How To: Repairing watch hands

If you repair watches, you know the feeling of your heart sinking when removing a chronograph sub-hand and the tube stays on the runner, and the hand comes off without the tube.

Once the dial is off, you can carefully remove the stuck tube with the hand remover, and with a bit of luck, it doesn’t fly 10 yards through the workshop.

If the hand is available new, no problem, but we do a lot of vintage Speedmasters here, and the replacement hands aren’t the same as the original hands. As our clients are very keen on originality, we repair the broken hand.

As a first step, I make the tube lean against some Rodico to prevent it flying off, and place the hand on top so that it’s level. The Rodico comes in handy here as well.Now I use a stake from my staking set and press the hand back together.

We could now rivet the tube back onto the hand, as it was done when the hand was manufactured. But there is the risk of the tube deforming, which I don’t want to take. Instead, I will solder the hand and tube back together. This will also guarantee that the tube will never detach from the hand again.

 

I put a tiny amount of flux around the tube, and then cut off a very small amount of solder and place it next to the tube. We are ready for soldering now, and the solder will wrap nicely around the tube once it gets heated up. I preheat my soldering iron to 300 degrees, and touch the side of the round bit of the hand with the iron until the solder melts and wraps around the bottom of the tube. If you take too much solder, you will have problems fitting the hand afterwards – we don’t want to create a ridge, but have the smallest amount of solder in between the tube and the hand.

 

This is the result we want – you can hardly see any solder, as it’s moved into the space between the tube and the hand due to the capillary effect.

This will of course burn the paint on the hand, so I dissolve the old hand with paint stripper, and then re-paint the hand.
This is best done with a thin oiler and diluted white paint.


The paint has dried. This is acrylic paint, which dries faster, but creates a slightly wrinkled finish. If you want a glossier finish, use diluted enamel paint.

22 thoughts on “How To: Repairing watch hands

  1. Christian – always enjoy your posts!!!

    I am having a real challenge removing the chrono seconds hand on a Tag Link Calibre 11 (7750). It is pressed on EXTREMELY tight and I fear breaking it away from the tube. Of course, the hour and minute hands are still in place beneath it and not making it any easier. I have tried levers as well as the presto tool – it just doesn’t want to budge at all :(.
    Any suggestions?? These are polished stainless so not sure how that will respond to a solder repair if I get to that point. Also not sure if a solder repair would be sufficient on the chrono seconds hand given the forces subjected to it on reset to zero. Ugh!

    • Hold it tight with your presto tool, and then, holding the watch firmly with the other hand, give it a wiggling movement whilst pulling. With a bit of luck, it will budge.

      Kind regards,

      Christian

      • Thanks Christian – hoping for the best. Also read a post somewhere where someone suggested placing a dab of KROIL penetrating oil on the post to help free the hand. I also ordered a Presto #7 tool – the one that uses the post itself as a support point instead of pushing off the face of the dial. Fingers crossed!

        Stu

  2. Hello, I am an amateur watch enthusiast who has been fortunate enough to have been offered free watch repair training by a local gentleman. He has taught me a great deal. It was a life long desire to be able to work on watches and clocks. Being able to find resources like this is so helpful when I encounter something new like a separated second hand tube on a Hamiliton 992 which I am rebuilding for my son in law. I am going to try your method and I hope to have his watch ticking again. Thanks for the information!
    Johnny Yaughn
    Dawsonville, Ga

  3. How to increase the watch hand tube by half inch easily?
    Are there any ready made tubes to attach?
    I just want to use hour hand and increase the tube height by half inch.
    I removed seconds and minutes hands and I don’t want to use them.

  4. Hi,
    The best way i have found to avoid this is by ordering in a new presto second hand remover with plain jaws and use a fine reamer to make three tiny holes along the jaws. You then have a perfect fitment that holds the tube instead of the underside of the hand to lift it, yet it prevents crushing of the tube.

    • I’m not sure that the pressure from the hand remover on the tube is enough to lift it up. These tubes are almost impossible to remove even when the hand is gone …

      • I meant to say, i must have removed 1000’s of them over 20 years using this method, I am certain you will agree that Breitling virtually uses a rack press to put them on and they are the most disposable hands i have come across.

        I’ll send a macro of the tool i use specifically for Breitling.

      • I can see how that prevents damage to the hands from lifting only the sides, so I will give that a go. But hands that have been put on over-tight should still separate from the tube, as I can’t imagine that friction on the tube sides alone will lift the tube off the pivot.

        • Using the tool in its conventional way will not work, you have to increase the clamping pressure on the white blocks of the tool directly. This why the jaws must have the hole in it. without, the tube would be cut in half as soon as the hand comes off.

          A side effect of this method makes the hand fit perfectly when re-fitting.

          Give it a go, you will be left wondering how you managed without 😉

      • Hi,
        Interesting, is it possible to see the picture of the hand lifting tool Craig/Christian?
        Thanks in advance.
        /Bernhard

  5. Very interesting. Is this why hands are sometime put back on following a service sitting slightly further from the dial, to prevent this happening in the future?

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