Restoring Heirloom Timepieces: The Dos and Don’ts

Maintaining heirloom watches is a beautiful way to preserve memory. With proper care, these can last for generations
Restoring Heirloom Timepieces: The Dos and Don’ts
May 22, 2023
Restoring Heirloom Timepieces: The Dos and Don’ts

Harman Wadhwa is the founder and watchmaker of The Repair Hub, an independent after-sale service centre for luxury watches in New Delhi. He studied watchmaking at K&H Watchmaking Competence Centre in Le Locle, Switzerland, an independent watchmaking school where the learning experience was remarkable. This high-quality education  has in turn helped him work on all types of luxury watches in India. His team of certified watchmakers has been trained by authorised partners and they are equipped with state-of-the-art tools and machinery.

For many people, owning a watch is much more than just having a functional piece of jewellery. Watches are often passed down through generations and come to represent something special — a connection with the past and remembrance of those who have departed. That’s why so many people seek to restore timepieces that carry memories of their loved ones. I will share my experience and the process of restoring timepieces and discuss why preserving history is such a fulfilling experience for us. Let’s take a closer look at the craftsmanship involved in restoring cherished horological heirlooms.

Maintenance of Heirloom Watches

When it comes to watches, there are those that are passed down from generation to generation as heirlooms and then there are those that are well-made and meant to last a lifetime with proper maintenance. No matter which category or brand your watch belongs to, regular cleaning and servicing will keep it ticking for years to come.

If you have an heirloom watch, I advise getting it serviced regularly by a qualified watchmaker. Heirloom watches often have unique complications that require special care; a watchmaker will be able to spot any potential problem before it becomes a serious one. Maintenance of an heirloom watch is essential for preserving its value and preventing future repairs that can be a costly affair.

Even if your watch isn’t an heirloom one, regular servicing is still a good idea. Watches are delicate mechanisms; everyday wear and tear can facilitate accumulation of dirt and grime inside the watch’s movement. A professional cleaning every few years will remove any such build-up and help prevent damage to the internal components. Servicing also gives us a chance to inspect the watch for any potential problems, such as loose screws or worn gaskets. Early detection of these issues can save you money in the long run by preventing more serious damage. To keep your watch running optimally, vintage watches should be serviced every three years while those that are more modern can wait up to five years. Having the piece serviced periodically will ensure that your timepiece functions as expected. That is what I advise.

The Process of Restoring a Timepiece by a Qualified Watchmaker

Watchmakers will assess the wear and tear your timepiece has gone through and inspect its movement and other parts that need to be replaced. Upon completion of these tasks, a watchmaker will share an estimate with you. If requested, an experienced polisher can restore the case by removing dings and scratches so that it looks new again. The watchmaker then reassembles the watch with new parts and adjusts its timekeeping on a time-grapher for accuracy within the brand range. To ensure that it is water-tight, the watchmaker can supply fresh gaskets; the piece is then checked on a water-proofing machine to ensure that the watch remains protected from water and dust. A week-long test is usually run prior to delivery. Although this process can take some time, in the end, you will have the satisfaction of seeing your cherished heirloom looking as good as new once more and ready to be enjoyed for generations!

Restoring cherished heirloom timepieces is very rewarding for many watchmakers like me, yet it’s a challenging task when it comes to sourcing parts that have been discontinued by the brand concerned. At times, we have to manufacture the parts to make the timepiece work again and service it as per the brand guidelines. We have been given the responsibility of restoring such beloved pieces, so it is important for us to take care of the items in the best possible way. Restoring these treasured items of our customers brings back fond memories of their loved ones and this makes our work more enjoyable.


How can you wind an heirloom/vintage or modern timepiece?

To wind a vintage timepiece, start by finding the winding knob or the stem. This is usually located on the right side of the watch, near 3 o’clock.Turn the crown clockwise until you feel the force in resistance. Continue winding till the watch is fully wound.

If your vintage timepiece has a screw-down crown, make sure that it’s pushed out before you start winding. After winding, push the crown in properly, as water may seep into it, thereby damaging the watch.

Once you have finished winding your vintage timepiece, set the time by turning the crown counterclockwise. Make sure that the hands are moving smoothly and not skipping any minutes or seconds. If everything looks good, you're all set!

How can you safely keep your vintage timepiece at home?

There are a few things you need to take into consideration. First and foremost, you need to make sure that your timepiece is kept in a cool and dry environment. Temperature and humidity can wreak havoc on vintage watches, so it’s important to keep them in an area that is not prone to drastic temperature changes.

Do not keep it exposed to direct sunlight or near any type of heat source as this can damage the watch. It’s also important to not keep your watch in a damp area as this can cause corrosion. Finally, make sure that your cherished object is protected from dust or dirt. These particles can get into the watch movement and damage it. The best way to protect your valuable timepiece is to keep it in a padded box or a watch case.

What are the basic maintenance steps?

1. Have your watch serviced and cleaned regularly by a qualified watchmaker with a well-equipped service centre.

2. Wear your watch once a month as this helps keep the oils in place and prevents them from drying up quickly. If you are not able to give your

mechanical watches some wrist time, make sure that you at least manually wind your watch to keep it ticking.

3. Do not keep your watches next to electronic gadgets as they could easily get magnetised.

4. Avoid wearing your heirloom watches while swimming or taking a shower.

5. If you find mist forming on the crystal, show it to a watchmaker immediately before it leads to formation of rust on the watch components.

6. Be careful when handling your watch, as even the slightest pressure can damage its delicate mechanism.

7. If you are not sure how to operate or care for your timepiece, seek professional advice.

Different Types of Heirloom Timepieces

There are many types of heirloom timepieces, each with its own unique features and quirks. Here is a brief overview of some of the most common types:

Grandfather Clocks: These tall, stately clocks are often passed down from generation to generation. These, typically, have pendulums and chimes, and can be quite ornate. Grandfather clocks need to be carefully handled when being moved, as they are delicate and can be easily damaged.

Mantel Clocks: Mantel clocks are smaller than grandfather clocks and are designed to sit on a mantel or a shelf. Like grandfather clocks, these can be quite ornate and often have features like chimes or pendulums. Mantel clocks are relatively easy to move and maintain.

Cuckoo Clocks: Cuckoo clocks are one of the most iconic types of heirloom timepieces. Such a clock has a small door that opens to reveal a wooden cuckoo bird that pops out and announces the hour. Cuckoo clocks can be tricky to maintain as the mechanisms inside are delicate and require regular cleaning and oiling.

Pendulum Clocks: A pendulum clock is a type of clock that uses a swinging pendulum as its timekeeping element. It was one of the earliest forms of mechanical clocks and played a crucial role in keeping accurate time for several centuries before the advent of more modern timekeeping devices.

Pocket Watches: Pocket watches were once a common type of timepiece, but have since fallen out of fashion. These small watches fit into pockets and are typically worn on a chain around the neck. Pocket watches can be difficult to repair if they stop working, as many of its parts are very small and delicate.

Keep ‘em Safe

Maintaining heirloom\vintage timepieces is a beautiful way to keep track of time and make your style statement ooze with elegance. With proper maintenance, these can last for generations. Remember that learning how to maintain these watches is an investment that pays off every day.

(Coordinated by Aaron Jacob)

Image Credits: Harman Wadhwa

No items found.