As a company that handles watch repairs, we here at TimesTicking get the above question quite a bit. Battery changes are an inconvenient truth of quartz-watch ownership and it’s not unfair to want each button cell to provide the most bang for one’s proverbial buck. Well, unfortunately, pulling out the stem does not keep the battery from draining. Quartz watch movements still draw power from the battery when the hands aren’t moving. The only exception to this reality is a solar-powered watch—as long as it’s being charged (an important caveat to remember when placing solars in a drawer). Another aspect of pulling out the stem is its overall impact on watch operations. Things vary case by case, but not running a watch can (though rarely) have negative effects on gear trains. This applies to both quartz and mechanical watches. With that established, it’s worth having a quick look at how pulling out the stem might affect a watch—beyond the battery.
Beyond the Battery
Pulling out the stem on quartz watches—or not winding mechanical watches—rarely inflicts damage. Most watchmakers claim that leaving any watch sitting without running for a prolonged period of time will not lead to trouble. However, it is important to remark here that there are times when a watch completely stopping leads to issues—once things are started up again. In traditional watchmaking, mechanical watches have lubricants inside of them to keep the gears from grinding. Depending on the relative age of the lubricants and any temperature variations, not running a mechanical watch can cause the gears to seize—or lose their ability to turn effectively. Older watches are the ones to be careful with. It’s important to keep them more regularly wound, especially if they haven’t been serviced for a long time. A good rule of thumb on mechanical watches is to have them serviced at least once a year (depending on use).
Quartz watches carry their own unique brand of stopping and starting compared to mechanicals. On quartz, pulling out the stem (as we’ve established) stops the hands but does not stop the movement from taking power from the battery. As quartz watches age they wear down—like anything with moving parts. The first sign of aging is typically a shorter battery life. Prolonged stops on quartz movements can make it difficult to kickstart a watch as it ages. As a precaution, it’s important to let the watch age without leaving it sitting for too long. Luxury quartz watches will sometimes have lubricant, like mechanicals. This is important to take note of once one purchases a quartz watch. With most quartz watches, however, the stress of running down the battery without moving the hands can lead to less-than-graceful aging. In short, gears that are left without moving can have trouble starting up again. So it’s important to have quartz watches maintained frequently. As an example, battery changes performed before the current watch battery dies can be helpful.
Keep Things Ticking
On a final note, leaving a watch stopped will rarely cause problems. To stay on the cautious side, though, some watchmakers/repair people recommend regular upkeep/winding. We here at TimesTicking tend toward the latter—but there’s no need to panic. Every wristwatch is a little different. Just like cars, planes, trains, and any other type of machine, it’s rare to run into certain kinds of mechanical issues. If a battery dies, or if a mechanical is left unwound, more-often-than-not one will still be in the clear. Hopefully today’s post has helped to answer the title question and more! We look forward to providing more tips in the future.
Times Ticking has been in operation for more than 30 years, since 1982. We have performed watch repair for customers both locally and internationally. If it Ticks! We KNOW it! Our team of watch repair technicians have a combined experience in watchmaking of over 120 years.