How To Clean A Pocket Watch Properly

So many people get this wrong that I thought I would do an article on the best way how to clean a pocket watch.  If you own an Elgin pocket watch then by looking after it, you can add real value to it. It only takes a short time every month to help preserve and increase its value.

In the perfect world, and if you can afford it, then take your watch to a professional and get it done properly.

If you are unsure what to do then this should always be the recommended course of action. Doing it yourself will of course save you money. However if you get it wrong, then it could cost you money in the long term, and you sure don’t want that.

You should expect to pay anything between $100-250 for a proper clean and maintenance.

A professional should be able to do this in an hour, providing they don’t have to replace any jewels etc. If they do, they should contact you as that will cost quite a bit more.  For me it just depends on the value of the watch. It will also depend if you can afford the luxury of having a professional looking after your watch.

How To Clean A Pocket Watch – Basic Cleaning

Any manual watch should of course be wound up once a day but not too tightly.  Never over wind a watch especially an antique watch as that will cause it damage.  Wipe the case with a lint free cloth and do the same on the glass to remove any finger prints.

There is no need to apply any type of cleaning fluid for this process.  A little bit of elbow grease is all that is required. All of this takes only a few minutes each day and is well worth doing. It also just happens to be free.




Advanced Cleaning

Unless you know what you are doing then take it to a professional.  If you are confident you can do this yourself or if it is not valuable enough to warrant the charge,s then you can do this yourself.  For more advanced cleaning and depending on your experience it could take around 1-2 hours to get this done.

If you have an owner’s manual then somewhere inside this it will give you instructions. These will include how to care for the watch. Always follow these rules to the letter. Don’t whatever you do, start taking the thing apart and trusting that you can re-build it.

I have rescued and saved many watches which have been taken apart by well meaning DIY amateurs.  If you have not got a manual or the right tools then you will need them or go to a professional.

I probably should emphasise that if you have an Elgin watch that has a good value then only ever go to someone who knows Elgin well. I do my own cleaning and minor repairs, but I would never work on anyone else’s watch.  If I mess up my own I can live with that. However causing a problem with a watch belonging to someone else would be a nightmare.

How To Clean A Pocket Watch – The Tools

You do need  certain tools and equipment to do this right. Now of course it will cost you some initial money. I guess it depends how often you are going to use them, and also on the collection size and value of your watches. I would recommend that you do an advanced cleaning and oiling at least annually.

Some say two years but that is too big a gap for me.  I have around 40 Elgin watches now and I do one every week so having the right tools is essential for me. The video below is pretty decent so worth a quick look.



All of the above elements are important but are only general guide lines.  Each watch is just slightly different and you need to be very careful. I bought my own tools and kit from various places online and I was lucky enough to have a friend who owned a wholesale jewellers and he gave me great advice on what to buy.

Here is a list of some of the main tools and equipment I use regularly when I clean my pocket watches:

  • Handling Gloves
  • Desktop magnifier with light
  • Eye Glass
  • Chain Link Pin Remover
  • Spring Bar and Lug Remover
  • Steel Pliers and Ben Nosed Pliers
  • Pump Duster
  • Pin Tong
  • Clock Hand Removers
  • Jewellers Tool Kit
  • Various cleaning brushes
  • Oil Cup With Pins
  • Ultrasonic Cleaner

Those are the basics anyway and I have added bits and pieces over the years. As you can see, it can actually turn into a bit of a hobby if it is something that genuinely interests you.

I will conclude this article by saying that if you don’t know what you are doing then get a professional to do it. I hope this article on how to clean a pocket watch properly has helped you out.

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