Watch the watches

Since there are some people interested in watches, or even mentioned themselves to build watches. (h/t @nixiebunny, e.g.) , I wanted to open a watch the watches topic.

I inherited some nice mechanical watches (and some really cheesy ones), and my interest would be to learn more about them. I am vaguely aware that maintenance is advisable, but up to now, I don’t know how often I should wind them up.

One of the watches is especially sophisticated. This one triggered my first impulse to learn more about them:

I could, of course, go to a watchmaker’s forum. But BB BBS is my preferred address for curiosity, so:
anyone who can tell me something about this mechanical marvel?


@RandomDude, I think, has described themself here as a trained watchmaker.


Yes I am professionally trained. I don’t work professionally as a watchmaker, but I did go to school for a couple years for it.

I’ve worked on true antiques and would like to specialize in antique restoration on my own eventually.

I have seen a watch like this before in pictures, and I can guess that it simply uses a single Cannon pinion and six sets of hour and minute wheels, all joined to the main cannon pinion, to give each face its own separate time. But I can guess, each was set by a watchmaker on reassembly- because there’s no way theres an adjustment system for 6 separate timetrains.


Do I get that correctly but if one was off you would have to manually uncouple it and set it, apart from the other dials?

That’s quite a level off sophistication.

Generally speaking what would you think how often I would have to to wind them up and how far do I have to wind them up? I’ve got a small collection of mechanical watches now, and I have no idea.


This idea that you can overwind a watch is first of all pointless on any automatic watch because the mainspring is not held solid to the barrel.

In your case however it is not an automatic and there is going to be an end of the mainspring that abuts the inner wall of the spring barrel. If the spring is in good condition winding it will not break it, and normally it is not possible to over wind a watch. It is kind of an old wives tale. That for some reason persists no matter what.

When fully wound a non automatic mechanical watch will suddenly get tight at the crown. When you get to that point you can stop. You should not be able to physically wind it any further because you have coiled the spring as tightly as it can physically go inside the spring barrel that contains it, and winding it further if that were even possible would do nothing.

Many higher grade old watches that were manual wind only like this watch you posted most likely is would have had what is called stopwork, it is basically a Geneva wheel mechanism that can rotate through only so many turns and then it physically blocks the object from turning further.

My advice is don’t wind this watch. It has probably not seen service in a long time and the mainspring is probably not modern white alloy spring material and has probably rusted or permanently weakened and might break. If it does break, unless it is a fusee watch, nothing spectacularly bad will happen because the spring will just stay inside of the going barrel when it breaks and there will just be no power transmission.

If it is a very thick pocket watch over half an inch thick, it may be a fusee watch (they were usually thicker, though not always), in which case if the spring breaks because you decide to go to wind it, very bad things would happen. A fusee watch uses a tiny bicycle chain wrapped around the actual fusee cone as part of the transmission of power, and if the spring breaks in that, it can snap the chain or the chain can snap if it is not serviced and then whip around in the watch and usually wipeout some of the parts like the gear teeth or some of the escapement.

Basically the older the watch the more dangerous it is to wind it without knowing its condition inside.

It is possible that this watch you have pictured is a fusee watch. There are not many watchmakers who touch such things. It is the watch equivalent of working on a Stanley Steemer rather than even a Model T- not only very old, but not simple at all, and a lot can go wrong quickly. It takes special knowledge and training to work on stuff like that and it costs money on top of a normal service when you do find someone who can work on them. Parts usually have to be made from scratch to fix them.

My advice is put it in a case and look at it. Just look at it🍌 If you want it to run it will probably need a modern mainspring retrofitted and a modern service which will not be cheap.

Your last question- that’s exactly correct. You would need to set the hands on every dial to the exact time they are in relation to each other and that would be done by pressing the hands on very carefully in exactly the right position at service. The central gear I mentioned called a cannon pinion has a friction clutch on its fit that would allow the setting of time of all of them simultaneously through 1 position of the crown or the lever if it is a lever set watch (a tiny lever pulls out from the side of the face or case). Unless someone put one of the hands on not correctly tight there is no reason that any of them would ever become misaligned in the first place, at least to the others, so you could fix the time just by setting the watch correctly.

Hope that helps. Check the AWCI website and the find a professional link to find a working watchmaker in your area, even if you do not get someone who can help you they will probably refer you to someone they know of who can.




Nice watch. I assume from the “déposé” (trademark), and the central location of the Paris dial that it’s French.

I notice that the face of @LutherBlisset’s watch appears to be cracked near where the 7 would be on a conventional face. This little silver lady’s watch is similarly damaged beside the “VI”.

From the damaged part, the face looks like porcelain. Would that be correct? What would cause such a break?

Thanks for that insightful post.

Just FTR, the AWCI is on the wrong continent to be of great help. I rather check with the Swiss, French and German watchmakers, that’s on my usual turf. However, ain’t got much time (no pun intended) ATM, since the usual SNAFU turned up the dial on a fuck-today-thread level slightly higher than the usual.

I know for a fact the watches I now have in custody (I can’t really think of them as my own) have been wound regularly by the person who collected them until two years ago. I don’t know if they have been serviced, but I suppose so. The person was a mechanic, a hunter who (literally) made his own weapons (replicas of historical hunting rifles, mostly). He also had the largest Märklin collection I have ever seen, and I have seen quite a few. AFAIK he wasn’t also a watchmaker, but I guess he knew much about these watches.
Sadly, he did not leave any notes on them, so their history is now lost. :frowning:

The multiple dial thing is really sophisticated from what you described. I’ll see if I can somehow find out more about the watch at some point and maybe post some more pics. Any guess from what period that what is, from the outer design?

@teknocholer, nice lady you got there. I would guess that’s not porcelain, but enamelled glass. Same-same but different. The “floral” paint job is interesting. It looks like an afterthought, added to cover something, and rather untypically for an object of accurate perfection it is expressive to the point of looking slightly untidy.
Any story to that watch to tell?

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The paint is definitely aftermarket, as can be seen by the way it covers part of “Ritchie & Sons”. To me it adds to the charm. Someone wanted to own something unique to them, not mass-produced.

It belonged to a good friend of my mother and found its way to me.

James Ritchie of Edinburgh is still in business. I contacted them a number of years ago to ask if they could offer any information about the watch. They replied that they were only jewellers and hadn’t made the watch, just put their name on it, and couldn’t tell me anything beyond a guess that it was made circa 1900.

Your question made me look again. Their website is completely different. Apparently they have been clockmakers since 1809, and still offer antique clock restoration.

So why they replied as they did is confusing, unless they meant that they made clocks, but farmed out the watchmaking to other suppliers. Since there is no other manufacturer’s name on the watch, I’m going to assume that Ritchie made it.


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