18 Essential Watchmaking Tools
You’ve decided to give watchmaking a go.
Maybe because you’re already into watches and you want to add another layer to your hobby. Perhaps you’ve always liked to repair and fix stuff and watches are another challenge.
Either way, you need tools but every time you visit one of the online warehouses you’re overwhelmed with the huge supply of different tools and equipment. What do you need and do you need it right away?
This is a list of tools which are absolutely essential to start with watchmaking. You can always buy more tools when you gain more experience or when you need something specific (and believe me, you will).
I initially included links to Cousins UK because that’s where I buy all my tools and parts. However, I didn’t realize that you need to create an account, otherwise the links don’t work.
What are the essential tools to start with watchmaking
Screwdrivers and tweezers are the most important tools for a watchmaker.
You don’t want to buy a cheap set because they won’t last long and they’ll damage the movement. It’s not necessary to immediately buy the most expensive set you can find either.
I bought a 9-piece A*F carousel set and then I replaced the blades with Bergeon hardened steel ones.
After a while, I decided to upgrade the 6 most used screwdrivers with Horotec ones with stainless steel handles and ball bearings. I hardly use the other screwdrivers and when I do need them, the A*F ones do the job just fine.
They fit in the same carousel with a little adjustment.
Just like the screwdrivers, tweezers are very important because they’re your main tools.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to invest in a good quality antimagnetic tweezers like a Dumont.
A #2 or #3 is great to use as all around tweezers. You could buy a #5 to use when you’re working on the hairspring or shock protection system.
I like to use brass tweezers as well because they’re a soft metal and won’t damage your movement. It’s also 100% anti-magnetic.
Use it to grab larger parts like bridges and when you’re working on the mainspring and keyless works.
3. Movement Holder
A movement holder is necessary to secure the movement while you’re working on it. You can’t just lay it flat on the desk because there are parts sticking out that you could easily damage like the cannon pinion and the sweep second pinion.
Very common universal movement holders are the Bergeon 4040 and 4039.
Both are available in steel and carbon fibre.
You’ll need a loupe to accurately see the tiny parts you’re working on.
A medium magnification like x4 or x5 is enough for most work and can be worn at all times.
Use a headband to press the loupe against your eye and keep both hands free to work on the watch. You’ll find it on the same page as the medium eye loupe.
It’s a good idea to keep another loupe to inspect jewel holes, balance staffs etc. A x10 loupe should do the trick.
5. Watch Case Tools
Before you can even begin to work on a movement, you’ll have to open the case first.
The two most used types of case backs are the “snap-on backs” and the “screw-in backs”.
I like to use a “sticky ball” to open screw-in backs if I can because it won’t damage the case at all. These are available on eBay as well.
If the back is very tight, I use a Jaxa tool.
The snap-on backs require a bit of practice because you want to cause as little damage to the case and case back as possible.
Use a case knife to slowly apply force and create a slit to pop the case back off.
Most of the times you can reinstall a snap-on case back with your thumbs. If it doesn’t work, you can use a press like this one.
6. Watch Hand Removing and Fitting Tools
Before you can remove the dial and start working on the movement, you’ll need to remove the hands first.
I prefer a set of levers because I feel I have more control over the speed and the amount of pressure that is on the hands. In my opinion, the risk of damage is greater when you use a Presto puller tool but YMMV.
After the service, the hands need to be fitted again.
7. Peg Wood
Sharpen a peg wood and use it to pre-clean the parts before they go into the watch cleaning machine. The areas you should pre-clean are the jewel holes, bushes, the pallet stones, the crown of the pallets and any areas that are caked with old hardened lubrication or dirt.
It works very well because the wood is hard enough to remove dirt but not that hard that it’ll damage the movement.
You can also use a peg wood to hold down a part (balance cock, pallet cock etc.) while you’re unscrewing them or screwing them down.
Rodico is the WD40 of watchmakers. You can use it for almost everything.
It’s highly absorbent and it virtually leaves no residue behind.
It can be used to clean jewel holes after you’ve pre-cleaned them with a peg wood and to remove any excess lubrication. You can also use it to remove fingerprints and to lift parts.
For example, I sometimes use Rodico to lift parts like the ratchet wheel, the crown wheel, tiny screws, and cap jewels.
Magnetism is one of the most common causes of a watch to run badly.
The hairspring windings of a magnetized watch often stick together. Therefore, the rate will be highly erratic and the watch will most likely gain a huge amount of time per day. We’re talking minutes here.
It’s a good idea to demagnetize all watch parts before you clean them in the watch cleaning machine. If you don’t, magnetized particles can come loose and stick to other parts.
You can imagine why that would be bad.
There are basically 2 types of demagnetizers.
One compact type with a button which you need to hold down while you slowly move the magnetized item or complete movement away.
The other type is electronic and instantly demagnetizes parts or a complete movement with one push of a button.
You can also buy the compact types on eBay and they’re quite cheap. The electronic ones are costly but they’re more powerful and very easy to use.
I have a compact demagnetizer for tools and I demagnetize parts and movements with an electronic demagnetizer.
10. Digital Calipers
You’ll mainly use the digital calipers to measure the inside of the bezel if you need to replace a crystal.
You can also use it to accurately measure the movement. Sometimes you need the size in ligne to identify a movement, for example with Bestfit.
1 ligne = 2.2558 mm.
11. Watch Cleaning Machine
You need a way to clean the watch parts and dry them.
You could do this manually but I wouldn’t advise it. It’s very labor intensive and the results are likely not as good as they can be.
You can buy an older watch cleaning machine on eBay or from a watchmaker. These older machines often have 3 jars and a dryer.
The first jar is for cleaning the parts and the next two jars are for rinsing. Finally, the parts will be dried in the dryer container.
I use L&R 566 in the cleaning jar and L&R #3 in the two rinsing jars.
12. Dust Blower
A dust blower is a very handy tool to remove lint and dust particles. You can use it to remove small hairs and lint from a movement. It’s also a good idea to use it to clean the dial just before you fit the crystal.
Don’t use your mouth to blow inside a movement or on a dial because you’ll blow a fine mist of moisture with it which will corrode the movement and dial over time.
13. Oiling Tools
The movement needs to be lubricated with different kinds of oils and greases.
You’ll need oilers to collect a tiny bit of oil and deliver it into the jewel hole, arbor etc. Too little lubrication causes friction but too much oil can also be bad for the movement.
14. Pith Wood
A piece of pith wood is used to clean and dry your oilers, screwdrivers, and tweezers when you’ve used them. The wood is very absorbent and you can use it many times before you need to change it.
You could also use a piece of Rodico.
15. Bench Mat
A bench mat is useful for a couple reasons.
It’s soft and therefore prevents small parts from bouncing away if they fall. It’s easy to wipe clean before every repair or service.
Perhaps the most important reason is that the soft green color is easy on the eyes because you’ll be seeing a lot of the subsurface through your eyeglass.
16. Finger Cots
Sometimes it’s useful to use your fingers to hold the movement. When you’re fitting the set lever, for example.
To prevent fingerprints, you should wear finger cots.
17. Lidded Trays
These trays are very useful to store parts. You can even use it to cover a movement on a movement holder when you’re not working on it.
The parts stay clean and it keeps dust away.
This is very handy when you’re working on more than one movement at a time or when you have to wait for necessary parts to arrive.
They also have compartments that you can use to sort related parts so it’ll be easier to reassemble the movement.
18. Timing Machine
When you’ve serviced a watch, you need to make sure that you’ve done a good job.
Expensive Swiss timing machines are very accurate and they’re able to display a lot of information. A timing machine like a Witschi is a perfect choice for the professional watchmaker.
But a timing machine like this Multifunction Timegrapher No. 1000 is more than enough for the hobbyist watchmaker. You can use it to check the amplitude, beat error and amplitude to regulate your watch as accurate as possible.
You can also use it to read a watch and detect common problems.
Is This All?
These are the essential tools that you’ll need to successfully service a watch movement.
It might not seem like a lot but it’ll cost you around $600 to $800. That’s without the cleaning fluids and the various kinds of oils and greases.
Over time you’ll want to upgrade certain tools to better quality ones and you might start looking for more specialized tools.
Tools that might be useful are a crystal lift and a crystal press, files, pliers, cutters, and a mainspring winder. These will be useful when you want to replace the winding stem, for example.
When you’re more advanced, you might start looking for a staking set, stone press etc.
Do you miss a tool that’s absolutely essential? Let me know in the comments below.