If you are driving yourself "and maybe
your watchmaker" nuts trying to get your 100 year old watch to keep perfect
time take a close look at the photo below. This is Atomic Time on my computer
and cell phone!
Click on photo to enlarge
If you just
received your watch and it is not keeping good time or is not running
there are a few things you can check before making regulator adjustments,
especially if the timing is off more than a minute per day. Advise us if
this happens and we will extend the return period to allow you time to
try to get the watch timed. The bouncing around during shipment can
cause timing issues but many times they are temporary and the watch will
return to keeping time. You
can always call or email us for help.
Let the watch warm up, especially during the
winter months, before winding and setting it.
If the watch doesn't start on a full wind tap in
on the palm of you hand to see if it will start. Sometimes the
pallet fork jewels can get stuck in the escapement during shipping
and when this happens they usually release when the watch in tapped.
If the watch still doesn't start you will want
to check the following.
Check to be sure none of the hands are
Check to be sure the small second hand has
not been pushed tight against the dial.
Remove the back cover and check to be sure a
coil of the hairspring is not on top of the center wheel.
Check to be sure the hairspring is still in-between
the regulator pins.
Slightly loosen the case screws so if the
movement has gotten out of alignment in the case it can
straighten itself. Then snug the screws back up. When out of
alignment the stem can put enough pressure on the movement to
cause it to stop running or not keep time.
Using something like a toothpick lightly
nudge the balance wheel, if it has not started to run. If it
does not start then observe what it does so you can report that
After all of this if the watch still does
not run it most likely will have to come back here.
If it happens to be a magnetism problem this
usually dissipates in a couple of days, especially in watches
made after 1940.
are important! Recently I needed to rearrange my work space and
in so doing moved one of my timing machines to a platform that
is about two feet from a laptop computer that I use to track
atomic time when checking watch timing over an extended period.
Almost immediately I started to get erroneous readings from the
machine, at first I thought it most be something else because I
was two feet from the computer and I thought that should be
enough. After a coupe of days of having to use an older timing
machine I moved the one close to the computer to about 10 feet
away from it. It immediately began to give me accurate readings.
I recently learned that some
pocket watch owners are manually moving the small second hand in
order to achieve exact timing on their watch. You
should never do this.
You should never push the small second
hand, especially when they are tight because that would stop
or reverse the forth wheel and could cause damage anywhere
along the drive train or the balance and pallet, if you have
been doing this you could even break the forth wheel staff.
If you must have the second hand in
perfect sync with the other hands wait until it is just before
the hour of the correct atomic time and then when the small
second hand is pointing straight at 12 move the minute hand to
12. This is a real pain and not worth the effort in my opinion
but it is the only way to do it without risking damage to the
In order to maintain
the timing of your pocket watch you may find it necessary to adjust the
regulator from time to time. There are numerous factors that can affect
the timing of your watch. There are may style of regulators used on
pocket watches, on this page I will try to show examples of the more common
type and how to adjust them. The sensitivity of the regulator to
adjustment varies greatly, even within the same model and grade of
watch. So start with small adjustments to get a feel of how your watch
responds. With the regulator indicator centered you can expect to be
able to adjust up to a maximum of two minutes per day up or down. Be
patient and allow enough time between adjustments for the movement to
adjust to the change.
Before you start:
You will need to be familiar
with different style cases, information on these are at the bottom
of this page.
Have a well lighted flat surface
to work at
You will need a couple of small
screwdrivers .60, .80, and possibly a 1.00
A magnifying visor or other form
of visual aid like a loupe can be useful
Most regulators will have a marking
on the balance cock (bridge) of S and F to indicate which direction the
regulator arm should move to either speed up or slow down your watch. On
some modes, especially Elgin these can be confusing even seeming to be
inverse. If you keep in mind that the regulator pins should always be
moving away from the hairspring stud when trying to speed a movement up
and towards the stud when trying to slow the movement down you will
always get the result you are looking for.
Sometimes the adjustment needed is
beyond what you can achieve with the regulator, when this is the case it
will require the balance to be removed from the movement and changes
made to it.
I will attempt to make all of this
clear with the following photos and explanations. The photos may be
enlarged by clicking on them.
This is the most common style of
regulator, where the adjustment is made by inserting the correct size
screwdriver into the slot on the head of the adjustment screw and
turning while observing the arm to be sure you are going in the
direction you want.
Over-banking is when the pallet jewels
get stuck in or over the escape wheel arms. This is most likely to
happen during shipping but can happen at other times also. If
over-banking is chronic with your watch there may be a problem with
the pallet fork, pallet jewels, safety roller, banking pins positions
or roller jewel.
Over-banking is different from the pallet jewels just sitting on
top of the escape wheel and not starting without a tap of the watch. A
truly over-banked balance will not start. If you remove the back cover
and give the balance a nudge with a toothpick or pin you will see the
balance make very short oscillations for a very brief time and then
stop without advancing the second hand.
Learning how to
free an over-banked balance can save you a lot of frustration and
money and is fairly easy to do.
Refer to the above photo (you may want
to enlarge it by double clicking)
First loosen the balance cock screw
located just below the red word screw. You don't have to remove it
just get it loosened up.
Next use your screwdriver to pry the
balance cock up so that the upper pivot of the balance staff is
not tight in the upper balance jewel by inserting the screwdriver
under the balance cock between the words stud and arm and prying
Next using a toothpick give the balance
wheel a gentle flick away from you. You may have to try a couple
Once the balance starts oscillating
normally tighten the balance cock screw.
This is an Elgin
regulator and while it is similar you will notice the F as S are
located differently on the balance cock and there are a series of
holes in the adjustment screw head. There may or may not be a slot in
the screw head. The best way to adjust this style is to use a pin to
insert into one of the holes and then move towards or away from you
paying attention to which way the arm is moving
This is an example of a
Waltham Vanguard regulator where the arm and whip are all in one.
This is an example of an
Elgin traveling nut style regulator adjustment.
There are slots in the nut than you can use a
small screwdriver or something like a toothpick to turn the nut in
either direction to move the regulator position.
This is yet another
example of a Waltham regular. This one is a "star" whereby
the regulation adjustment is accomplished by turning the gold star
clockwise or counterclockwise while watching the position of the stud
located in the end of the regulator arm.
As you can see there
are many types and styles of regulator adjustment designs a lot not
shown here, but this should give you an idea how to regulate the timing
of your watch.
The following photos try
to show areas of the balance and hairspring that can have a large impact
on timing. This is more advanced and may not be something you want to
work with, but a good understanding of how this works will help you
understand issues you may have with your watch.
The following photo shows you the
position of the regulator pins and hairspring stud. Click on the photo
to enlarge it.
Most of the time you will want to see the stud
positioned about level with the balance cock and the hairspring positioned
between the regulator pins 2 to 3 mm from the bottom of the pins.
If your watch is not keeping time and regulating it
does not appear to help changing these positions may help.
After loosening the stud nut raising or lowering the
stud will do the same to the position of the hairspring in the regulator
pins. Raising the stud is especially helpful if the hairspring has a
tendency to come out of the regulator pins. Lowering it is helpful if the
hairspring itself is touching the balance cock. Either of these situations
make it impossible to accurately regulate the movement.
The next photo should help you visualize this. Again
enlarge the photo so you can see the details.
Another thing that impacts the timing is
the position that the roller jewel fits into the pallet and the position
of the banking pins. I can't photograph the former but can the latter and
that is the next photo. Every brand and grade of movement has different
positions for the balance cock and pallet and the relative position of
these two can make a big difference in the function of the balance. This
is work that is strictly in the purview of the watch maker. But I do
believe that shipping especially that involving long distances and
vibration can change these settings. I believe this
is especially true for recently serviced and lubricated movements where
there is no crud holding things tight. Ideally
the roller jewel will intersect the pallet dead center when the pallet is
centered between the banking pins. This is easier to say than to do. If
the banking pins are too close together the pallet jewels can't advance
the escape wheel, if they are two far apart the balance will over-bank and
the pallet jewels will lodge into the the escape wheel or may cause the
balance to have a bad amplitude and or beat error. Click on photo to
When any part of this is out of proper
alignment it can cause timing problems. Sometimes the balance may look
like it is oscillating very slow but the watch is gaining time. Sounds
impossible but it is actually very reasonable and here is why. When everything
is correct the balance wheel is swinging well
past where the banking pins stop the pallet, this consumes a few milliseconds
when the hairspring is allowing the balance to swing but the banking pins
are stopping the pallet so the escape is not being advanced. When the
balance appears to be slow running the balance makes a full swing and
advances the escape faster because the dead time is not be consumed.
I always make sure all of this is aligned
and a watch is keeping time before shipping but when there are problems I
usually find something that should not has changed position.
Four style of cases will cover 95% of
what you will ever have to deal with. The following photos and
descriptions should familiarize you with them.
A swing out case, this is a case when the
movement is attached to an inner movement holder not the case
itself. This holder is permanently attached to the case by a hinge
that allows the movement to lifted out of the case for adjustment.
These cases have a solid back and only the front cover is removable.
A RR case or the standard two cover case where
both the front and rear covers are threaded so that they screw on
and off the body of the case
The third style is the hinged case, which can be
single, double of triple hinged. Some will have screw off backs
rather than hinged backs and some will have hinged dust covers,
thereby requiring the third hinge.
The fourth style is a hunter case, which is very
similar to the hinged case other that the front cover (usually
solid) is released by pushing down on the crown. The crystal is in a
bezel that snaps on over the dial.
You can enlarge this photos by clicking on them. The case
on the left in the top photo is a swing out style and the case on the
right is a standard railroad style case.
With the covers in place these cases look very similar.
But on close inspection you could see that there is a solid back on the
case to the left.
With the front covers removed and the movement holder
lifted slightly you can easily determine which is which. If you enlarge
the photos you can see the slots in the case body that provide space for
the setting levers to be pulled out. The most common position is near the
1 & 2 area, some Waltham models are at 11 and sidewinders (crown at 3)
can be near 5.
Getting at the movement to adjust the regulator is pretty
straight forward in the railroad style or hinged cover cases but the swing
out case deserves a little more detailed instructions.
In most cases you will need to pull out on the crown
like you would on any stem setting watch. This allows the stem to
clear the movement holder opening when lifting the movement out of the
The is a small slot that is located below the 6 where
you can insert a small screwdriver to start lifting the movement
holder slightly out of the case. Once you can get a fingernail into
the holder you should be able to easily lift it out of the case. If
you run into any resistance do not use force but pull out a little
more on the crown.
When you go to replace the holder into the case be
sure it is clearing the stem, if not the holder will resist going back
into the case.
The hunter style and hinged cases are pretty straight forward
so I am not going to confuse you with more information here.