Your watch has been through a lot with you, so our guess is that you hope to hold onto it for a good, long time. But what happens when your watch crystal gets scratched, fogged, cracked, or shattered?
It may be time for a watch repair, but if you’re a DIY-er and want to try to replace the crystal on your own, this blog will give you the basics. You’ll need the right tools, a replacement crystal, and some patience.
In Part I of this two-part series, we’ll go over how to remove the damaged crystal from your watch effectively. First, a few disclaimers. If your crystal is completely shattered, your best bet is to take it immediately to an authorized watch repair shop. The small shards of shattered glass could already be in the interior of your watch and will do considerable damage to your movement if they’re not cleaned out by a professional.
Also, if at any time you feel uncomfortable working with your watch, or if you feel that you are in over your head, there’s no shame in shipping your disassembled Tissot or Seiko off to a professional watch repair shop. Our Swiss-trained watch repair technicians at Times Ticking can handle anything you throw at them. No judgment, we promise.
There are three main types of backings, and each one comes off of your watch with a different type of tool. The screw-on type of backing will have small notches located at even distances around the edge of the back. Using an inexpensive, adjustable watch back remover, you can screw the casing on and off.
A pressure-fit backing will be smooth except for a small dent or notch on the side. To remove this type of casing, you’ll need a small, flat pocket or bench knife to pry it open gently. This will likely be the most challenging type of back to remove, mainly because a slip of the blade could end up damaging your watch housing, your fingers, or both.
Finally, there is the backing that is attached with multiple tiny screws. Any good watch or iPod repair kit will have the small screwdrivers you need. Just be careful to use the correct size because you don’t want to strip the screws. Once the back is off, all you need to do is remove the watch stem, and your movement should come out of the housing with no problem.
For a watch with a rotating bezel, you’ll get to the crystal through the front by using the bench knife. Look for a notch between the bezel and the watch housing and shimmy the blade in between the two. Remove the rotating bezel when it’s loose enough to lift with your fingers. Still using the knife, remove the gasket holding the crystal the same way.
Once all the important stuff is out of the watch, replacing the crystal is pretty simple. I should clarify – simple, yes; easy, not necessarily, especially if you have a stubbornly attached crystal. Again, having the correct tools will make all the difference.
Release the Crystal from the Watch Housing
There are generally five key methods for removing a watch crystal from its housing, depending on how it is installed. For instance, higher-quality watches with sapphire or mineral crystals usually are installed using a gasket, while tension rings are more often used with divers’ or other watertight watches. You can find out how your watch crystal was installed by contacting the manufacturer or a watch repair professional.
1. Hand Pressure. Wrap the watch in a polishing cloth and turn it upward, the back of the crystal facing the ceiling. Hold onto the casing through the fabric on the front, and firmly press your thumbs against the crystal. Apply pressure until the glass pops out. Even if you have a glued-in watch crystal, you’ll always want to try using hand pressure first.
2. Watch Crystal Press. If your watch crystal has a gasket fit or tension ring, or simply won’t release from the housing with hand pressure, you’ll need to use a watch crystal press. This may sound like an expensive watchmaker’s tool, but it isn’t. You can find a good-quality press for between $30 and $50.
Glued-in crystals can be more difficult to remove. If you have already tried hand pressure and it didn’t work, you may need to use a heat gun or chemical solution to get the crystal to come out. Granted, if you have any embellishments in your metal casing, such as gemstones or colorful painting, you will not be able to use chemicals and heat, as they will almost certainly cause damage.
3. Heat Gun. Place the watch crystal facing upward and point the heat gun at the watch from a distance of about one to two inches. Run the heat for around 90 seconds. If either the crystal or the case starts to smoke or discolor, stop immediately. Assuming nothing like that happens, once the heat is off, you can wrap a hot pad or heavy cloth around the watch and push out the crystal using the hand pressure method. Lay the crystal and case aside to cool. Then take your screwdriver and carefully scrape any glue residue from the inside of the case.
4. Chemical Solution. We recommend using Attack liquid, which is designed to dissolve cured epoxy and polyester resins. It’s not, however, great for the skin, so be sure and use gloves and tweezers to lift out the case after it has been in the chemical. Put your watch case and crystal face-down into a chemical-resistant container (glass is a great option), and fill with just enough Attack to cover. Wait for six to 11 minutes before removing the case with the tweezers. Place on a heavy cloth and use hand pressure to remove the crystal if it doesn’t automatically fall out. If you encounter too much resistance, place it back in the liquid for a few minutes and repeat the process.
After the crystal is removed, rinse both the case and crystal thoroughly in running water. Once you completely rinse off the chemicals, you can take your screwdriver and scrape away any glue left on the case.
5. Crystal Lift. No, this is not a glass elevator. If your watch crystal is advertised as unbreakable, chances are it has a compression fitting. The best way to remove a crystal with that type of fitting is to use a crystal lift, a unique watch repair tool that looks a lot like a small mechanical claw. A lift is pretty easy to find and generally costs under $20.
For tips on picking out your new crystal and attaching it correctly, check out the second part of our two-part series, coming soon.