Monday, January 30, 2023

Time Waits For No One


Submitted Photo

I spend my days looking at a lot of jewelry and diamonds. It happens to be my job, but it doesn’t compare to the amount of watches that pass by my bench in a single day. I know, here he goes again! In my goldsmith shop it seems watches are a never ending source of my drama-full columns.

I look at and work on a hundred or more watches 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 come from a fancy jewelry store and cost thirty thousand dollars or more.

Most watches, pricey or not, have two things in common: they are designed to tell time, and most today run by battery.

I’m a goldsmith and have never claimed to be a professional watchmaker. Being around them most of my life, I have learned what makes a watch tick or not tick, and have probably changed about a bazillion watch batteries.

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.

I’m a goldsmith and have never claimed to be a professional watchmaker. Being around them most of my life, I have learned what makes a watch tick or not tick, and have probably changed about a bazillion watch batteries.

First things first I admit, changing watch batteries in many models are fairly simple to accomplish. (This is where the primate mentality comes in to play.)

Trouble is 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 the screw on your floor or rug!

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.” Just 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 two-cent Chinese or Korean battery that’s been sitting in a damp and steamy warehouse for who knows how long, where then 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 (Did he figure on the gas he used?). The gum snapping teenager at the kiosk changed his battery alright, 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 gold watch, needless to say, is no longer pretty and no longer tells time. Now it’s a pretty gold bracelet that looks like a watch.

Now some Reality…Some watches require a skilled watchmaker or authorized service center to change the battery. This may include Movado, Ebel, Concord, Tissot, Breitling and Tag Heuer, to name a few.

This is simply because the watch has to be completely dismantled, reassembled and important gaskets replaced… a costly process, but it’s the only way to get it done right. An expensive watch is like a fine automobile has to be maintained, especially manual winding watches or automatics (non-battery powered watches).

Oh and how I hear them whine and moan when I tell them that fact, and believe me most folks with the expensive watches know that fact, but figure I can perform miracles and they can avoid the pain and anguish resulting from the hefty replacement fee.

Of the hundred or so batteries I replace a week, the inevitable always happens; now remember the customer brought in the watch because it is not running (i.e. not telling time), I replace the battery, and 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 probably (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, so do you blame the mechanic who’s looking at the problem?

The watch could be full of dust, maybe sea or pool water could have gotten inside, or the watch could have been dropped or smacked around and sometimes it’s life expectancy is over… kaput, finite, la morte! 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 to fix it, pitch it and move on with your life for Pete’s sake!

Another fallacy about watches is if it says “water resistant” on the case you figure it’s ok to swim in them. I don’t suggest doing that, because it’s not waterproof. A frog or duck’s butt is waterproof, not a water resistant watch.

Oh sure I know, you wear it swimming anyway, it’s only a matter of time when 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, making it irreparable.

Not all watches are created equal, the more time it takes to perform the battery change the more some will charge (like me for instance). It can sometimes take twenty to thirty minutes to change a battery and can require removing a dozen of those illusive 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

Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owns the Harbor Goldsmith of Marco Island and welcomes your questions about “All That Glitters.” Call 239-394-9275 or email

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