Intro: Cheap Fix for a Quartz Watch
This is my Seiko quartz analog watch. It is almost 19 years old.. In recent months have I noticed it slowly drifts a couple of minutes from the correct time. I checked prices for cleaning and lubrication through an on-line watchmaker. By the time all fees are paid, repair costs would be almost equal to the price of a new watch. Repairs could cost more yet if any parts need replacement. Similar watches to mine are available on eBay and I might be able to find one for less with a movement I could substitute in my watch case, if all dimensions are the same. But, that would be a big risk. Because this watch was given to me by my wife on our 25th wedding anniversary I really want to keep it rather than replace it.
Step 1: A Local Watchmaker
- Spanner wrench to remove the back
- Ballpoint pen or jeweler's screwdriver to depress the stem lock
- Canned air with a guide tube
- Rubber cement or a properly sized "O"-ring
Step 2: A Really Bad Idea That Worked
I decided to attempt blowing a little compressed air through the watch movement in order to remove any loose dirt that might be slowing my watch.* It is generally a bad idea to assault fine mechanical devices with air under pressure.** I began by removing the back. See this Instructable on making a wrench for backs that unscrew.
*Those who know say dirty watches are apt to run fast, even though that seems counter-intuitive. Mine was running slow.
**After posting this Instructable, I found and read some articles on quartz watch problems. One article suggested the very thing I decided to do in this Instructable, which is to blow out the movement with compressed air in order to remove loose debris from dried and flaked oil.
Step 3: Take the Movement Out of the Case
Update: If possible, you may want to avoid removing the movement from the case. A few days after doing this Instructable, I decided to tinker with the watch just one more time. When I finished the stem would not go back into place fully. I probably could have lifted the movement enough to use the compressed air as described in step 4 without removing the stem. Now that I cannot get the stem back into place, I will either need to pay a watchmaker to repair the watch, or put the watch aside in a drawer.
Lift the plastic retainer out of the watch case and depress the lock that holds the stem in the movement. The stem must be pressed inward as far as possible. The locking piece disappears when the stem is pulled outward without releasing the lock. On Seiko watches the stem lock is very often a springy piece of metal near the stem and it has a small hole in it. Look in the photo near the end of the toothpick. See also the second photo. Push downward on the piece with the hole while pulling the stem out of the watch case. A ballpoint pen works well enough for this, or you may use a jeweler's screwdriver. A toothpick splinters and leaves debris in the watch case.
Step 4: Canned Air
I used short bursts of canned air I bought at an office supply store. This is the kind of canned air that is free of dust and humidity. It is often used to blow dust from inside a computer. I tried to avoid spraying air at the delicate watch hands to avoid pushing them hard if blocked and to avoid bending them, but I focused on aiming air into the open sides of the watch's movement. If this were a mechanical watch with a balance wheel to regulate the movement, I would be very careful with pressurized air near the dainty spring on the balance wheel.
(When assembling the watch in its case, do not force the stem through the case and back into the movement too hard. A little pressure is needed, but too much may mean something is not properly aligned or installed in the proper orientation.)
Step 5: Checking the Results
A watch needs to run 24 hours to determine what effect adjustments have made in the performance and accuracy of the watch. I chose to use the World Clock application on my phone to check my watch's accuracy. I could also have used the clock face that opens in the lower right corner on my Windows PC screen. Choose one clock and do all checking with it. Clocks that are supposedly steered by an atomic clock somewhere can vary from one another by a second or two, and mixing clocks could make you think your watch is less accurate than it actually is. Notice the red second hands in the photo all indicating 55 seconds.* I synchronized my watch and its second hand with the display in this World Clock app. So far it appears that my watch is running accurately again, and it cost me almost nothing. Try this on your own watch with caution. It is, as I mentioned, a really bad idea, but one that did work very well for me.
*The black clock faces indicate it was dark in those parts of the world when this photo was taken. The clock faces are white during hours of daylight in the respective parts of the world. Still, the second hands on these clocks are easy to see.
Step 6: Gasket
I could probably get a new "O"-ring gasket for the back of my watch through a jeweler or a watchmaker. My gasket stretched and I discarded it.* But, if I need to replace the battery only every several years, I will start the threads on the watch's back. Then I will smear some common rubber cement into the gap between the back and the watch case. I will tighten the back the rest of the way. I should get a good seal I can still open again easily when I need to access the battery, and no shreds of hardened cement should reach the delicate moving parts in the works. I have actually worn my watch for a few months without a gasket or a seal. Moisture has not collected inside the crystal if I was not perspiring.
"O"-rings for watches are available from Amazon and from watchmaker's supply houses, like Esslinger. Some are sold in assortments and some individually. Unfortunately, Seiko uses part numbers rather than dimensions on its "O"-rings and I have not found a key to the numbers so I can order the right gasket for my watch. The Esslinger site also has some tutorial information for the amateur.
The graphic is a depiction of an "O"-ring, including a cross sectional view. The diameter of the material and the internal diameter are the key measurements for a watch back.
*The gaskets that seal various parts of a watch degrade over time and need replacement periodically.
Step 7: Bonus: How a Quartz Watch Works
It is not advisable for the home tinkerer to remove screws and parts on a quartz movement. But, at this link, you can read about how quartz watches work. In summary, current from a battery causes a quartz tuning fork to vibrate at 32,728 times per second. A micro-processor divides these vibrations and sends a pulse to a stepper motor once every second. The motion generated by the stepper motor is divided by factors of 60 to move the minute hand and the hour hand.
The photo shows the inside parts of a common, inexpensive quartz clock movement. The little can is the quartz tuning fork. The copper coil that is part of the stepper motor is also visible, as are the gears that break down the motion of the second hand for minutes and hours. The micro-processor is on a small circuit board inside what you can see, as is the rest of the stepper motor. (I once did an Instructable on modifying a quartz clock movement with a switch for timing oneself during public speaking.)
This is one of my very few adventures in watch repair. I know nothing about watch and clock repair. There are forums on watch repair on the Internet. Please take your questions about problems you are having to those. There are also books available for sale or in your public library on watch repair.