Northern Partners Vintage Watch Repair & Sales

Timing Your Watch


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A. Waltham Ball Elgin E. Howard Hamilton Hampden Illinois Rockford South Bend Other Makes Pendent Set Hunter Case Size 18 $750 & Up $350.00 to $749 Under $350.00 Accessories Timing Your Watch

If you are driving yourself "and maybe your watchmaker" nuts trying to get your 100 year old watch to keep perfect time take a close look at the photo below. This is Atomic Time on my computer and cell phone! 

 

Atomic time.jpg (643370 bytes)

Click on photo to enlarge

If you just received your watch and it is not keeping good time or is not running there are a few things you can check before making regulator adjustments, especially if the timing is off more than a minute per day. Advise us if this happens and we will extend the return period to allow you time to try to get the watch timed. The bouncing around during shipment can cause timing issues but many times they are temporary and the watch will return to keeping time.  You can always call or email us for help.
  1. Let the watch warm up, especially during the winter months, before winding and setting it.
  2. If the watch doesn't start on a full wind tap in on the palm of you hand to see if it will start. Sometimes the pallet fork jewels can get stuck in the escapement during shipping and when this happens they usually release when the watch in tapped.
  3. If the watch still doesn't start you will want to check the following.
    1. Check to be sure none of the hands are touching.
    2. Check to be sure the small second hand has not been pushed tight against the dial.
    3. Remove the back cover and check to be sure a coil of the hairspring is not on top of the center wheel.
    4. Check to be sure the hairspring is still in-between the regulator pins.
    5. Slightly loosen the case screws so if the movement has gotten out of alignment in the case it can straighten itself. Then snug the screws back up. When out of alignment the stem can put enough pressure on the movement to cause it to stop running or not keep time.
    6. Using something like a toothpick lightly nudge the balance wheel, if it has not started to run. If it does not start then observe what it does so you can report that to us.
    7. After all of this if the watch still does not run it most likely will have to come back here.
    8. If it happens to be a magnetism problem this usually dissipates in a couple of days, especially in watches made after 1940.  
    9. Environmental considerations are important! Recently I needed to rearrange my work space and in so doing moved one of my timing machines to a platform that is about two feet from a laptop computer that I use to track atomic time when checking watch timing over an extended period. Almost immediately I started to get erroneous readings from the machine, at first I thought it most be something else because I was two feet from the computer and I thought that should be enough. After a coupe of days of having to use an older timing machine I moved the one close to the computer to about 10 feet away from it. It immediately began to give me accurate readings.
    10. I recently learned that some pocket watch owners are manually moving the small second hand in order to achieve exact timing on their watch. You should never do this. 
      You should never push the small second hand, especially when they are tight because that would stop or reverse the forth wheel and could cause damage anywhere along the drive train or the balance and pallet, if you have been doing this you could even break the forth wheel staff.
       
      If you must have the second hand in perfect sync with the other hands wait until it is just before the hour of the correct atomic time and then when the small second hand is pointing straight at 12 move the minute hand to 12. This is a real pain and not worth the effort in my opinion but it is the only way to do it without risking damage to the movement. 

     

In order to maintain the timing of your pocket watch you may find it necessary to adjust the regulator from time to time. There are numerous factors that can affect the timing of your watch. There are may style of regulators used on pocket watches, on this page I will try to show examples of the more common type and how to adjust them. The sensitivity of the regulator to adjustment varies greatly, even within the same model and grade of watch. So start with small adjustments to get a feel of how your watch responds. With the regulator indicator centered you can expect to be able to adjust up to a maximum of two minutes per day up or down. Be patient and allow enough time between adjustments for the movement to adjust to the change.

Before you start:

You will need to be familiar with different style cases, information on these are at the bottom of this page.

Have a well lighted flat surface to work at

You will need a couple of small screwdrivers .60, .80, and possibly a 1.00

A magnifying visor or other form of visual aid like a loupe can be useful

Most regulators will have a marking on the balance cock (bridge) of S and F to indicate which direction the regulator arm should move to either speed up or slow down your watch. On some modes, especially Elgin these can be confusing even seeming to be inverse. If you keep in mind that the regulator pins should always be moving away from the hairspring stud when trying to speed a movement up and towards the stud when trying to slow the movement down you will always get the result you are looking for.

Sometimes the adjustment needed is beyond what you can achieve with the regulator, when this is the case it will require the balance to be removed from the movement and changes made to it.

I will attempt to make all of this clear with the following photos and explanations. The photos may be enlarged by clicking on them.

 

This is the most common style of regulator, where the adjustment is made by inserting the correct size screwdriver into the slot on the head of the adjustment screw and turning while observing the arm to be sure you are going in the direction you want.

Regulator Description.jpg (667596 bytes)

This is an Elgin regulator and while it is similar you will notice the F as S are located differently on the balance cock and there are a series of holes in the adjustment screw head. There may or may not be a slot in the screw head. The best way to adjust this style is to use a pin to insert into one of the holes and then move towards or away from you paying attention to which way the arm is moving

Elgin Regulator.jpg (709400 bytes)

This is an example of a Waltham Vanguard regulator where the arm and whip are all in one.

Waltham Whip Regulator.jpg (783667 bytes)

This is an example of an Elgin traveling nut style regulator adjustment.

There are slots in the nut than you can use a small screwdriver or something like a toothpick to turn the nut in either direction to move the regulator position.

Elgin nut regulator.jpg (646165 bytes)

This is yet another example of a Waltham regular. This one is a "star" whereby the regulation adjustment is accomplished by turning the gold star clockwise or counterclockwise while watching the position of the stud located in the end of the regulator arm.

Waltham Star Regulator.jpg (764851 bytes)

As you can see there are many types and styles of regulator adjustment designs a lot not shown here, but this should give you an idea how to regulate the timing of your watch.
The following photos try to show areas of the balance and hairspring that can have a large impact on timing. This is more advanced and may not be something you want to work with, but a good understanding of how this works will help you understand issues you may have with your watch.

The following photo shows you the position of the regulator pins and hairspring stud. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Balanc cock stud and pins.jpg (178402 bytes)

Most of the time you will want to see the stud positioned about level with the balance cock and the hairspring positioned between the regulator pins 2 to 3 mm from the bottom of the pins.

If your watch is not keeping time and regulating it does not appear to help changing these positions may help.

After loosening the stud nut raising or lowering the stud will do the same to the position of the hairspring in the regulator pins. Raising the stud is especially helpful if the hairspring has a tendency to come out of the regulator pins. Lowering it is helpful if the hairspring itself is touching the balance cock. Either of these situations make it impossible to accurately regulate the movement.

The next photo should help you visualize this. Again enlarge the photo so you can see the details.

balance pins and stud.jpg (155912 bytes)

Another thing that impacts the timing is the position that the roller jewel fits into the pallet and the position of the banking pins. I can't photograph the former but can the latter and that is the next photo. Every brand and grade of movement has different positions for the balance cock and pallet and the relative position of these two can make a big difference in the function of the balance. This is work that is strictly in the purview of the watch maker. But I do believe that shipping especially that involving long distances and vibration can change these settings. I believe this is especially true for recently serviced and lubricated movements where there is no crud holding things tight.  Ideally the roller jewel will intersect the pallet dead center when the pallet is centered between the banking pins. This is easier to say than to do. If the banking pins are too close together the pallet jewels can't advance the escape wheel, if they are two far apart the balance will over-bank and the pallet jewels will lodge into the the escape wheel or may cause the balance to have a bad amplitude and or beat error. Click on photo to enlarge.

Banking pins.jpg (204347 bytes)

When any part of this is out of proper alignment it can cause timing problems. Sometimes the balance may look like it is oscillating very slow but the watch is gaining time. Sounds impossible but it is actually very reasonable and here is why. When everything is correct the balance wheel is swinging well past where the banking pins stop the pallet, this consumes a few milliseconds when the hairspring is allowing the balance to swing but the banking pins are stopping the pallet so the escape is not being advanced. When the balance appears to be slow running the balance makes a full swing and advances the escape faster because the dead time is not be consumed.

I always make sure all of this is aligned and a watch is keeping time before shipping but when there are problems I usually find something that should not has changed position. 

 

Four style of cases will cover 95% of what you will ever have to deal with. The following photos and descriptions should familiarize you with them.

These are:

  1. A swing out case, this is a case when the movement is attached to an inner movement holder not the case itself. This holder is permanently attached to the case by a hinge that allows the movement to lifted out of the case for adjustment. These cases have a solid back and only the front cover is removable.
  2. A RR case or the standard two cover case where both the front and rear covers are threaded so that they screw on and off the body of the case
  3. The third style is the hinged case, which can be single, double of triple hinged. Some will have screw off backs rather than hinged backs and some will have hinged dust covers, thereby requiring the third hinge.
  4. The fourth style is a hunter case, which is very similar to the hinged case other that the front cover (usually solid) is released by pushing down on the crown. The crystal is in a bezel that snaps on over the dial.

 

You can enlarge this photos by clicking on them. The case on the left in the top photo is a swing out style and the case on the right is a standard railroad style case.

Case styles closed.jpg (621685 bytes)

With the covers in place these cases look very similar. But on close inspection you could see that there is a solid back on the case to the left.

Case Styles.jpg (793893 bytes)

With the front covers removed and the movement holder lifted slightly you can easily determine which is which. If you enlarge the photos you can see the slots in the case body that provide space for the setting levers to be pulled out. The most common position is near the 1 & 2 area, some Waltham models are at 11 and sidewinders (crown at 3) can be near 5.

Getting at the movement to adjust the regulator is pretty straight forward in the railroad style or hinged cover cases but the swing out case deserves a little more detailed instructions.

  1. In most cases you will need to pull out on the crown like you would on any stem setting watch. This allows the stem to clear the movement holder opening when lifting the movement out of the case.

  2. The is a small slot that is located below the 6 where you can insert a small screwdriver to start lifting the movement holder slightly out of the case. Once you can get a fingernail into the holder you should be able to easily lift it out of the case. If you run into any resistance do not use force but pull out a little more on the crown.

  3. When you go to replace the holder into the case be sure it is clearing the stem, if not the holder will resist going back into the case.

  4. The hunter style and hinged cases are pretty straight forward so I am not going to confuse you with more information here.