Ulrich Kriescher is a master watchmaker. He advises clients on proper watch care on a daily basis from his workshop and on TV. We sat down to chat with the man himself and discuss some of the most frequently asked questions he receives. In this article, he will answer the following questions: Is my watch really water-resistant? And what influences a watch’s water resistance?
For the last 45 years or so, water-resistant watches have been a mainstay in watch advertising, and a watch’s water resistance has become an essential component of its technical specifications. Certain brands use depth ratings to promote certain models, and competition between brands for the highest depth rating has made its way into watch marketing. That said, I advise buyers to exercise some caution in this area. I work with watches and their water resistance on a daily basis in my profession, but what many watch owners aren’t aware of is that a timepiece’s water resistance isn’t a lifetime guarantee!
Factors that Influence a Watch’s Water Resistance
Watch cases are made of several different materials that can expand or contract in response to temperature fluctuations. Many diving watches have specially-designed built-in seals to guarantee watertightness despite these changes; however, they are all subject to natural aging processes.
If you’d like to learn more about the technical aspects of this topic, you should check out the German Industrial Norm (DIN) 8310 standard. There you’ll find written, among other recommendations, “…after every drop, contact with chemicals, and temperature change, the water resistance must be called into question.”
This means that a simple knock against the edge of a table or door frame can result in a loss of water resistance.
Contact with chemicals is not as unlikely a scenario as you might think. It can mean something as simple as washing your hands with soap and exposing your watch to the suds. In fact, caution is advised in a number of everyday activities such as swimming, jumping into water, and showering. Even brief exposures can exert excess pressure on the seals. Your watch is at even more risk if you jump into the pool after sunbathing. The pressure of the impact, together with the negative pressure due to rapid cooling, can easily lead to damage. This is why, after passing a water-resistance test, I always classify a watch as “water-resistant at the time of testing.”
What does water damage do to a watch?
It’s quite easy to tell if moisture has gotten inside a watch. The case of a watch always warms up when it’s worn; the coldest area is the crystal. Since moisture condenses at the coldest point, the crystal will fog, even with the slightest amount of water. It is not uncommon for this to occur due to damage or wear to old seals or defective crowns, push-pieces, or crystal. I remember one Rolex GMT-Master in particular that got completely flooded after a quick dip in the Mediterranean. Saltwater entered the watch via a defective seal and destroyed the internal components, including the movement, dial, and hands. When I opened it up, everything was covered in rust. It cost around $5,900 (€5,000) to repair.
Testing Water Resistance
This real-life example is painful for most watch enthusiasts to hear, but it clearly shows that water resistance is not permanent. It should be checked on an annual basis and especially before placing exceptional strain on your timepiece. Built-in seals naturally deteriorate from daily use. Here are a few more tips to preserve your watch’s water resistance:
- The crown should remain pressed in or screwed down and should not be used underwater or if the case is wet.
- The same can be said for push-pieces.
- Protect your watch from jolts, heat, intense heat followed by rapid cooling, chemicals, and mechanical wear.
- Find a watchmaker immediately if any moisture gets into your watch’s case.
- Do not attempt to dry your watch on a radiator or other heating device; the moisture will not be able to fully escape from the case.
I hope this article hasn’t put a damper on your summer vacation. You can and should enjoy your timepiece in your free time – just exercise a bit of caution. That way, you can be sure to enjoy it for a long time to come!