Removing the stem from an antique pocket watch is a moderately difficult task. The job relies less on the knowledge of the parts of the movement (the spring mechanism that powers the watch) and more on skilled manipulation of precision tools. Identifying parts of the antique pocket watch’s movement is easy, but using special watchmaker’s tools to perform intricate work is difficult and requires practice first on a watch you don’t mind destroying. Watchmaking classes offered at adult education classes or online are recommended to acquire the skills of basic pocket watch repair.
Standard Pocket Watches
Pry open the snap-down case back of an antique pocket watch by placing a case blade or your fingernail under the lip at 6 or 12 o’clock and lift. Place a screw-down case back model face down in your hand and use the palm of your other hand to unscrew it counterclockwise to open.
Unwind the pocket watch by letting down the mainspring, which is a tightly wound ribbon of thin steel in the mainspring barrel. Twist the crown at 12 o’clock a few clicks so you can spot the stopper passing over the mainspring gear.
Hold the crown with your thumb and forefinger. Push aside the stopper with a precision screwdriver until the stopper is free from the gears. The timepiece will unwind.
Unscrew the two screws that hold the movement to the case with a screwdriver. Remove the movement from the case.
Look for the smallest screw on the movement next to the stem. The screw locks the stem into the movement. Use a screwdriver to loosen, but not remove, the screw. Slide out the stem.
Pry open or unscrew the front of a swing-out pocket watch case in the same manner you would on a case back in Step 1 of Section 1.
Pull out the crown all the way. The movement will swing out but will still be attached to the case.
Examine the stem. It will be in two pieces. One piece is a sleeve and the other piece fits inside the sleeve. Gently wriggle the inside piece from the sleeve with precision tweezers. It will separate and come free.
Keyless Pocket Watches
Locate the small screw in the case of a keyless pocket watch. Use a screwdriver to remove the screw.
Pull the crown and winding stem straight out from the antique pocket watch case. The movement will remain intact in the case.
Place the screw and stem in naphtha in a shot glass for soaking. Dry with absorbent paper. Install in the case in the reverse order of how you disassembled it. .
Things You'll Need
- Clean, flat table
- Case blade
- Watchmaker’s screwdriver set
- Watchmaker's tweezers
- Naphtha, an element of lighter fluid
- Shot glasses
- Lint-free, absorbent paper
Removing the stem is a good introduction to complete pocket watch repair because it teaches you the basic parts of the watch in advance of more intricate work.
Never force open a case back or force the stem from the pocket watch. You will damage it.
- Removing the stem is a good introduction to complete pocket watch repair because it teaches you the basic parts of the watch in advance of more intricate work.
- Never force open a case back or force the stem from the pocket watch. You will damage it.
Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.