Vintage Watch Guide: A User's Manual

I. Getting to Know Your Watch — Watch “Anatomy”

Diagram of a watch with descriptive arrows pointing to different parts


II. How Your Timepiece is Powered

Is Your Watch Quartz?

A battery powered Quartz watch movement.

A battery powered Quartz watch movement.

If your watch is powered by a ‘Quartz’ or battery powered movement, then it will continue to operate until the battery is completely drained (presuming all other internal pats and connectors are in good working order). Battery-powered watches should not be left unused for extended periods of time — a battery should be replaced or removed before they burst or leak acid, which can cause serious damage to the watch movement. A battery will generally last at least 1.5 - 2 years.


Is Your Watch Manual Wind?

A manual-wind watch movement.

A manual-wind watch movement.

If your watch is powered by a manual-winding movement, then it is solely powered by winding the crown of the watch in a clockwise or forward direction until resistance is felt and the crown cannot be wound any further. Instructions for winding will be detailed in the next section. A full wind is required before wearing the watch and should typically last between 24-36 hours. Most people generally wind their watch completely each morning before putting it on their wrist.


Is Your Watch Automatic / Self-Winding?

A rotor-powered automatic watch movement.

A rotor-powered automatic watch movement.

A watch with an automatic or self-winding movement does not require winding, but it can also be wound manually if desired (instructions for how to wind an automatic watch will be detailed in the next section). These automatic or self-winding watches possess a rotor or bumper mechanism that will move and automatically wind the watch based upon ypur wrist movement as you wear the watch over the course of the day. If you and your wrist are sufficiently active while wearing the watch throughout the day (for at least an 8-hour period), the watch should maintain a power reserve for between 24-36 hours.


III. How to Wind a Mechanical Timepiece

A. Manual-Wind Timepieces

Place the crown (winder) between your thumb and forefinger. Turn the crown forward (clockwise) with a long stroke. The crown will turn in in both directions, but will only wind in one direction: clockwise (or forward). To fully wind a watch requires 15 to 25 full 360-degree turns (this will vary depending on the watch). Wind/Turn the crown clockwise until it stops abruptly and cannot be wound any further. A manual-wind watch should be wound until resistance is felt and the crown will no longer turn clockwise, whereas an automatic watch can be wound forever without risk of damage. Your fully wound watch should maintain a power reserve and will run for at least 24-36 hours. 

If the watch is worn daily, it should be wound, fully and completely until the crown comes to a stop, each day at the same time for peak performance. It is not necessary to wind the watch if you are not wearing it that day. These watches are rugged; do not be afraid of “overwinding”.

B. Automatic (Self-winding, Perpetual) Watches

Automatic or self-winding watches have a small rotating weight inside the movement which spins around when you move your arm and winds the spring which runs the watch. If you wear an automatic watch every day for 6-10 hours and your wrist is reasonably active within that period of time, the watch will still be running when you put it on in the morning, because the movement of your wrist will build up an 8-10 hour winding reserve. If you do not wear it for a day or more, the watch will stop as the reserve will be depleated. 

You can start your automatic watch by winding it 5-8 complete 360-degree turns manually before you put it on your wrist. Then set the time and wear it normally. An automatic timepiece can be wound indefinitely with no damage to the watch, however, 30 complete 360-degree turns should give the watch a full wind and any further winding would be unnecessary. 

Wind Clockwise, Until Complete Resistance is Felt. Do not fear "overwinding", your watch is fully wound when it is no longer possible to turn the crown clockwise.

Wind Clockwise, Until Complete Resistance is Felt. Do not fear "overwinding", your watch is fully wound when it is no longer possible to turn the crown clockwise.


IV. How to Set Your Watch

Set the time on the watch by gently pulling out the crown as far as it can be gently pulled out to the final notch/click and turning the crown clockwise or counter-clockwise to set the hands. You can set the hands. You can set the hands forward or backward.

Many Rolex ‘Oyster’ models feature a patented screw-down crown. With these watches you will first need to unscrew the crown, rotating the crown counterclockwise until it is removed from the tube threads. You will then be able to gently pull out the crown to the final notch and set the time as with any other watch. After setting the time, screw the crown back on by pushing the crown in toward the case while simultaneously rotating the crown clockwise. 

This is a standard crown. At left, the crown is fully in and ready to wind. At right, the crown is out and ready to set the time. Date or calendar watches may have additional notches between the winding and setting positions for the purpose of setting the date, day, and/or month functions.

This is a standard crown. At left, the crown is fully in and ready to wind. At right, the crown is out and ready to set the time. Date or calendar watches may have additional notches between the winding and setting positions for the purpose of setting the date, day, and/or month functions.


This is a patented Rolex ‘Oyster’ screw-down crown. At left, the crown is fully threaded in and locked to the case, it will not wind or set. At right, the crown is un-threaded and pulled to the farthest notch. The hands may then be manipulated to set the time.

This is a patented Rolex ‘Oyster’ screw-down crown. At left, the crown is fully threaded in and locked to the case, it will not wind or set. At right, the crown is un-threaded and pulled to the farthest notch. The hands may then be manipulated to set the time.


V. Caring For Your Mechanical Watch

Dropping and/or Banging

Be mindful when wearing your vintage watch to not to drop or bang it! When new, many of these watches were designed to withstand a fall of no more than three feet on to a raised wood surface. Now that these timepieces are much older, their parts may be rare, costly, or not readily available to replace. Though a watch may appear completely intact after a drop or bang, damage may be much more extensive internally. Even a slight bang can cause serious damage if impact occurs at the right angle. 

Water or Other Fluids 

Do not expose your vintage watch to water or other fluids. Many vintage watches were not equipped with gaskets to prevent exposure to moisture. Exposure to steam is potentailly more damaging than water exposure. If water enters the mechanism or dial/crystal of your vintage watch, pull out the crown as far as it will go, immediately place the watch in the crystal-down position in a resealable bag of rice, and seal/close the bag. Bring the watch in to us for service AS SOON AS POSSIBLE: any delay could cause further damage and corrosion to the watch movement.

We also recommend not wearing excessive perfume or cologne on the same wrist you wear your watch. These oils and alcohol can potentially react with the metal of your watch or enter the interior of the watch and interfere with the delicate balance of oils within your watch.


In the modern world, there are many external “dangers” to the optimal functioning of your mechanical vintage watch. Most frequently, magnetism is the cause behind a watch running abnormally or often excessively fast, slow, or stopping altogether. When most vintage watches were manufactured, people lived in a world with fewer sources of magnetism and electricity — no laptops (huge battery beneath the keyboard), mobile phones (large battery behind the screen), metal detectors at airports or court houses, or even purses with magnetic clasps (many purses today have magnets on the fastener, which your watch will pass by every time your hand reaches in).  (Note: Quartz watches are immune to magnetism.) 

When many of these vintage wristwatches were first produced, the greatest electrical / magnetic source in day-to-day life was probably a television set. After a long day at work, a person might come home at night and then place their watch on top of the TV set.  In today’s world, you might accidentally leave your watch on top of a closed laptop or notepad or have it scanned by X-Eays in aorport security.  Try to wear your watch when passing through metal detectors (ask to wear it during a body scan) and avoid putting your watch in direct and prolonged contact with batteries, electrical equipment, and magnets. 

Magnetism is in most cases easily reversible, and can be tested for with a common, analog compass. When passing a wristwatch very close and slowly over an analog compass, the directional compass indicator should remain completely still. A magnetized watch will cause the indicator on a compass to move or spin. Magnetism can most often be quickly removed using a “Demagnetizer” which can be purchased online. In certain rare occasions, a watch can become so magnetized that magnetism can only be removed by disassembling the watch and demagnetizing individual components. 

Though magnetism is in our experience, the most common cause of malfunction, there are a number of other possible causes or explanations, and it is important to remember we are discussing items which are mechanical: everything can be fixed. Remember, we didn’t make these watches, ultimately we are just attempting to make them work as well as (or better than) they worked when they were first manufactured.

compass for magnetism

demagnetizer for watches 1930's era

(At left:) A simple and inexpensive small compass can be used to test for magnetism. Just gently and slowly pass your watch over the compass, keeping your watch very close to, but not touching, the compass. If the compass hand moves, your watch has some magnetism in it, which magnetism should ideally be removed. (At right:) Our favorite demagnetizer, a vintage piece from the 1930s. More modern examples can be purchased inexpensively online.

Long Term Storage

If you plan to store your watch for an extended period of time, make sure it is stored in a dry place (ideally high above ground level, as moisture tends to collect at lower levels). When keeping your watch in a safety deposit box (hopefully you have chosen a Safe deposit box located on a higher-level), it is best to wrap the watch in paper towels and place the watch in a resealable plastic bag. Ideally, one should place moisture absorbing silica gel packs with the watches. Do not store a Quartz watch for long periods of time with a  battery installed in it, otherwise the battery may leak, corrode, and severely damage the movement.

To prolong the life of your leather watch strap, keep it dry as much as possible.


VI. Periodic Service of Your Watch

Your watch purchased from Second Time Around Watch Company comes with a two-year warranty.  We strongly recommend you continue to bring us your watch for periodic service or repair. Watches, like cars, have oils which over time, dry up, coagulate, or get dirty. Certain parts of a watch are maintenance wear items that require periodic replacement, similar to a car’s oil filter, and therefore these parts should be replaced every so often, particularly the mainspring and the gasket rings. A mechanical manual wind or automatic self-winding watch typically should be serviced every 3-5 years.


VII. Malfunction and Troubleshooting


Note: The most common cause of a watch operating incorrectly is magnetism, followed by the failure to wind a watch for a sufficient period of time (manual movements), or to wear the a watch for a sufficient period of time automatic movements, or due to the watch suffering trauma casuded by banging or dropping of the watch.


Quartz watches should work flawlessly with a fresh battery for an average of 1.5 - 2 years until the battery needs to be replaced. If the quartz watch is malfunctioning, it could be a circuit issue — either the problem will be serious and parts will need to be replaced, or it may just be that the circuits need to be cleaned and the watch's internal parts re-oiled. In either case, the best way to troubleshoot the watch is to have a new battery installed and to wait for the issue to recur. If a battery dies within 1-2 months, it typically is indicative of a circuitry issue.


Please remember that your non-Quartz vintage watch is mechanical and will not be as accurate as a modern Quartz wristwatch. Small errors in accuracy can occur by the positioning of your watch, even when it is not being worn (I.E. a watch set upside-down or on its side will run differently than when the watch is left dial-up).

If your watch is inaccurate to the point of inconvenience (greater than +/- 30 seconds per/day, which are the specifications of a chronometer), please bring the watch to us for adjustment.

My Automatic Wristwatch is Not Holding a Power Reserve

If you are wearing an automatic wind wristwatch for eight to ten hours consecutively and moving normally (I.E. you are not inactive or at rest), the watch should keep time when removed in the evening and still be running and accurate when put on again the next morning. If the watch watch is not keeping time and is not accurate there may be a power reserve issue which should be addressed by our watchmaker. Sometimes it can be wise to give an automatic watch a little “jump start” by winding it manually eight to ten full 360 degaree winds before wearing the watch, especially if you have not worn the watch for a number of days.

My Watch is Stopped or Not Running

Make certain your watch is fully wound until it cannot be wound further (manual movements). Try passing it over a compass to determine if it has been affected by magnetism. If you reset your watch and it runs for a while but then stops repeatedly at specific times, a number of issues are possible. Bring the watch in for inspection as soon as possible, as any number of issues could be the cause.

My Watch is Running Fast 

Generally this issue is caused by magnetism or that the hairspring may have jumped from its correct position due to the watch being banged or dropped, though any number of issues could be the cause. Bring the watch in for service as soon as possible.

My Watch is Running Slow

Generally this issue is caused by magnetism. The watch may have a broken balance wheel due to the watch being banged or dropped, though any number of issues could be the cause. Bring it in for service as soon as possible. 

My Manual-Wind Watch Winds Forever Without Coming to a Stop

Unlike an automatic self-winding watch, when wound, the crown of a manual-wind watch should eventually come to a stop and not allow any further winding. If your manual-wind watch can be wound “forever”, without ever coming to a stop, this is almost always indicative of a broken mainspring. Mainsprings are a wear-item in a watch and should be replaced periodically. Even a new mainspring can sometimes become faulty. If your manual-wind wristwatch has this problem, bring the watch in for service.

My Watch Cannot Be Wound

If your watch cannot physically be wound, or feels abnormal when wound, any number of issues could be the cause, but most likely, your vintage wristwatch was excessively exposed to the elements, or is dirty insode, or was banged or dropped. Rust or dirt are typical causes. Alternatively, the oils in the watch may be completely dry or dirty. Whatever the case, bring the watch in for inspection.

My Watch Hand Broke or Fell Off 

When a watch is dropped, banged, or receives some kind of impact, the hands of a watch can break or fall off. Our watchmaker should be able to fix this issue relatively quickly, and in a worst case scenario, new correct replacement hands can usually be obtained for the watch. Because this is generally an indication of impact, there may be further complications or damage to the mechanism of a watch. Be very careful not to excessively shake a watch in this condition, as the loose hands could scratch the dial of your watch.

Broken or Scratched Crystal

Pressure cracks almost always occur within a very short period of time following installation, but the vast majority of cracks occur due to impact, and may appear beneath the bezel of a timepiece where they are not visible. A cracked crystal should be immediately replaced to prevent moisture and to insure the integrity of the watch. Natural “crazing” often occurs on an old crystal and should not be an issue — it is best thought of as the crystal’s natural “patina”. Light scratches on a plastic or acrylic crystal can be very easily buffed out via a polishing machine, but deep scratches may be permanent and require replacement of the crystal.   Scratches on Glass and Sapphire crystal cannot be polished out.


REMEMBER: These are vintage mechanical watches, and everything mechanical can be fixed — it is simply a matter of time, energy, and sourcing the correct parts. A watch should be cared for and looked after, but most importantly, all of the watches we sell are made to be worn and enjoyed. Do not panic if you are experiencing issues with your vintage wristwatch: we have never encountered a problem which could not be fixed or reversed given sufficient time.  



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I. Guide to Vintage Timepiece Case Shapes

There are truly limitless specific variations of watch case shapes, but below are the following most typical shape types.

 Shapes of Watches 

II. Comprehensive Guide to Vintage Watch Hand Styles

As with case shapes, there are limitless variations in hand styles, but the vast majority will fall under one of the following categories:



Alpha Hands

Alpha Hands on a Rolex


 Index Hands

Index hands on a Watch


 Leaf Hands

Leaf Hands on a Watch


CATHEDRAL (or “Steeple”)

 Cathedral Hands  


 Louis Hands


 Diamond Hands


 Cube Hands


 Pyramid Hands


 Breguet Hands

Breguet Hands on a Watch


Baton Hands  


Baton Hands with Tips  


Cartier Sword Hands

Cartier Sword Hands on a Watch 


 Dauphine Hands

Dauphine Hands on a Watch 


Spade Hands

Spade Hands on a Watch  

SKELETAL, SPADE (Sometimes also called "Cathedral")

Skeletal Hands

Skeletal Hands on a Watch


 Modern Style Hands    


Sword Hands  

STICK (Rounded or Pointed)

 Stick Hands  


 Mercedes Rolex Hands

Mercedes Rolex Hands on a Watch  


III. Vintage Watch Definitions, Terminology, and Explanations

What is the difference between sapphire or glass and plastic/acrylic crystals?

Sapphire crystals are typically found on newer watches (for Rolex, post-c.1987) and feature greater scratch resistance than plastic/acrylic crystals. These crystals can be identified because they are typically flatter and more flush with the case than the more bulbous or curved plastic crystals. Additionally, some people can tell the difference by feel: a sapphire or glass crystal will be cold to the touch, whereas a plastic/acrylic crystal is typically closer to room temperature. Though more scratch resistant, there are several drawbacks to sapphire crystals: 1) When a sapphire crystal is scratched, the scratch cannot be buffed out, and the crystal must be replaced. 2) If dropped, a sapphire or glass crystal is more prone to shattering than a plastic crystal, which will more typically just crack. If a crystal shatters, shards can scratch a dial, or potentially enter a movement and cause havoc in the gears. 

The vast majority of wristwatches produced before the 1990’s will have a plastic or acrylic crystal, although some will have glass, which is similar to sapphire, though without its scratch resistant properties. In any case, some people prefer the vintage aesthetics of a more curved, plastic crystal, to the more flat sapphire material.

How do I remove scratches from plastic/acrylic crystals?

Unlike a sapphire crystal, a plastic/acrylic crystal can be polished many times before it needs to be replaced. If brought in to Second Time Around Watch Company, we can quickly polish a plastic/acrylic crystal with our polishing machine while you wait.

How do I remove scratches from the case of my watch? 

To remove scratches from the case of a watch, it must be polished, which will typically remove metal. A hand detail/polish with a cloth will typically remove less metal than a polishing machine, but because some metal will always be removed, it is typically advisable to wait as long as possible before polishing your wristwatch. That said, if requested, a polish is complimentary with any full service from Second Time Around Watch Company.

What is a ‘movement’?

A movement is the mechanical workings of a watch, excluding the case and dial. Typically in the case of vintage wrist and pocket watches, the movement will not be visible.

What is a complication?

A complication is an additional function, added to a wristwatch, beyond the standard time keeping of hours, minutes, and seconds. Some examples of complications include a calendar function, a chronograph function, or a moonphase complication.

What is a chronometer?

A chronometer is defined by the non-profit Swiss foundation Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres (COSC) as “a high-precision watch capable of displaying the seconds and housing a movement that has been tested over several days, in different positions and at different temperatures, by an official neutral body (COSC).” To the average consumer, the most important thing this means is that when tested, a mechanical wristwatch was accurate to within the specified + or - seconds per day applicable at the time of the watch's production.

What is a chronograph?

A chronograph is a wristwatch with an additional complication which allows for the timing of events. This is typically accomplished with several “pushers”, or buttons on the case which start, stop, or reset the separate timing mechanism. Time is typically recorded through a center-sweep seconds hand and one or more subdials that maesures minutes and hours. Typically these watches were only meant to time events of short duration, and leaving them running can cause unnecessary wear to the mechanism.

What is a Perpetual Calendar?

A perpetual calendar complication is a very advanced version of the typical date window display on a standard wristwatch. These watches account even for leap years.

What is a Triple Date?

A watch with a triple date complication tracks the date (numeral), day of the week (Monday-Sunday), and the month of the year. Unlike a perpetual calendar, these watches will need to be manually adjusted at the end of every month with fewer than 31 days.

What is a Moonphase? 

A moonphase is a watch with an additional complication which displays the daily phases of the moon as it waxes and wanes over the period of its monthly cycle. 

What is a Tourbillion?

A tourbillion was initially developed for pocket watches to balance out the effects of gravity. It involves placing the escape wheel, escape lever, and balance wheel in a cage which rotates as part of the escapement process. Under these circumstances, the escapement of the watch movement never spends a significant amount of time in any one position.

What is a repeater?

A repeater is a watch which chimes a specific number of times to aidibily tell the time when activated typically by sliding a lever or pushing a button. There are several varieties of repeater, named by the smallest unit of time which their chimes indicate: quarter (of an hour), half-quarter (of an hour), five-minute, or minute.

What does gold filled mean?

If a watch is “gold-filled”, it means that gold was heated and applied to the case of the watch via a heating process. This technique predates electroplating, and results in a thicker layer of gold than most other plating methods. It is not typically used with watches today.

What is electroplating?

Electroplating is a method of applying metal to the exterior of a watch via electric currents to evenly cohere a metal coating to a surface. It is a thinner coating than via gold-filled.

 What metals are watch cases made of?

Some common case metal types: Chrome, Base Metal, Gold / Rose Gold / White Gold / Yellow Gold, Nickel, Platinum, Stainless Steel, Silver / Sterling Silver, Titanium

What does the “K” in “14K” mean?

Because pure gold (24K) is extremely soft, it is mixed with other metals to increase hardiness, durability, and resistance to everyday wear. It is therefore made in various “karats” (K), which are proportions of gold. In wristwatches, these are typically 9K, 14K, or 18K gold.

What is a hack feature?

A hack feature is one which stops the running seconds hand of a watch so that, when setting the watch, you will be able to precisely sync your wristwatch to another timekeeping device.

What are jewels in a mechanical watch? Are more jewels better?

Watch jewels are simply bearings, which are used to decrease friction and wear in the movement of a watch. Though “jewels” were originally created by a process of piercing precious gems, since the early 1900s, most jewels are synthetically-created rubies or sapphires, which have very little inherent value.

A higher jewel count does not necessarily make one watch better than another. Typically most modern mechanical wristwatches will have at least 17 jewels, but more or fewer jewel counts are not uncommon. A watch with a higher jewel count will usually have more complications and more working parts. A higher jewel count watch may in general be more accurate (although probably not terribly noticeably), but it is also similar to a sports car: because there is more going on internally, it should generally be serviced more often.

What is a watch winder? Do I need one?

Watch winders were created to mimic the movement of your wrist, by gradually rotating an automatic wristwatch in a stationary position, in order to keep the watch fully wound. If an automatic wristwatch is on a watch winder, its power reserve will not run down and it will not have to be reset. A Quartz or manual-wind movement will not benefit from a watch winder.

At Second Time Around Watch Company, we recommend against the use of watch winders unless they rotate your watch FULLY 360-degrees. The reason for this is that there is oil in a watch, and if your watch winder only spins in one or two directions, the movement will not be evenly lubricated, and certain parts of the watch will wear faster than others. For this reason, we do not sell watch winders, and recommend winding your automatic timepiece through normal wrist-wear.

What is shock resistance? Do older watches have it?

In mechanical watches, shock resistance technology was not common until the 1950s. When dropping an older timepiece, it was not uncommon for the balance staff, which holds the balance wheel, to break. Originally, most vintage watches were built to withstand an approximately three foot fall on a raised wooden surface. Now that these timepieces are much older, their parts may be rare, costly, or not readily available to replace. Though a watch may appear completely intact after a drop or bang, damage may be much more extensive internally. Even a slight bang can cause serious damage if impact occurs at the right angle. Shock resistance technologies, which typically hold the balance wheel via spring suspension, have only gotten better with time.

What does the term "triple signed" mean?

When we mention in our descriptions that a watch is "Triple Signed", we are describing a watch that has been "signed" (i.e., stamped with the name or trademark of its manufacturer) on its movement, case, and dial.  As a general rule, most watches that we sell are "Triple Signed".

"Double signed" or "single signed" refers to a watch that is signed only on the case and movement, or dial, movement, or case alone. During the first half of the 20th Century, it was not uncommon for watch manufacturers to import encased watch dials and movements into the United States and case them in American "contract" cases in order to avoid high tariffs on gold and platinum watch cases made in Switzerland. Although watches with unsigned cases may be original, they typically are not as desirable as factory-cased and factory case signed watches.