Watchmaking and watch repair is a very exciting profession but with a huge selection of watchmaker tools on the market, it is very easy to get confused or even carried away.
I thought it may be helpful to list down some of the most essential watch repair tools that any serious horologist should purchase as a bare minimum to get them started and add to their watch repair kit.
1. Watch Case Opener
Before you can even get inside a watch to see what may be causing a problem or just to undertake a regular service you need to remove the back and/or front of the watch.
Depending on the type of watch you may need to screw off the back or lever off the back and front of the watch.
Screw back watches require special tools like an adjustable Jaxa tool or a case wrench, or the watch manufacturer's own Horotec screw back removal tool
Snap-on front and back watches can be removed with a simple case opener knife. Case opener knives are manufactured with a short and blunt blade that is inserted into the chamfer of a case back and then twisted anti-clockwise in order to pop off the case back.
Some case knives are manufactured with a sharp blade on one end and a case knife on the other. These are excellent because as well as opening watch cases you can also sharpen and shape your Pegwood too.
2. Watchmakers Screwdriver Set
Once you have removed the watch back you will need to remove it from its case by removing the stem and also the case retaining screws. For this you will need a selection of watchmakers screwdrivers, these should be the second addition to your watch repair kit.
Purchasing a good quality set of watchmakers screwdrivers will be the best investment you can make. If you look after your set of screwdrivers they can last a lifetime.
Don't waste your money on cheap screwdrivers from China or India, the metal quality is poor and it is very easy to damage your watch screws with poor screwdrivers. The best things in life have a price, and often a quality to match.
There are 2 main brands that you should consider, all are made in Switzerland: Horotec, and Bergeon.
There are long debates as to which are the best, In my opinion, the Horotec quality has a slight edge.
Don't waste your money purchasing a large range of screwdrivers for your watch repair kit, you will find that you use 4 of the sizes for most of your watches:
- Grey - 1.40mm
- Red - 1.20mm
- Black - 1.00mm
- Yellow - 0.80mm
All of the above screwdriver manufacturers will usually supply you with spare blades for each precision screwdriver too. These ergonomic screwdrivers have ball bearing swivel heads that are smooth in operation.
Watchmakers precision screwdrivers can always be resharpened by using a dressing stone and a small jig.
3. Watchmakers Tweezers
Once you have undone a screw with your correct mm screwdriver then you need to pick up the screw and also move and replace the watch parts, this is all done with a pair of tweezers. Another vital addition to your watch repair kit.
Watchmakers' tweezers are very different from regular cosmetic tweezers. They have very precise ends that close perfectly together and are easy to operate.
There are literally hundreds of types and shapes to choose from but most watchmakers will agree that the following should be used as a minimum:
- No. 2 - Strong with Fine and Flat Tips
- No. 3 - Fine Tips
- No. 5 - Short and Extra Fine for Hairsprings
- Brass AM - for non-marking of watch parts
- Plastic tweezer - (optional if working with quartz movements)
It is a good idea to choose non-magnetic tweezers because having watch screws stick to your tweezers can be a real nuisance.
The tweezers are held between the thumb and first 2 fingers like holding a pen and with practice you should be able to rotate them 360 degrees while holding your watch parts between the tips of the tweezers.
The main tweezers brands to look out for are Dumont (although very expensive), Horotec, and Bergeon.
4. Eyeglass or Eye Loupe
You don't need me to tell you that watch parts and watch screws are very small. To make sure you can see what you are doing you should add an eyeglass or eye loupes to your watch repair kit.
Just like most watch tools eyeglasses come in lots of shapes and sizes. No need to panic, you will only really need 2 types:
- General Eyeglasses (3 - 4 times magnification)
- Inspection Eyeglass (10 - 12 times magnification)
Your general eyeglass is used most of the time for dismantling and reassembling your watch. The inspection eyeglass is only used periodically for getting a closer look at pivots, and jewels or for closer inspection.
Like a few of the other tools I would not buy a cheap eyeglass, when it comes to looking after your eyesight I would make a reasonable investment here, both Bergeon and Horotec make excellent eyeglasses.
Good quality eyeglasses are numbered eg. No. 1, No. 2.5 etc. This number corresponds to the focal length so a No. 1 means you would focus 1 inch from the object and a No. 2.5 would be 2.5 inches from the object. The closer you are to the object the greater the eyestrain so it is best to work at a good distance for as much time as possible.
If you struggle to hold the eyeglass in place then you may want to consider a wire eyeglass holder. I find these very easy to use and it prevents you from accidentally dropping your eyeglass onto your work and it acts as a great holder around your neck between jobs too.
5. Watch Hand Lifting Levers
In order to remove the dial from your watch you will need to remove the hands first, so add some watch hand lifting levers to your watch repair kit too.
There are 2 tools that can accomplish this task for you: Hand Lifting Levers and the Presto Automatic Hand Lifting Tool.
When removing the hands you need to be cautious of damaging the dial and/or damaging the hands. The hands need to be removed vertically and the Hand Lifting Levers do this beautifully by rocking on their angles to drive the hands upwards.
It is common practice to use a dial protector or thin plastic Sealy bag on top of the dial to avoid damaging it.
The Presto hand removing tool can work well but you need to be careful of the small plastic feet that come down and push onto the dial face. I have seen these feet mark dials when not used with proper care.
Hand Lifting Levers come in various sizes to cater for different sized hands.
Again be careful of cheap tools here as the finish is often not that good and can damage your watch dial or the hands when in use.
6. Movement Holder
Once you have removed the watch movement from its case it is not recommended that you touch the movement with your fingers, a movement holder is used to safely secure the movement for working on.
Movement holders come in lots of shapes and sizes but the standard holder is reversible so it can cater for different sized movements, smaller ones on one side and larger ones on the other.
Again Horotec and Bergeon make excellent movement holders.
Some speciality branded watches have their own movement holders so look out for lots of other weird and wonderful shapes including ones made from bamboo. Either way, a movement holder should be part of your watch repair kit.
7. Parts Container
When I first started watch repair I didn't use a dedicated parts container but now I can really see the benefit of using one.
Part containers enable you to separate the various parts of the watch as you disassemble and reassemble the parts. But more importantly, they should have a cover which prevents any dust or debris from landing on the watch parts or small items after they have been removed and cleaned.
These you can pick up fairly cheaply and there is no need to overspend on a parts container. These are not essential for your watch repair kit but they can make life a heck of a lot easier.
Peg wood is made from a hard wood and is very consistent in size and shape. Many people try to compromise and use toothpicks or wooden kebab sticks but these are too soft and don't hold their form so add some Pegwood to your watch repair kit, it's a simple tool, but a special tool.
Pegwood is used for a number of tasks within the watch repair trade but the 2 main uses are for cleaning out jewel holes and watch parts before cleaning the watch with chemicals, and for holding down parts and springs during assembly and reassembly.
You will also need a sharp knife to dress the end of the pegwood, the two most common shapes will be a point and a flat.
9. Glass Benzine Jar and Watch Degreasing Fluid
Once your watch has been stripped down and all the jewel holes cleaned with peg wood then you will need to clean the watch with a watch cleaner.
Watch repair professionals will use a watch cleaning machine that may be ultrasonic to remove all the dried oil, dirt and grime from the watch parts.
However, watch cleaning machines are very expensive so the beginner can do this by hand with a benzine jar and some cleaning fluid. Benzine is no longer used as a cleaning fluid but a degreasing fluid such as Renata Essence will work.
Even if you do purchase a watch cleaning machine a glass benzine jar with a degreasing fluid is always useful for quickly removing grease should an oiling job go wrong or watch parts get recontaminated so add one to your watch repair kit.
Ensure your benzine jar has a tight-fitting lid to avoid evaporation of your fluid. You may also like to invest in a small paintbrush to use with your benzine jar to help clean your watch parts once in the fluid.
10. Rubber Dust Blower
As you probably know dust and dirt are the worst enemy of a watch and its small parts. You should never blow on a watch with your mouth because your mouth contains moisture and contaminants that will only make the functioning of your watch worse. Therefore we highly recommend you add a quality dust blower to your watch repair kit.
Rubber dust blowers are inexpensive and excellent for quickly removing dust and dirt from your watch as well as drying parts after cleaning.
So once you have cleaned a watch part in your benzine jar you would then place it onto a piece of paper. Holding the watch part with your tweezers you can then blow dry the watch part with your dust blower.
Take care when drying watch parts with a blower because dust blowers can be very powerful and if the watch part is not held tightly it can be blown away, never to be seen again!
11. Watch Oils and Greases, Oilers and Oil Pots
Having cleaned all your watch parts it is time to reassemble the watch. As you reassemble the watch you will need to add oil and grease to all the areas in the watch where there is friction, so add this to your watch repair kit.
There is a vast array of oils and greases on the market but most professional watch repairers will agree that Moebius makes a good product.
Here are 4 that I can recommend:
- Moebius 9010 Oil - for balance staff pivots, escape wheel pivots (quick moving with low torque)
- Moebius Oil D5 (HP1300) - barrel arbor, centre wheel (slow moving with high torque)
- Moebius 8300 Grease - hand setting, winding mechanism, canon pinion (friction based)
- Moebius 9415 Grease - high speed escapements over 21,600 vibs / hour
All of the oils and greases should be kept in oil pots. You can either purchase a single pot for each oil/grease or a stand that has 3 or 4 pots together. All the oil pots should have lids to prevent them from becoming contaminated.
So, now you have your Moebius oil and grease but you need a way to get it from your oil pots and onto your watch parts, for this job, you will require a watch oiler.
Watch oilers consist of a coloured handle with a metal stem and a "spade-shaped" design on the end. There are generally 4 different sizes:
- Red - large tip
- Green - medium tip
- Blue - fine tip
- Black - very fine tip
You simply dip the oiler into your oil in an oil cup and then touch it onto the watch part and the oil transfers onto the watch. Holding the oiler vertically will enable the oil to slide down and into small crevasses.
You are always better using a finer tip than a larger tip because small amounts of oil can easily be added but excess oil would require the watch part to be removed, cleaned, dried and reassembled.
A piece of pith wood is also useful for cleaning your oiler between each oil. Rodico (see below) is also useful for this purpose.
12. Rodico Cleaning Putty
I don't know many watch repair professionals who don't use Rodico so this is a great and inexpensive item to add to your watch repair kit.
Rodico is a cleaning putty that has thousands of uses but it's mostly used for removing fingerprints, oil, dirt and grime from your watch movement.
Rodico works just like a pencil eraser simply wipe or dab it onto your watch movement to discover its benefits. Another great use for this wonderful putty is for lifting out hard to grab jewels or screws from your movement.
Once your Rodico gets dirty, simply spread it between your fingers and it's as good as new.
Very inexpensive and very useful.
Optional Extra: Spring Bar Tool
Every professional watchmaker will have a spring bar remover of high quality in their repertoire of tools.
These tools are designed for removing watch spring bars from watch straps, watch bands, and watch bracelets.
Different tools have varying designs, but essentially they all do the same job, it will just come down to the right tool for you.
They often have stainless steel tips, one with a fine forked tip for removing spring bars from a watch strap, and the other a pin pusher end for replacing the pins in a watch strap.
Pin punch tools will provide you with a pin vice type handle and spare pins for removing friction pins from your watch bracelets, and the block will hold the bracelet in place while you work on it.
Watch tool kits are readily available for the watch lover who wishes to dabble in the repair and servicing of their own watches with a ready-to-go kit.
Be aware that these kits often contain low quality, but very affordable items, and that the best watch repair kits are those that you make up yourself, where you have chosen each item wisely and to your own budget.
Watch tools do not need to cost the earth, but remember that excellent quality does have a price and for a very good reason.