Monday, November 29, 2021




Richard Alan

In my last article I mentioned I took in a lot of diamonds in any given week, but that doesn’t compare to the amount of watches that land on my bench in a single day.

I look at and work on a hundred or more timepieces a week. I replace dead batteries, shorten or enlarge metal watch bracelets, replace broken, worn pins and the rivets that hold them together, tighten clasps that don’t clasp and replace worn out leather or rubber straps… lots and lots of watches. They can come from the dollar store, or from a fancy jewelry store and cost thirty thousand dollars or more. ( Yes, a solid gold gent’s diamond Rolex “Presidential” retails at $30,000+!). But most watches all have two things in common, pricey or not.…they are designed to tell time, and most today run by battery. I’m a goldsmith and have never claimed to be a watchmaker, but being around them most of my life, I have learned what makes a watch tick or not tick.

Changing a dead battery in most watches can be performed by a well trained monkey and, judging by the condition of the many scratched and hacked up watch case backs I see caused by human hands, the monkeys would in my opinion do a much better job.

Oh I love it when ordinary folks walk in after attempting to change their own batteries at home, and guess what? The watch doesn’t run and they can’t seem to get the back cover back on. First things first, I admit changing watch batteries in many models is fairly simple to accomplish. (This is where the primate mentality comes in to play.) Trouble comes if you are a klutz when it comes to handling really tiny itty bitty objects, such as the screws that hold in most batteries, and I mean tiny! Many are half the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Drop it and you have a better chance of finding the winning lottery number than that screw on your floor!

And guess what? The watch won’t work without that screw in place and I’ll guarantee you won’t find a replacement at Ace Hardware. The first time watch “home battery replacers”, as I call them, have one heck of a time prying the back off, it usually involves marring the beautiful finish on the rear of the watch. It’s kind of like shucking an oyster only not as messy unless, of course, you slip and slash yourself with the sharp pocket knife and have to call 911 to have an emergency medical team stop the bleeding.

I can usually tell the first timers by the watch parts they are presenting to me in a sandwich bag with bandaged fingers. Folks, Clint Eastwood said it perfectly. “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Pay the ten bucks and get it done right. Oh! I heard a snicker out there, Ten dollars! Is he crazy? I go to the flea market and get it done for a buck! So be it, now your watch gets impregnated with an ancient 2 cent Chinese or Korean battery that’s been sitting in a damp and steamy warehouse for who knows how long. Now it will surely leak and dissolve the inner workings of your favorite watch rendering it useless and that’s guaranteed! Go ahead and save the nine dollars.

My favorite incident involved the five dollar battery kiosk at the mall years ago. A gentleman wouldn’t give me the ten bucks to do his solid gold Movado watch right. He drove all the way to the mall in Naples to save $5.00. (Did he figure on the gas he used?) The gum snapping teenager at the kiosk changed his battery all right, and in the process, broke the crystal and bent the case trying to put the back on. At least he got a free battery. The $1,500.00 gold watch, needless to say, is no longer pretty nor does it tells time.

Some watches require a skilled watch maker or authorized service center to change the battery. This can include some Movados, Ebels, Concords, Tissots, Breitlings and Tag Heuers to name a few. Simply, because the watch has to be completely dismantled, reassembled and important gaskets replaced… a costly process but the only way. An expensive watch like a fine automobile has to be maintained, especially manual winding watches or automatics (non-battery powered watches).

Of the hundred or so batteries I replace a week, the inevitable always happens. Now remember, the customer brought in the watch because it was not running (i.e. not telling time). I replace the battery, it’s still not running. When I explain that the problem is not the battery, I sometimes get a perturbed response.

“ Well, it was working before.” Are you sure you used a fresh battery? Or worse, I, meaning me, must have broken it! First of all, it wasn’t working when it was brought in and the battery was definitely dead. You have other watch issues. If your car won’t start it’s not always the battery and don’t you blame the mechanic.

The watch could be full of dust, sea or pool water could have gotten inside, or the watch could have been dropped or smacked around and sometimes its life expectancy is over… kaput! You need a watchmaker to figure it out.. If you want to keep it, you have to get it repaired, if he says it’s not worth the money… pitch it.

Another fallacy about watches is, if it says “water resistant” on the case it’s ok to swim with it. I don’t suggest doing that, it’s not water proof. Oh, sure, you wear it swimming anyway, it’s only a matter of time until water gets in through the stem and crown and your watch is a portable fish tank. Salt water is devastating to the insides of a watch rendering it irreparable.

Not all watches are created equal. The more time it takes to perform the battery change, the more some jewelers charge. It can sometimes take 20 to 30 minutes to change a battery and may require removing a dozen of those elusive tiny screws I mentioned earlier.

Anyone know an Orangutan who’s good with its hands? A word to the wise… keeping valuable time pieces in some safe deposit boxes can destroy the inner movements because of the combination of air-conditioning and humidity that plagues most confined spaces. A customer was in recently and showed me several watches that were totally rusted out from being confined in the bank for many years.

Time waits for no one. Mick Jagger

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!

Richard Alan is a Designer /Goldsmith and the owner of The Harbor Goldsmith of Marco Island and welcomes your questions about “All That Glitters” at 239-394-9275 and

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