A question frequently asked is how to best clean watches. Friends often come to me requesting me to clean their watch(es). Therefore, I would like to discuss the subject here with a workshop.
What is needed for cleaning the watches:
We will clean the bracelet and watch separately. Therefore, we will first remove the bracelet from the watch. There is a separate workshop for this, so we will not go into this step in detail.
We will clean the watch classically, and the bracelet itself in the ultrasonic bath. Why?
Ultrasonic cleaners can damage or even completely destroy a movement within a few minutes due to the vibrations. Ultrasonic cleaners displace the water in the device with high-frequency vibrations. Water thus stimulated reaches all reachable spaces and rubs over all surfaces. This works fine without the use of detergents, but this effect is strengthened with detergents (e.g., some dishwashing detergents), since the surface tension is lowered and the water reaches the very last spaces even more easily.
The water does the same with seals and this is, of course, is extremely counterproductive for a watch. It can thus push past the seals and put the watch movement under water. Everyone can guess what that means for an expensive mechanical watch.
The vibrations are also just as critical for the watch and workings. The vibrations are transferred to the micromechanical components in the watch, such as bearings, springs or screws. These can become detached, displaced or simply broken by the horrendous force acting on these miniature components in the μm range. The oil on the bearing locations can begin to migrate due to the vibrations and the bearing points are then left without oil. By itself, this can lead to a necessary expensive repair, but the danger that more gets destroyed is very large.
This is also the reason why such watch-holders as in the following picture, which are often found in the discount store devices as accessories, are not recommended. Even if the housing remains above the water, the vibrations are nevertheless transferred to the housing and the workings via the bracelet, with the consequences described above. The bracelet must be removed. Doing it any other way is a botch-up.
The same applies to such fragile items as gemstones. Like the watch itself, these do not belong in an ultrasonic bath. It’s as it often is; a tool used correctly is a blessing, but misused, it can also be a curse.
The bracelet-free case is simply cleaned with the microfiber cloth and some glass cleaner. The microfiber cloth protects the watch from scratches. The glass cleaner evaporates by itself and does not have to be dried.
If the watch has not been cleaned for a long time and the watch does not have solid end links, it can accumulate a lot of dirt in this area between the horns. If there is a lot of dirt in the corners, which can be difficult to reach with the cleaning cloth, the microfiber cloth can be pulled over a pointed object. However, do not use metal objects (such as the bracelet changing tool, fork, pocket knife, etc.) as the tips can penetrate through the cloth and scratch the surface. Softer items such as toothpicks, wooden shish kebabs, or similar, are recommended.
The most thorough cleaning for the bracelet comes by using an ultrasonic cleaner. The watchmaker at the concessionaire does nothing else. Cleaning with a microfiber cloth does not get into the corners between the links and is so clearly less thorough.
As a cleanser, water is sufficient with a drop of dishwashing detergent to minimize surface tension. I do not use frequently recommended cleaning agents such as Tikopur R33 or EMAG EM-080 Universal cleaner for watch bracelets myself, because it is even softer with dishwashing detergent. Water should be heated in the appliance or already be warm for optimal cleaning.
Immediately after switching on, you can see how clouds of dirt form around the bracelet. After a few minutes you can now clean the bracelet. Then carefully dry it with a microfiber cloth. Please do not use paper towels, as these may contain chips that can scratch. With paper towels, you should at most blot, but do not rub. However, the recommended microfiber cloths are better.
Do not grasp the ultrasonic bath with your finger in order to remove the bracelet, as the high-frequency vibrations attack joints in the long term. Simply switch off the cleaner first.
There are ultrasonic cleaners and ultrasonic cleaners. One is offered for 20 euros at the discount store, while the others are more expensive and are also used by professionals. They are not that much more expensive.
The best recommendation is to just buy a good ultrasonic cleaner. The discount store devices are often not strong enough (scorners say, they are no more than “water movers”) and the price difference is simply too small. I paid 70 euros for my 3 liter device on eBay, including shipping. 1 liter devices, which are sufficient for watches, begin at 50 euros, 30 euros more, but certainly a good investment. If you want to clean not only bracelets, but also larger parts like carburetors etc., you should immediately buy a correspondingly large device.
But also, for years I have cleaned my bracelets with a smaller Chinese device, which still provided really good performance. The devices that I’ve seen lately, however, are much weaker and therefore I really recommend just spending the few extra euros to buy a good device and be done with it.
Now the bracelet and watch just have to be put together again. Just follow the procedure from step 1 in the reverse order.
Replace regularly the spring bars. Theses small elements are heavily loaded when holding the bracelet on the case. It is worth it – the costs are negligible with 10 Euros/10 Dollars per spring bar. A loss of the watch is much more expensive.