back log of work or parts delays? This is not a bad sign. Diagnosing, parts ordering, repairing and quality controlling (a.k.a. the industry standard or general good work) takes time and should not be rushed. Is their lead time 1 week or less because they are performing a "simple COA - Clean/Oil/Adjust"? COA's are a cheap, antiquated business practice that leads to long term problems for the client. Worn out parts are not replaced, but re-used because of lack of spare parts access or a lack of willingness to replace them.

Does the watchmaker/workshop completely dismantle the movement and inspect every part? A complete dismantle is utterly important for proper cleanliness and inspection/replacement of parts. For this one, I will let my picture speak for itself - for your reference, the diameter of the 1120 is a tad larger than that of a U.S. Quarter:

A complete dismantle is utterly important for proper cleanliness and inspection/replacement of parts.


If by some miracle of God the last watchmaker who serviced this timepiece is reading this (Mr. PG364F217C...? if I correctly read your engraving on the inside of the case back), please do your customers a favor and get some professional help. Because of your work, I have to replace the mainspring barrel complete and oscillating weight, upping the repair price by about $300. I would replace all the bridges, too, except for the outlandish cost I would have had to pass on to the customer. A professional watchmaker is like a ninja; they are hired to get into the watch, fix the problem and put everything back the way it was without leaving a trace.

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