Many watch enthusiasts will tell you that you should remove your watch from the wrist even ever you are about to participate in active activities. Antique watches weren’t made with shock absorbant protection, which meant that relatively larger shocks could permanently damage the watch.
How much shock can mechanical watches take? Mechanical watches is rarely rated with a shock resistance level. Statistics show that only 30% experience minor or severe damage to their mechanical watches in situations regarded as harmful.
Furthermore, modern mechanical watches are made with shock protection systems made to have mechanical watches stand daily abuse (Note, not misuse). Some brands is rated to 5,000 G.
The biggest question in this big discussion is: how much shock can a mechanical watch take? The answer is not that straightforward, but there are some indications of how “extreme” activities you can participate in while wearing your watch.
Shock Resistance of Mechanical Watches
Mechanical watches have a reputation for being very weak, at least compared to the durability of quartz watches. The fact is that no one has smashed thousands of watches in a controllable way from different angles to give a scientific answer to the precise shock resistance of mechanical watches.
Mechanical watches can take big shocks. Statistics show that 70% of mechanical watch owners who have worn their watch in situations which is regarded as harmful have never experienced any damage to their watch. The remaining 30% have experienced a damaged watch in minor or severe form.
There are many different variables when it comes to the shock resistance of a mechanical watch. The shock resistance has some of the following variables:
- Brand quality
- Watch quality
- Shock protection system
- Shock angle
- Number of components
The 5 different central aspects of the shock resistance is more or less a “no shit Sherlock.” Nonetheless, people don’t think about the various elements. They expect the same quality from a low-end brand and a high-end brand.
Brand quality has a big influence on the overall quality of your watch. The brand, or rather company, is who puts up the strategy for their watches. If the brand’s strategy is to offer very low prices, the quality might not be great. You usually get what you pay for!
On the other hand, there is also very good watches which is cheap. A good example is Seiko. Seiko’s mechanical watches is maybe the cheapest-cost-to-quality you will find on the mechanical watch market.
The counterpart of cheap watches is the high-end luxurious watches. In the statistics data collection, I came across a guy who owned a Vacheron Constantin (VC). He dropped the VC from waist height resulting in a broken watch.
Any watch enthusiast knows that VC watches are not cheap. For reference, the cheapest VC watches on the secondary market is about $2,000.
I ride motorcycles and go offroading with my automatics and have not had any issues. But I dropped a Hamilton from less than 1 meter onto a tile floor, and it started losing about 2 minutes a day.Forum user: sxt80
Regardless of what brand you purchase, there will always be some lemons in-between. It’s inevitable. Usually, if the damage is within reason, the watchmakers might be willing to do repairs free of charge, e.g. warranty claims.
Other brands, such as Omega, is testing according to the NIHS standards. The NIHS is basically the Swish version of ISO. Omega doesn’t state this anywhere on their website, but multiple sources claim that Omega claims a 5,000 G shock resistance.
Watch quality is a matter of quality within the brand. Many watch brands have different tiers of quality. E.g., Seiko has multiple tiers: Seiko 5, Seiko Presage, Grand Seiko, etc. Each in their own segment of quality.
The watch quality is the quality within the brand. In engineering teams, quality is producing a product in the same tolerances every time. While low-end watches can be of high quality, the saying goes, “you get what you pay for.”
Within mechanical watches, the quality of the internal components is very critical. It’s a place where the manufacturers can’t go the cheap route. If the gear train has to big tolerances in diameter, it will lose accuracy.
Dropped my Hi-beat Grand Seiko onto the hardwood floor from about waist height this morning. Amazingly it seems to have escaped any cosmetic damage.Forum user: Ovalteenie
Watch quality is also a relative term. When you look at a watch, what do you associate with quality? For me, it’s when the watch has high accuracy and safety mechanisms to resists daily wear and tear, such as water resistance, anti-magnetism, shock protection, and a COSC certification.
Shock Protection System
Mechanical watches are equipped with a mechanism that is quite similar to the suspension in your car. The shock protection system works by allowing the balance staff to move slightly vertically and horizontally.
The shock absorber prevents the balance staff from breaking by allowing it to move in tight tolerances horizontally and vertically by using a spring-loaded jewel.
The most common shock protection is the incabloc, probably followed by the KIF shock protection. The incabloc is associated with more mainstream movements such as ETA. However, both A. Lange & Söhne and Patek Phillippe use the incabloc shock protection mechanism.
I’ve dropped my Planet Ocean from about 1 meter onto a stone tiled floor, and it still appears to run fine.Forum user: Drunken money
All modern watches have some kind of shock protection. When it comes to antique watches, you have to be much more careful since antique watches weren’t equipped with spring-loaded jewels.
Back in the day, the jewels weren’t mounted with springs. The balance staff was mounted in the jewels and hold in place with no soft movement as allowed by the springloaded mounts.
This meant that shocks would break the microscopic pivots in the balance staff. The pivots can measure down to 0.07 mm (0,0047 inches).
The angle of the shock also has a huge impact on whether the watch will break or not. Although there is no definitive answer to which direction is worst, my engineering skills tell me a watch with a vertical drop will be exposed to more damage than a horizontal drop.
The balance staff is mounted horizontally. Furthermore, the pivots are protected by the thicker part of the balance staff, which prevents the balance staff’s top and bottom from bottoming out and bending/breaking the pivots.
However, in a vertical drop, the pivots are forced against the jewel. Although the jewel is spring-loaded, which allows the slight play, the play is limited. Therefore a shock big enough can damage the balance staff or rather the pivots on the balance staff.
I had a Seiko 6105-8119 fall off my wrist while riding my motorcycle at about 70 MPH. It was then run over by a car. The watch was struck at an angle such that it was propelled from the tire at high speed, it struck a concrete curb and flew about 10 feet in the air to come crashing back down onto the asphalt roadway. I picked it up, and to my surprise, it was still working!Forum user: outatime
Another component that can be damaged is the stem and crown. If the watch is dropped right on the crown, the stem can get bend. If the stem is bend, you can’t wind or adjust the time on the watch.
Since a mechanical watch is quite dependent on the stem for winding, a bent stem can be fatal for a mechanical watch’s functional life.
Number of Components
In mechanical watches, the number of components has a big say in the potential malfunctions. It doesn’t matter whether the watch is a GMT, chronograph, moon phase, or anything else. The more components the watch has, the more likely it’s to fail in a shock.
The amount of components is critical to the damage resulting from a shock to a mechanical watch. Mechanical watches are generally made of 100 or more components, which each can malfunction.
The number of components in the mechanical watch is much like in your fossil-fueled car. There are so many mechanical and electrical components in a car. If you ever owned a car, you will also know when one component fails, it tends to snowball if you don’t get it repaired quickly.
Statistics Behind Shock Resistance
The statistics show a pretty clear indication of what happens to a worn, abused, and misused watch. When I say worn and abused, I mean worn daily in whatever type of life you have. Whereas, misused means throwing the watch, dropping it, etc.
70% of mechanical watch owners have never experienced a shock damaged watch. The statistics show mechanical watches also have a survives 56,3% of drops. The statistics show that 66% of people who go to the gun range experienced a damaged mechanical watch.
The most revealing aspect of the statistic is that people who accidentally dropped their watch experienced almost a 50/50 chance of malfunction in their watch.
Another incredible story was a fellow who dropped his mechanical watch going 70 MPH, got driven over by a car, slung into a curb, and yet still functioning.
In the results, there are people using sledgehammers, being construction workers, going offroading, and using automatic rifles. When including all the answers, the “risk” of damaging a watch from what people would expect to be harmful is only 30%.
|Shock event||Did break||Didn’t break||Total|
|Hit watch with softball bat||1||0||1|
Now I’m showing you the results from my data collection. I do know about statistics, and I’m far from happy with the amount gathered. Using 33 individual responses is not enough to conclude anything. However, it’s the best thing done yet to explain how shock-resistant mechanical watches are.
Is It Worth Getting a Beater Watch?
You might have heard about people that have beater cars. You might even have one yourself. But did you ever think of getting a beater watch?
Beater watches can be just as useful as beater cars. The purpose of a beater car is to have a car that you can drive every day with no worries. Having a beater car will avoid worries about dents, scratches, road ragers. In return, you can drive your new and shiny car on the weekends and to parties.
Using a beater watch will avoid worries of theft, scratches, drops, and losing the watch. Beater watches can be used in activities considered harmful to a mechanical watch to avoid shock damages to their higher-end watches.
Typically you would want a beater watch if you are fortunate enough to own high-end or luxury watches. However, you can acquire beater watches for the simple reason of protecting other watches you like more (e.g., heirlooms).
If you live in a troubled area with a lot of crime and specifically theft and burglary, having a beater watch is good when taking walks or going anywhere on foot.
Now, I don’t know how you are about your watches, but I’m not the type to neither babysit my watches nor have them as safe queens. ALL my watches get worn as intended.
This means my Omega Seamaster Professional 300M is on my wrist every day. On formal occasions, I have a Certina DS-1, which is not removed if I was to participate in a party activity either (e.g., company softball).
However, this also comes down to personal preference. Some people would never dare to wear their diving watch in the shower. Believe it or not, I have heard people that wouldn’t shower with dive watches.
I believe that if my watch is rated to 300 meters (which is actually a pressure rating of 30 bar), there is no way a shower could ruin my watch. Furthermore, if my watches can’t tolerate daily wearing, they are not made for me.
Troubleshooting Shock Damages in Your Watch
Troubleshooting mechanical watches can be quite difficult. However, it gets a little bit easier when you know what you are looking for. It’s by no means an easy task to troubleshoot watches if you have no idea how the watch looks inside or don’t know much about the movement’s functions.
Generally, 3 things malfunction due to the drop or shock of a mechanical watch:
- Rotor/auto winding mechanism failure.
- The pallet fork is fallen off or lost its jewels.
- The balance staff is crooked or broken.
Although I would never attempt to fix any of the 3 myself, I know what to look for to identify whether my watch is damaged or not.
On some watches, it’s impossible to see without removing the back cover, which is not advised for people truly caring for their watch.
The balance staff holds the balance spring. The balance staff is the center shaft of the entire balance wheel. Earlier in the post, I discussed the pivots of the balance staff.
Since both the top and bottom pivots are mounted against a jewel and therefore have little internal play, a hard bump or big shock can cause the balance staff to “bottom out,” causing the pivots or the entire balance staff to bend.
The balance staff’s top and bottom have “pivots,” which is ultra-thin points on the balance shaft, which is mounted to the balance jewels.
When the watch is exposed to shocks from drops or hard bumps, the most common problem is a bent or broken balance staff. The watchdoctor has a lot of good images of how the balance staff looks.
The rotor is one of the 3 typical components that break as a result of shocks. However, most rotors are screwed in place, making the rotor hard to misplace even from shocks. However, what happens in most cases is the bearing gets crooked or misaligned.
The rotor can, therefore, end up being jammed inside the watch. If the shock is even more severe, the bearing can disconnect from the rotor, causing the rotor to disconnect from the movement. This can at times be heard with a metallic rattling sound.
If the rotor is stuck or disconnected, the watch will inevitably stop ticking. If the rotor is disconnected or misaligned, you will either hear a rattling sound or a sound of metal scraping on metal. If the rotor is jammed, you will hear nothing at all.
The bearing is friction fitted to the rotor. Therefore, big shocks can be the cause of the rotor to act funny. The biggest problem with a defective rotor is that your automatic watch will stop winding by itself.
The rotor makes the watch wind, and therefore also a critical component for the day-to-day use of your automatic watch.
There are examples of people trying to fix their rotors themself (Don’t do like this guy). Professional watchmakers will take good care of the watch and make sure you are equipped with a new rotor.
The pallet fork is the next possible victim. A pallet fork might lose either a jewel or get jammed. The pallet fork controls the pace of unwinding of the mainspring and, therefore, the ticking. Having no pallet fork or a damaged one can cause the watch to fully unwind in less than minutes or not release energy at all.
Big shocks have proven to destroy pallet forks. The pallet fork will typically either lose jewel(s) or get misaligned and jam. In one scenario, the mainspring will unwind quickly, and in the other scenario, the watch will instantly stop ticking.
No matter what happens to the pallet fork, the only repair will be replacing the pallet fork in combination with a full restoration. This is not only costly, but it’s also a time-consuming process.
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