While it’s customary to shower your sweetheart with trinkets and treats on Valentine’s, you probably didn’t realize that your grandmother’s 1955 Cartier Tank Americaine lying abandoned in the dresser drawer could use a little TLC too.
After all, that stunning piece of craftsmanship was her pride and joy while she was alive. And even though you would love to wear it, having a vintage piece like that on your wrist isn’t for the faint of heart.
That said, we believe that watches are meant to be worn to the delight of their owners. Vintage watches are no exception. Our Swiss-trained Cartier repair technicians suggest the following ways you can wear that beautiful timepiece without worrying too much about damaging it:
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Wind with Care
Since most vintage watches that hail from the 1960s and earlier are mechanical, you need to wind them to keep them running. Many of yesteryear’s mechanical timepieces do not have safeguards that protect the mainspring from overwinding, so it’s critical to only wind the watch to the point where you feel resistance. Trying to push one more crown turn could easily damage the mainspring.
Almost every mechanical watch can handle regular winding without any issues. Typically, that’s twice a day if your watch is hand-wound or when the watch completely stops if it’s automatic.
Don’t Expect 21st Century Accuracy
It should not come as a great shock to find out that the time on your 1955 Cartier is not as accurate as it is on your 2020 Bulova quartz. For one thing, quartz watches are well-known for their increased timekeeping accuracy over mechanical watches.
Another reason, more importantly perhaps, is that your beloved Cartier is more than half a century old. And while it was built to last several lifetimes, it does not enjoy the benefit of all the latest advances in technology.
Vintage watches can lose anywhere from 10 seconds to three minutes per day, depending on the age and quality of the watch and its condition. However, if you find that your watch loses an uncomfortable amount of time per day, consider taking it to a watch repair professional for a tune-up. And this leads us right into our next tip:
Hold Out for the Best
Vintage timepieces require highly-specialized care that your standard retail jeweler may not be able to deliver. Your watch is a mechanical piece of art. Would you clean a smudge on a Rembrandt with soap and water? Of course not. So why place your vintage watch into inexperienced hands?
Granted, this doesn’t mean you need to run out and find a monocled septuagenarian with a German or French accent. You do, however, want them to be as well-versed in antique watch repair as they are in something as modern as Kate Spade watch repair. You also want them to have loads of great customer reviews. Sending your watch back to its original manufacturer to be serviced is another option, but that quickly can become time-consuming and expensive. Click here for more information on how to line up an excellent watch repair shop.
A note of caution – be as specific as you can when bringing your watch in for repair. Watch technicians, no matter how qualified, are not mind readers. Let your repair person know if you don’t want that scratch on the case polished away because it has sentimental value. Likewise, your watch holds a lot of monetary value as is, so make it clear that even if the hands don’t look that great, they’re original to the watch, and you don’t want them replaced with newer parts.
Keep Your Watch Clean and Dry
Dust, sweat, greasy fingerprints, and perfumes, among other things, all spell mayhem for your watch. Sweat and oils from your wrist can tarnish or stain the metal case back, and dust particles will wreak havoc with the watch’s movement. When pulling out the crown to adjust the time, try to do it in a relatively clean place, such as at your desk or a table. Pulling out the crown while standing at the bus stop in the middle of a windstorm, on the other hand, is not a good idea.
If those smudges on the crystal or case back are bothering you, take a soft polishing cloth or pencil eraser (yes, we said pencil eraser) and gently rub the surface clean. Another option is to fill a cup with water and a bit of mild dish soap. Dip a soft-bristled toothbrush or cloth in the solution and brush over the surface you’re trying to clean. Since old watches and water do not play well together, make sure the crown is secure and use as little liquid as possible on the brush or cloth.
You may want to send your timepiece to a watch repair specialist if you’re dealing with rusty or tarnished metal or more difficult stains. A certain amount of wear is expected on a vintage piece, and it may even increase the value. If you damage your heirloom while trying to spiff it up, however, you might never forgive yourself.
As we mentioned above, you want to do everything possible to keep your watch away from water, even if it was designed for water use at one time. Older waterproof gaskets, or O-rings, weren’t built with the same longevity as they are today. Over time they will likely have dried out or otherwise eroded, leaving your watch vulnerable to leaks.
Think of your watch as a classic car; you wouldn’t drive it all the time or just anywhere. For instance, if you’re playing tennis after work, it’s a good idea to take off your watch, as mechanical movements are sensitive to repeated gravitational changes (e.g., your arm’s constant motion). Not to mention, you don’t want to expose it to excess perspiration.
When you go to store your timepiece, consider dispensing with a watch winder. While these gadgets may suit modern watches that you want to keep wound and ready to go, they aren’t great for vintage watches. There’s no reason to keep an older watch wound while it’s not in use, and the excessive wear may burn through the lubrication faster than usual. Storing it lying flat in a drawer or in a watch box is just fine.