New to watch repair?
Then WELCOME to a very fun and rewarding hobby! I try and focus more on the newcomers, helping however I can to draw them into the field and also stay with their studying and learning, to not give up. It's all too common for someone to get excited about learning how to repair watches and then find that it's a longer path than they first expected. Often there simply wasn't a path or plan defined.
In the past, watchmaking was an apprenticeship craft. You learned under the tutelage of a mentor. Even if teaching yourself at home, a mentor is an awesome advantage to have. You often can find help at your local NAWCC chapter, so find one near you and start asking questions. If you are stuck on some specific aspect of your education, bring the problem with you to the meeting. Get some hands-on help right there, on the spot, from a watchmaker. Someone will help you get over that hump.
While you may be at a disadvantage of learning with the help of mentor, a great thing about learning now is materials and books are very easy to find, and, there is SO much help in the watch forums awaiting you. People there are eager to help each other. BUT, before posting anything, search the archives. There is a 90% or better chance that someone else has asked your question and it's been answered numerous times. Save your posts for unique situations you have.
Finally, buy some books. If not from me, somewhere. Get Henry Fried's book, The Watch Repairer's Manual as it's a classic for a reason. It's a fantastic reference guide, but I don't believe it does a very good job of educating a beginner. To get your education, find a course, here or elsewhere, and follow it.
Many beginners go round and round about what tools to buy, what brands, where to get them, etc. There are forum posts from people that love to write post after post about starting to learn. I've seen some of these go one for over a year and the person still had not started.
Don't talk about starting for a year on forums... just start already! Buy my list of tools, a movement, and I promise you can learn most of what you need to learn the basics of watch repair. You can diagnose trouble, buy spare movements for parts, and even fix the problem!
It's not an expensive hobby to start! It's not. Pick a hobby and calculate what it takes to get started and you'll find that watch repair is a tiny fraction of that cost. We're not talking $1000s or many $100's of dollars.
These are my suggestions tools for starting from scratch, that will cost less than $300 if bought brand new
- Tweezers - $30 These are extensions of your hands. They will be in your hand 50% of the time so get good ones. Get Dumont brand #2 or #3 (not #5 nor #1). If you get cheap tweezers, your parts will go flying across the room and you'll have such an unpleasant experience that you may give up.
- Screwdrivers - $100 These are the other extension of your hands. They will be in your hand the other 50% of the time. Get Burgeon with a swivel base with 9 drivers. Yes, a little pricey but you can resell them. Remember, they replace your hands. And don't screw around with trying to resharpen your own blades. Just get replacement blades.
- Loupe - $12 + $5 - 4X power - Get Bausch & Lomb. Also consider the wire headband holder to keep it on your face. If you want one more power up, go for 7X
- Movement Holder - $25 Most people get the Bergeon 4040. I prefer the old round black colored ones you must buy used. You'll need larger if working on pocket watches.
- Pin Vice - $20 - Optional. Double ended ones were and are popular, but I hate them. Should open to 1.5 mm and close as close to zero as possible. Used to pull cannon pinions about 1 mm and work with barrel arbors about 1.5 mm for 10.5 ligne movements
- A mat - $20 - Horotec makes an "inexpensive" thick green one. Get a mat. Work on something so that parts do not bounce when you drop them. It should be soft, a little squishy. Use something!
- A light - $70 Important part of your setup. A desklamp sort of works. You can find really old Dazor style lamps that are brown. I forget who makes them. Dazor was THE brand to get so search for them to find something like them. It should have 2 bulbs at least with an adjustable arm that is easily movable without unscrewing something and it stays put after movement.
Totals to less than $300. And that's a high-end price! That's a few dinners out with your wife (which you should do anyway if you're about to take up part of the kitchen table working on watches). Some items you may have already, like a great light which knocks $70 off my list.
You don't have to buy the brands I listed. I listed them so that you could quickly click the "buy" buttons and get your setup rather than shopping, pondering, posting on forums, etc. Buy whatever you want, but buy the stuff and get started!!
With this setup you should be able to take apart a working watch movement, put it together, and it will still work.
The list assumes you are starting using a 10.5 ligne or 11 ligne movement. I learned on a 10.5 ligne AS-1187 movement. It's a great learner movement as there are a TON of them out there for sale cheap and they're a tank, work-horse of a movement. But, any wristwatch movement will be fine for your education.
I personally buy my stuff from Jules Borel. Many/most beginners use Otto Frei. Buy used from Dashto and Uncle Larry.
The first step in getting educated
Make a plan, find a path. If you don't have a goal, you won't get there. I'm big on Home Study Courses not necessarily for their content, but rather for their structure. These step you through the process of learning. They provide you a structure and a path to follow. Most people need this structure and a path of some sort.
Home Study Courses provide structure and educate you along the way. You'll learn how to use the tools, the names of all of the parts of a watch and how they fit together to work. Some, such as the Watch Repair 101 course, give you checklists. One of my favorites is the checklist of things to examine when a watch isn't functioning correctly. It's much like a pilot's checklist. These are some of the best learning opportunities because they span a wide variety of watch components in one list.
Let me at least give you this goal as your first exercise if you want to give it all a go without any materials to help you along the way.... get a running watch movement, take it completely apart, reassemble it such that it works again. When you disassemble it, leave the balance attached to the balance cock. It's a difficult operation to take that particular subsection apart and put it back together again and for your first exercise there is no value in adding that complexity as you can easily fail due to that one operation alone.
It's Never Too Late
It is never too late to start learning. You can become quite proficient at doing your own restorations in as little as a year. If I, one who really sucks at anything mechanical, can learn to do it, then I know you can too. Don't give up, stick with each task, and before you know it you'll be good at it and will have little or no problems doing it again and again.
How About a Free Lesson?
You can find a free lesson on this page here on WatchmakingBooks.com. It has the first section of the Ordnance Textbook available for you to download and read.
You've clearly been thinking about it enough to not only go to this site, but read all the way through this page.... so, GO! Give it a try! It has the potential to be a life-long hobby or even career with a low start-up cost.
Happy watchmaking everyone!