How to look after your timepieces while on holiday.
As the annual summer holiday exodus takes place, Sean Li gives some top pointers on how to properly look after the timepieces that accompany you on your journeys
It’s no secret that mechanical watches need to be handled with a certain amount of care. While modern technologies, both in materials and production techniques, have enabled watchmakers to build in a higher degree of resistance to the elements and undue handling, these are still machines on a very small scale that can be inadvertently damaged. You’d be surprised at how much force is actually transmitted to the parts of a watch by even a casual knock on the table—and that’s just at home. Travelling with your watch (or watches) brings in itself an additional set of challenges and possible nefarious external influences. As the old adage goes, though, a little preparation goes a long way. Here are some pointers on how to best prepare for travel while taking care of your prized horological possessions.
Most watch collectors are likely to travel, particularly on extended summer holidays, with more than one timepiece. You need to ensure that they’re adequately protected in transit. Padded service boxes, such as the ones you may get after the watch has been returned from the watchmaker following a revision, may not be the most glamorous but they’re very effective at protecting against metallic objects that could mar the surface of the watch, as well as the various bumps and shocks you’ll encounter along the way. Having individual boxes allows you some flexibility if you’re staying in a hotel, as some of the safes they provide can be on the small side.
It’s also in the hotel safe that you’ll need to be aware of an invisible danger to mechanical watches in particular: magnetism. As you’re very likely to be storing some kind of tablet or e-reader in the safe, bear in mind that many of these devices incorporate a number of magnets, usually to keep the cover closed or attached to the device. These magnets can affect the regular timing of the watch’s movement and can even go as far as to magnetise key components. If you ever see your watch running unusually fast—as in gaining 15 minutes or so in a day or more— the likely culprit is magnetisation. It’s an issue that’s easily resolved, but only if you have access to a demagnetiser. Most watch shops and technicians will have one, but it’s not equipment that you’re likely to carry on holiday. There’s little that can be done otherwise and it can be a serious hassle if it happens to be the only watch you brought.
Magnetisation isn’t a new issue for mechanical watches. It’s been part and parcel of frequent air travel, thanks to the metal detectors you have to pass through at airport security checkpoints. They work by detecting shifts in magnetic fields due to the presence of metallic objects; in short, they’re giant magnets. Whenever I travel, I make it a point of removing the watch from my wrist and placing it in a pouch or service box in my travel bag, so that it goes through the scanner rather than the metal detector.
If that’s not possible—either because the security agent insists you keep your watch on (a very rare occurrence, but I’ve seen it happen) or you sent your bag through already—make sure you keep your watch as close to the centre of the metal detector by slightly crossing your arm across your body, where the magnetic field will generally be the weakest. This rule also applies when you’re placing the watch in the safe alongside that magnetic cover for your tablet; keep them as far apart as you can within the safe and you should minimise the risk of magnetisation.
For those who like to go swimming with your watches, do make sure that your watch’s water resistance is adapted to your activity level. The common ratings are based on water pressure, which is generally measured by depth. But bear in mind that this is a static pressure reading and if you’re active in the water, you can easily exceed that pressure just by jumping into a swimming pool. The rule of thumb is that you need a watch that’s rated to 100 metres, or 10 atmospheres (ATM), to safely go swimming. Lower ratings can only withstand the occasional splash or dip in shallow water, or a rainstorm. Also remember that any watch with a water resistance rating needs to be retested if the case is ever opened; watches with a high degree of water resistance will likely need new gaskets as well to ensure they prevent any liquid from entering.
Lastly, for those with mechanical watches that have dates or calendar functions, be mindful when you make that time adjustment during your travels. These mechanisms are often very gradual—that is, the changing of the date, month or any related indication is seldom instantaneous, and the gears are engaged often hours before you actually see the change occur. It’s at this stage that you should be careful to not turn the hands on your watch backwards, for not all movements are able to reverse the process. Should you apply too much force, you could easily damage the small gears. Here, it’s generally after 10pm and 2am that the hands should not be reversed. If you’re unsure whether the time shown is 10am or 10pm, you can just move the hands forward a few hours as a safety precaution.
Perpetual calendars can be even more finicky, as most will not change all the indications at the same time since it would require a lot of energy from the movement. Instead, you might see the date indications change around midnight, while the moonphase will click forward a few hours later. Unfortunately, this is where you’ll need to peruse the owner’s manual; perpetual calendars that have these kinds of operational restrictions will state them very clearly.
All that remains is for me to wish you safe travels—and the enjoyment of your timepieces during your holidays.
TRAVELLING WITH YOUR WATCH (OR WATCHES) BRINGS IN ITSELF AN ADDITIONAL SET OF CHALLENGES AND POSSIBLE NEFARIOUS EXTERNAL INFLUENCES