A common question is how often should a watch be cleaned and oiled? Back in the day, the recommendation was every year or two. Today's watches are more robust than vintage watches and most manufacturers of fine watches recommend you get your watch overhauled every 3-5 years.
You might be tempted to only have your watch looked at if it starts acting up. I would suggest doing that, or every 5 years, whichever is less, with the exception of if you ever see water get inside. Then I'd suggest you get it checked our earlier.
Anyway, although I have seen my fair share of vintage Hamiltons, I actually have a handful of modern Hamiltons too. Modern Hamiltons are a bit pricey but they are my go-to watches when I don't want to expose a vintage watch to whatever environment I will be in... for example, if I go camping, go to the beach, play golf, etc.
Some of the benefits of a high quality modern watch are...
- They are well protected... if you drop them they will likely be undamaged and keep working
- They offer sapphire crystals... very hard glass that is tougher to scratch than mineral glass or plastic.
- They're larger and offer more wrist-presence, if that's your thing.
- They're very precise... modern watches have a beat rate of 28,800 beats per hour or more instead of 18,000 that vintage watches use.
Some of the downsides are...
- They're expensive and most retailers don't tell you what the cost of maintenance is going to be.
- You have to be careful to not be fooled by replicas.
- They don't have the same mystique of a vintage watch. There's something to be said for wearing a watch that's older than you.
- Some modern watch companies have anti-competitive policies and will only sell parts to watchmakers they have trained and "certified". So if you want to buy a replacement crystal or crown... too bad, you'll need to find a middle man. Independent watchmakers are being shut out of their profession - and that's a real shame. Imagine if you could only buy spark plugs or tires for your car from the dealer?
I realized the other day that my watch is probably due for an overhaul. I bought it used and I've had it for a few years. So I figured it would be a good opportunity to show you what today's mechanical watches look like relative to a vintage watch.
My watch looks "like new". It has a replacement strap but otherwise looks perfect. It has an olive drab dial and the design is a nod to the Vietnam-era military watches, although it's much larger with a 38mm width.
The back is marked with all sorts of information and the H694190 is the model number of this watch. That would be needed if you wanted to buy parts from someone authorized to get them from Hamilton.
Unscrewing the case back, there's another number inside. I have no idea what this number means.
There's a dust shield and a rubber o-ring protecting the movement from the elements. This reminds me of WWII military models.
The movement inside is a Calibre 2804-2, made by ETA. This looks like a bigger version of the Hamilton 674 used in the Dateline models. A plastic movement ring secures the movement in the case.
The stem is held in place with a push detent instead of a screw. You push it down to release the stem and crown and can then pull the movement out.
Flipping the movement over, there are two levers that hold the dial feet in place. You need to pry them out so they're not pushing on the feet. Then the dial can come off (of course you have to pull the hands first).
There's a ring under the dial that helps hold the date wheel in place.
The dial-side of the main plate looks familiar... very similar to the 674 with a couple of exceptions. Mainly, the stem has three positions... winding, time setting, and date setting in between.
I took lots of pictures - partly to show you how the process goes and partly to show me too, so I can put it back together if I get into trouble. In this shot the keyless works has been exposed so I can remove the parts on the right side of the movement.
Now the keyless works is gone and I can turn my attention to the calendar complication on the left side. I know from experience that there are some springs involved here so I want to be very careful and not lose anything when I take the cover off.
I decided to go into my light tent for this part and I'm glad I did. I didn't lose anything though and this design actually has a nicer spring set up for the wheel index... it's much harder to lose than the 1960s design.
With the front cleared of parts, I'll turn the watch over and remove the balance jewels by freeing the shock protecting spring.
With the balance out of the way you can see the main plate is stamped with ETA's logo and 2804-2, denoting the calibre of the movement.
There's another spring under the ratchet wheel. You have to be careful not to lose this part too.
Once the barrel bridge is out of the way, you can see the golden colored hack mechanism. This watch hacks, or stops, when you set the time - another nod to military field watches.
With the train bridge removed, this shot looks like any other 1960's ETA movement... well, maybe not the pallet bridge but the rest sure does.
The other balance jewels need to come out too.
Alright, everything is taken apart and ready to be cleaned in the ultrasonic.
The first parts to go back on are the main plate balance jewels and then the train wheels.
Next goes the pallet fork, mainspring barrel and the hack lever.
The movement is now ready to be wound a few times and I can put the balance on next.
Once the other balance jewels are installed the watch is now running very briskly. The 28,800 beat rate is noticeably faster than a vintage watch. If this was a 1960's watch I would be very concerned.
The watch is running a smidgen slow but it's nowhere near fully wound so I'll wind the watch fully and check it again.
That's pretty much right on the money in my book.
The parts for the date complication and the keyless works go back on now.
The date wheel goes on last - and then the dial can go back on.
Oops! Almost forgot the little ring that goes over the date wheel.
Then the dial can go on - here's what the dial feet look like.
I seat the dial using the movement holder to keep the movement secure.
Then I can push the levers back into movement and lock the dial feet in place.
The last parts to go back on are the first parts that came off - the hands.
And here's the finished project... it looks just as good as it did when I started. However, now I know it's good to go for several more years. Feels a little like changing the oil in your car... you know it's the right thing to do to keep the car running like new.