Lubrication: A Vital Aspect of Watch Repair | Highlands Ranch, CO

Photo by Creative Lab at Shutterstock

Mechanical watches are works of art. The tiny pieces and gears making up the movement are very delicate. Watch repair is a painstakingly detailed process. Lubrication is one of the most important aspects of this process and often involves drops of oil so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye. Repair and lubrication require the experience and skill possessed by professionals in Highlands Ranch, CO.

Why is Lubrication Important?

Every component within a watch is connected. Hundreds of individual parts, such as gears and springs, are present within a few cubic centimeters inside a wristwatch. These miniature components move continuously. Friction occurs at every contact point between a moving piece and surrounding components. This friction must be kept to an absolute minimum. Lubrication lessens friction and facilitates smooth movement.

Abrasion resulting from constant movement and friction can erode components. Erosion lets tiny particles break away and jam fine mechanisms within the watch. Approximately 50 points, such as bearings and wheel pivots, in a watch movement require lubricating oil. Other important components include the mainspring in the barrel, winding mechanism, and the escapement. Watches with perpetual calendars and other additional features may have three times as many lubrication points in the movement.

The escape wheel, with a revolution rate of approximate 20 times per minute, is the fastest gear in a watch movement. Speed of movement is very low, but surface pressure is exceptionally high.

Objects with a small surface area are subject to higher pressure than larger objects where pressure is diffused over a wider surface area. Pivots inside a watch exert very high pressure loads on bearings that are only 1-millimeter thick.

Lubricant Application

Lubricant is applied after the watch movement has been cleaned. This is very important. Any dust, dirt or debris present when oil is applied will become part of the lubricant. Instead of smooth, clear lubricating oil, the watch components will be covered in a gritty paste. The grit and debris cause rapid deterioration of the oil and damage delicate components.

Watch repair is a process with many steps. Most lubricants are applied after the repair is finished and the components have been reassembled. Exceptions to this rule are parts and mechanisms that will not be accessible after assembly.

The amount of oil applied to each area is another skill learned from experience in watch repair. Too much oil overflows from the intended location and pulls away from the targeted surface. Insufficient oil does not adequately protect parts. Applying oil in the wrong place, especially wheel teeth, can actually attract dust and dirt and increase friction.

Synthetic vs. Natural Lubricating Oils

Watchmaking lubricants in the past were made of animal and vegetable oils. Fish oil was very popular, and sometimes a lingering odor of fish is still present in very old watches. Neatsfoot oil was a common lubricant made from oil glands in cows’ feet.

Sperm whale oil was also a valued lubricant. These oils worked well immediately after application, but organic oils deteriorate and become sticky and gummy after a few months. Cleaning the degraded, sticky oil from watch components was very time consuming.

Current watch oils are synthetic. Synthetic oils eventually evaporate and disappear, so there is no sticky mess or foul odor left behind. However, the gummy degraded oil did protect the watch and prevent damage.

Watches didn’t work when natural oils degraded and gummed up, so wearers had to clean and lubricate the components. Modern day oils that simply evaporate do not stop the watch from functioning. This can lead to wear and damage because the moving components are completely dry. Sometimes the lack of lubrication isn’t noticed until something breaks. Keep your watch in good working order with an evaluation by watch repair professionals in Highlands Ranch, CO.

Choosing the Right Lubricant

The extensive variety of lubricating oils can be confusing. Choosing the correct oil is an important aspect of watch repair. Chemical manufacturers began making synthetic oils for many different purposes about 60 years ago. Watch oils must meet exacting standards and satisfy specific criteria.

Some watch manufacturers designate appropriate oil types in their technical guides, although this information is not always available. An experienced watch repair professional learns which oils are most appropriate for particular brands and types of mechanical watches. This knowledge is acquired through years of experience.

Different oils and greases can be used for different purposes within the same watch. Watch repair professionals often keep a diverse inventory of lubricating oils. Thick oils that create a stable film are applied at friction points from the barrel to the center wheel. A thick film of oil is necessary to withstand higher pressure.

Thinner oils are used near the fourth and escape wheels because these parts move faster under less pressure and thick oil would impede their movement. A general rule of thumb is that speed increases and force decreases while moving away from the mainspring.

Lubricants and Component Materials

Watch components can be manufactured from a variety of materials, including steel, brass and even synthetic gemstones. Identifying the various materials is an important factor in watch repair. Lubricants interact with various materials in different ways. An oil that works very well on steel may not work well at all on brass.

Components within a watch may be made of different materials, so it is important to apply lubricants carefully to prevent oil from spreading into unintended areas. Epilame is a surface treatment applied to lubrication points to form an oil-resistant film. This film stops oil from diffusing out of its intended location.

A mechanical watch is a fascinating and intricate miniature machine, and watches often have sentimental value attached. Contact Matheu’s Fine Watches to let skilled professionals handle your watch repair needs.