Having a watch run too fast or slow is very annoying when trying to see the time. It can turn into a very frustrating daily task to adjust the watch for its inaccuracy, rather than just being able to enjoy the watch fully. A watch is something that is supposed to be a tool. However, needing another tool (mobile phone) to adjust the watch kind of defeats the purpose of the actual tool (watch).
Automatic watches will run approximately +/- 10 seconds per day in worst-case scenarios. The amount the watch will run too fast or slow depends on the quality and the care taken of the watch. If the watch is running more than +/- 30 seconds per day, take the watch to a professional watchmaker.
When to take it to a watchmaker (which can be very costly) takes some knowledge to asses. Throughout this post, you will get a good guideline for when a service is actually needed, and when it is natural for the watch to run fast or slow.
What to do if Automatic Watch is Running too Fast or Slow
Troubleshooting an automatic watch is quite tricky when you don’t have the watchmaking skills to open the watch. However, some logical approaches can help you determine the potential cause of a fast or slow running watch.
If you experience your watch is running faster or slower than usual, you should seek a watchmaker/jeweler. They will open the watch and troubleshoot. If wanted, you can have them service the watch, so it becomes accurate again.
There are some believes that turning your watch in a particular direction can temporarily adjust the time of the watch:
- Automatic watch is running very fast: Put the watch with the crown up.
- Automatic watch running fast: Put the watch with the crown downwards.
- Automatic watch running too slow: Put the watch on its case back with the dial facing upwards.
The idea of putting the watch on a specific side is that it will slow down or speed up the watch, depending on how the watch lay, because of gravity. Gravity has an effect on how the watch runs, which is why the tourbillon was invented. This is also why you will see a watchmaker calibrate a watch from multiple different angles when testing the timekeeping of a timepiece.
However, you will not be able to adjust for wider varieties. Whenever the watch is running more than +/- 5 seconds per day, you will have a problem controlling it with the methods mentioned above.
However, you can consider what you have done wearing the watch. From the period you last knew, it was running fine to the moment it was no longer keeping time accurately.
Are you worried your watch is damaged? In that case, I have made a meaty post that explains the ways you might have ruined your watch.
8 Reasons Why Automatic Watch is Running Fast or Slow
There can be many reasons why an automatic watch runs fast or slow. One thing is for sure, an automatic watch will have deviations in either a fast or slow direction. However, unusual deviations shouldn’t be accepted.
Therefore, understand what you do wearing the watch can be a big helper in understanding whether the watch might be damaged or not.
1. Service Intervals
First is the service intervals, the most important aspect of any automatic watch. The service of a watch is what makes it a lifetime machine. If you consistently take the watch to service every 3-5 years, the watch will virtually last forever. The recommended service intervals vary a lot from watch to watch and manufacture to manufacture.
High-end watches such as Omega and Rolex recommend services every 7-10 years. Whereas, lower-end watches such as Seiko recommend a service every 3 years. The service intervals are, of course, influenced by the amount of care taken for the watch.
Lubrication: Besides enjoying the timepiece, one of the biggest aspects of owning an automatic watch is servicing. The main reason watches are needing servicing is due to lubrication. Most people don’t need water resistance because they never use the watch near water. Furthermore, the wear and tear usually occur when the lubrication is no longer fresh.
The lubrication of a watch will slowly wear out over the years. This is why there are recommended service intervals. High-øend watches are using better synthetic lubricants, and lower-end watches use cheaper, less effective lubricants.
The small layers of lubricant on the cogs prevent the cogs from ever actually touching. Essential, this means the cogs will never wear down if the watch is adequately lubricated and serviced.
Water resistance: For any watch with water resistance, the servicing of the gaskets and lubrication of the gaskets is vital to secure the watch is tight. Water-resistance is not essential to most people as people never use their watches for diving and water activities. If a watch is not water-resistant and water or moisture would enter the watch, the watch will need a complete overhaul.
Moisture will make the lubrication grimy, and depending on the amount of moisture will clog up the movement.
Wear and tear: Wear and tear will happen eventually as the watch is worn. Stress is put throughout the movement, and the entire watch will, in most cases, be running from the first day you purchased it. Obviously, the wear and tear will be more significant on poorly serviced watches.
A lot of areas of an automatic watch is not lubricated. This means that despite proper lubrication, some parts will inevitably wear out and need replacement.
Magnetism is one of the great sinners within faulty watch movements. Watchmakers often say that magnetism is a cause of a watch not keeping time. The worst part is that magnetism can be picked up everywhere. If you’re a frequent traveler, your watch is exposed to metal detectors that have quite strong magnetic fields. Fortunately, most modern watches is not or barely affected by such equipment.
Omega is recommending to keep watches away from loudspeakers, refrigerators, certain handbag clasps, I-pad cases, and alike products. If you are fortunate enough to own a Master Co-Axial Chronometer movement, Omega says that the watch can be exposed to up to 15,000 gauss (a magnetic measurement unit). In contrast, a strong refrigerator magnet is 100 gauss.
The best and fastest way to check if you have a magnetized watch is by hovering the watch over a compass. If the compass starts to sway, your watch is magnetized.
Other professions that is often affected by magnetism is health care personal, pilots, electricians, etc. Healthcare personal who works near x-ray or MRI scanners is exposed to extreme magnetic fields. These magnetic fields can be so strong that even the modern automatic watches can’t avoid being damaged.
Antique or vintage watches can be destroyed by magnetism. In general, older watches should be kept far away from any magnetic equipment.
Magnetism is the only issue that you can actually fix yourself without opening the watch, potentially causing more harm to the movement. Using a demagnetizer (Opens a new window to Amazon), you can actually remove the magnetism from the watch without going to the watchmaker.
3. The Watch has been Dropped
Dropping a watch is not an uncommon thing. Accidentally bumping the watch into something very rough is not unusual either. Whenever you drop a watch or bang it into something, you can end up dismounting cogs and springs. This can make the watch run fast or slow, but it can also make it stop until it has been fully repaired.
In rare cases, you might have gotten the regulator pin moved. However, this is a highly unlikely event. If the watch just needs a regulation, the cost of the reparation might only be somewhere between $20-$50 depending on the place you live, and the time (hence the complexity) the watchmaker needs to fix the regulator.
In some cases, the hairsprings (e.g., from the balance wheel or mainspring) could get entangled. The tangling of hairsprings typically happens when there is a massive jerk to the movement. Another thing that could also impact the hairsprings is a miss alignment from the drop. If the hairspring in the balance wheel is miss-aligned, the watch can end up running fast or slow.
Temperature is a big influencer for how the lubricants behave in an automatic watch. Automatic watches have lubricated all moving parts to minimize the wear that happens over time. Lubricants will harden under too low temperature, and when exposed to high temperatures, they will become too liquid to lubricate the movement correctly.
In essence, when the watch is exposed to low or high temperatures, the lubricants will lose their capabilities. Sooner or later, the watch will run too fast or too slow. However, you shouldn’t run around hiding the watch from the sun on a summer day, and stop wearing it in the winters.
Today’s lubricants are synthetic. Hence the temperature changes is no longer a big problem. However, when thinking of storing the watch for a more extended period, the temperature is one of the first things you should consider.
If the watch is stored in an attic, you should investigate the temperature before storing an automatic watch in such places. Attics are notoriously known to be very hot or very cold. On hot summer days, attics can be worse than a sauna, and on cold winter days, you wouldn’t know the difference between being in the attic and outdoors.
Omega has the recommendation of keeping the watch below 60C or 140F and above 0C, or 32F, and extreme temperature changes. Seiko recommends to keep the watch above 5C or 41F and below 35C or 95F.
The extreme temperature changes often get the “hot tub” debate. When having been out skiing all day, and then storming into the hot tub will inevitably cause a lot of change to the lubrication in the watch.
While the temperature itself might not damage the watch, it will damage the accuracy of your watch.
Gravity is one of the bigger reasons that a watch will run slow or fast. However, not many know about it. The position of the watch gives it a slight rate of loss or gain, depending on which side the watch is facing.
Typically it is believed that the time can be adjusted by placing the watch on either side overnight. However, in reality, it is just gravity playing with your watch. Setting the watch in a fixed position every night will not actually adjust for running fast or slow. However, what it will do is to either slow down or go faster when you are not wearing it.
It is believed that if the automatic watch is running very fast, it should be put on it’s 9 o’clock (crown facing upwards). If the automatic watch is only running slightly fast, it should be placed on it’s 3 o’clock (crown facing downwards). Lastly, if it is running too slow, the watch should be put on its case back, having the dial watch upwards.
6. Watch Isn’t Winding Properly
If the watch isn’t winding correctly, you will see the watch run too slow. It is a general rule of thumb that watches is most accurate when their power reserve is wound from 30% and up.
There could be several reasons for the watch, not winding correctly. The first and most likely reason is a worn slip-clutch. In the debate of whether automatic watches can be overwound, the mainspring has a y-shape which is used to make a little “fold” that can slip freely inside the mainspring drum when the mainspring has been wound enough. If the mainspring is old, the “fold” might have been significantly worn down to a point where it is not able to apply the correct pressure towards the mainspring-drum wall.
If the mainspring can’t create friction against the wall, it might spin excessively. In essence, it spins before it has to, making it lose a lot of its power reserve before it is meant to.
Another reason is the braking grease used to create friction against the drum wall. When the braking grease starts to wear out, the mainspring will start to slip before it is required. The effect is the same as the above mentioned with a worn slip-clutch.
7. Watch Keeps Fogging
When a watch fogs up, it is caused by one thing: It is no longer tightly sealed. The gaskets that secure the watch from outside moistures will wear out with time. This is why service intervals are essential.
Gaskets are lubricated with oils, and they are placed in areas that prevent moisture from entering the watch, such as the case back and the crown. However, if the gaskets are no longer adequately lubricated or aged to a point where they are not tightly sealed towards the surfaces of the watch, water can start to enter the watch.
The reason the gaskets wear out and get damaged is caused by 2 things: significant temperature changes and improper lubrication.
Back to the hot tub example. If you’re at the ski resort and after a good time at the after-ski you want to go home in the hot tub, you could go from something like -15C or 5F to 40C or 104F. Those extreme temperature changes will cause the gaskets to decrease and afterward increase a lot in size in a short amount of time.
The other reason is improper lubrication. This isn’t meant as a poor watchmaker job, but rather because the watch has been used around soaps, dissolvents, perfume, etc. Remember, the gaskets is made for the water not entering the watch. This means that the liquids will actually make contact with the gaskets. If the gaskets are repeatedly exposed to soaps and dissolvents sooner or later, the lubrication will wear off, and the gaskets will start to rip apart (picture an old rubber band, it will disintegrate).
8. Watch Stopped During Sleep
Often experience your watch stops during your sleep. You might even have wound the watch before going to bed, and it still turns up to be stopped when you wake up.
If this happens to your watch, it can be a combination of all the above. However, you can do some tests to see if the power reserve is damaged (mainspring).
A typical day at work is 8 hours. The average person sleep between 6-8 hours. This means that during a day of work, you can experience what happens to your watch. If you have a day at the desk, or otherwise have access to look at the watch occasionally, you have an excellent opportunity to test.
When you arrive at work, wind the watch manually with the crown enough times to make sure it is supposed to be fully wound. Typically you will use 20 turns to make sure it is running. However, you want it fully wound. Therefore, wind until you start feeling resistance, or about 50-60 turns.
If the watch stops, you know there is something wrong with the manual winding mechanism. However, if the watch keeps going for its rated hours (typically between 30 to 70 hours), there is something else wrong.
The last thing you can test yourself is the rotor, which is the automatic winding in your automatic watch. You do the same thing as before. However, instead of winding the watch manually, you now shake it for about 2-5 minutes to make sure the rotor has rotated to a point where the watch should be fully wound.
If the problem persists, you should go to a watchmaker. Some gears might have been misaligned, which leads to poor winding, and you shouldn’t try to fix that yourself as you can permanently damage the watch.
Is it Normal for an Automatic Watch to run Fast?
When a watch is running too fast, your first thought will most likely be that something is wrong. While that might be true, there is actually a legitimate reason for automatic watches running both too fast or too slow. You properly know quartz watches which is characterized by their one tick per second. Even poor quality quartz watches are able to be precise within +/- 2 seconds per day.
It is quite common that high-end automatic watches run about +/- 5 seconds per day, whereas lower quality automatic watches can run +/- 20 to 40 seconds per day. It is difficult to adjust an automatic watch to be more accurate than that.
Whenever you have an automatic watch that runs late or slows, you should be true to yourself about the quality of the watch. Many Chinese movements are highly inaccurate, and if the watch is a replica or cost less than $200-$500, you shouldn’t expect it to be more accurate than +/- 30 seconds per day.
While the price of a $200-$500 price range is not a factor of actual quality, it is a good guideline to estimate when the quality changes from a lower grade to a higher grade. E.g., Seiko watches are quite accurate while being cheap.
What is the Acceptable Accuracy of an Automatic Watch?
The COSC standard is a standard measuring the maximum acceptable deviation per day. Any COSC certified watch will run between -4/+6 per day. While this can’t be used as a broad comparison on all watches, you will know what the acceptable rate is for a COSC certified watch. COSC certified watches are identified by the “Chronometer” marking on the dial.
The widely popular Seiko movement caliber 6R15 is accurate within -15/+25 seconds per day. These specifications are what Seiko themselves says the watch is calibrated to run within from the factory. Obviously, it would be difficult sending a watch back because it was inaccurate being in that range.
Omega, on the other hand, will have chronometer certification on some of their watches. Furthermore, Omega claim that any qualified Omega watchmaker can and will adjust the watch to be within -1/+6 per day. The difference between the Seiko and Omega standards clearly shows the quality aspects, and what can be reasonable to accept on an automatic watch.
The deviation you should accept on a modern automatic watch should be about +/- 10 seconds per day. Whereas you must allow a more significant deviation for the antique watches. There are not made with the same technology and precision as modern watches. The worst-case scenario for an antique watch could be upwards of +/- 60 seconds per day.
It’s a matter of personal preference how much variation you accept. Watch enthusiasts don’t allow more than a +/- 5-10 seconds variation per day. Furthermore, if the watch is more than +/- 30 seconds off per day, you should not accept it and take the watch to a watchmaker to get it fixed.
Using the COSC certification is a good way of measuring how much variation you should accept on a watch. However, if the watch is not marked with a “Chronometer” certification, you can’t use the COSC as a measurement for when the watch is too much “off.” Furthermore, only about 3% of the total Swiss watches are COSC certified.
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