It’s happened to us all. You drop your phone in water and then desperately try to salvage it, trying every means possible to dry it out (submerging in a cup of rice seems a favourite!) But, what happens if the inside of your watch gets wet? We bring you advice and tips on what to do next.
Can Any Watch Movement Get Wet?
It’s more common for this to happen in older, vintage models from the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. The case says it's waterproof but nothing is permanently waterproof. Older cases get deformed over time, the gaskets leak and they can let in water. With vintage watches, it’s best to get them checked for water resistance every 1-2 years.
With modern watches we also recommend having the rubber gaskets and water resistance checked every few years or when you get the watch serviced, as the gaskets can break at any time.
How Do I know If Water Has Leaked In?
The first sign that water has leaked into the mechanism is that the crystal will fog. Sometimes this fog will go away but this is just an illusion because the moisture is already inside the watch and starting to do damage. If it’s visible above the dial it means that it’s also present in the movement. The movement is made up of metal parts which means they will rust.
How Long Before Water Starts To Damage The Movement?
You’re looking at a week, depending on the volume of water inside the movement. If the movement is flooded, it will rust in less than a week so you haven’t got long to get it fixed. Water damage is incredibly corrosive. Fresh water doesn’t corrode as quickly as salt water, with salt water we’re talking about days before it totally corrodes the movement. If you wait and the watch rusts inside, this will destroy the watch.
What Should I Do First?
At home, use a hair dryer on a medium setting and dry your watch evenly on the case, back and sides but ensure it never gets too hot. Applying lots of heat to the watch can also damage it. When water finds its way in, there’s no way for it to come out unless you open up the caseback. We don’t recommend you do this yourself, by doing so you can damage the gaskets and the watch will no longer be water resistant. Once you’ve manually dried it out as much as possible, bring the watch (intact) to a reputable watchmaker. This goes for both mechanical and quartz watches, as both have metal parts.
What Will A Professional Watchmaker Do?
A watchmaker will separate the movement from the case straight away, disassemble everything and dry all the pieces individually. A watch will have a few hundred components that all need to be dried out thoroughly.
Once these have been dried out, he will put the individual parts into a cleaning machine with different solutions to remove old oils and dust. He will then put the parts into drying machines to thoroughly dry them out. When he re-assembles the watch he re-greases it with oils specific to each part. Once re-assembled, the watch is tested for a period of time with machines that simuate the motion of the wrist, to ensure the oils get the chance to even out in the jewel caps.
When A Watch Says Waterproof Is This Not Actually The Case?
In watches, there’s no such thing as waterproof, they are only ever water resistant. So, when you buy a watch you need to make sure that you’re using it to the capabilities of what it was made for. Manhattan Time Service watchmaker Thomas Lodowski is pictured diving with his watch, below.
To help you out, we’ve created this recommended usage how to guide. Your watch will remain water resistant if you stick to the levels within the guide.
What Are Your Tips For Preventing This Happening In The Future?
Have your watch checked for water resistance every 1-2 years by a professional watchmaker, not a jeweller, as it needs to be put in a pressure tester.
A wet pressure tester.
A dry pressure tester.
There are lots of Youtube videos showing how to pry off the case with pliers, which is the worst thing you can do. As mentioned earlier, once you open up the caseback there is a high chance that the watch is no longer water resistant once you put it back together.
Once you close the case and the gasket is compressed, this seals it. If you do it yourself, the gasket can get deformed and the watch is no longer water resistant.
TIP: Have your watch checked out before a vacation or diving. Most water resistant watches have a screw in crown, make sure you hand screw this in and don’t use a machine or tool.