Break Stuff: Watches

I am a watch person. I’ve consistently worn a watch on my left wrist since I was eight, 1 almost forty years ago. While in my early days I was enthralled by digital (especially things like calculator watches or ones that played video games), since my late teens I’ve used analog face watches. And while I can easily get a “smart” watch, I still stick to dumb old watches with moving hands.

But I am no means a “fancy watch” user. The conspicuous consumption of something like a Rolex does not appeal, and I’d also be too worried about damaging it. I’ve mostly stuck to Timex: affordable, usually nice looking, and originally made near where I grew up in Connecticut. I’d spend maybe thirty bucks on a new watch, get three or four years of life out of it until it broke, then get a new watch.

But sometimes the battery dies before the watch goes kaput, which is the case with my current watch, a simple “scout” or field watch. Timex doesn’t design these watches to be user-serviceable, so to replace the battery they recommend bringing it to a jeweler or watch repair. That of course costs money. A watch battery is pretty cheap. Can I DIY it? According to YouTube, “yes”.

Last week I decided to give it a go. I bought a new battery and followed the YouTube instructions. I managed to pop the back off and replace the battery. But the back is “press-on”, so getting it back on is the difficult part. YouTube told me to use a soft surface (like a towel) against the face (crystal) of the watch, a pill bottle or the like (I used a small Nalgene bottle cap) and your foot. Press down until you hear a click, so I did. And the back was on.

But that click wasn’t just setting the back, it was cracking the front. Oops.

The watch is still functional, which after all the trouble I went through is greatly appreciated. What it isn’t anymore is “pretty”, despite the new watch band I also installed. (The old one was long in the tooth.) Someone on the internet suggested replacing the crystal, but they’re more than the watch is worth. I’ll keep on using this watch for now. Perhaps it will remind me that “DIY” isn’t always the way to go. Sure, you can learn from failure. But sometimes failure is just failure.

I have another old Timex watch, and I managed to replace the battery (and strap!) with little issue, since its back was screw-on. 2 These two should get me by for a bit until I consider my next move. I could get another Timex, but I’m thinking I might go a bit nicer, a bit more deluxe. 3 It would also be nice to not have to worry about replacing batteries, so I’m looking into solar-powered watches, or mechanical watches with automatic movements. I realize that mechanical watches are not as accurate as quartz watches, so that’s a consideration. But I do like the idea of something that could last decades vs. a few years.

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1 Save for a hot minute in 2005 or so when I used a carabiner watch

2 “Little” issue, mind you. Of course one of the teeny screws went MIA. I managed to replace it with a eyeglass screw that worked OK. It’s now probably not as water-resistant as it used to be.

3 I have to admit that I’m a sucker for Timex’s “Indiglo” backlight, which has kept me with the brand for a long time. If I went for a different watch, it would need to have good luminance.

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11 thoughts on “Break Stuff: Watches

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  1. Hooray for the modest, yet functional and stylish wristwatch! Reading this made me realize I’ve been wearing the same wristwatch since 2012 (10 years!). I’m at a loss to come up with any other item I’ve been using daily for as long. I have some sunglasses which are older, but I don’t use them daily.

  2. I very much resonate with this post as another simple-wristwatch-wearer, except that I think I have probably a much crappier watch than you (the same kind of classic Casio I’ve had since I was also probably about 8, ha). And my thing is that the band broke, and for the life of me even though it seems like it shouldn’t be that hard I can’t find a replacement band. Perhaps because most people just replace the whole watch when any part of it breaks? But point being, now I have a pocketwatch;)

    1. The issue is cheap watches are cheap on purpose–they don’t plan around things like “repairability”, hence your trouble with watch bands and my trouble with replacing batteries. This is one factor pushing me towards a “nicer” watch next time around. I’m not into having flashy things, but I am into things that are built to last.

      1. Yeah, I think this is exactly what’s going on. But man, watches and sunglasses are like THE two things where I am so unwilling to spend a lot of money, since even if they’re built to last, I break (watches AND sunglasses) or lose (sunglasses) them at a semi-astounding clip. Which is more related to how I use them, I think, than the inherent quality of them. I’m sure there’s a sweet spot there somewhere between just the right cost and just the right quality, then both also matched to my personal usage style (ha!), but I haven’t quite found it yet.

        1. I hear you about sunglasses. I’ve pretty much used cheap sunglasses in forever. Every once in awhile I’ll try to get a “nicer” set of sunglasses, but they break pretty fast. I also have had two (two!) sets of Ray Bans, both (both!) free scores from the hostel. The first one, a folding set, got lost on a trip. The second one? The frame broke. So much for that. It’s going to be those knock off RayBans for now.

          I can see spending a bit more on a watch, though. For one, since it’s on my wrist all the time I’m less likely to lose it. And I can buy a tougher one with a scratch-resistant crystal.

  3. I’ve been extremely satisfied with my Seiko Automatic 5, now 5 years old. Not as accurate as a digital, but no batteries, no winding (if worn daily), and IMO, beautiful and restrained utilitarian design. I think I paid $60 for mine.

    1. I’ve definitely been looking at those Seiko Automatics. I like the fact that Seiko also made shutters on some of my cameras. (Japanese watch makers made shutters, since they were skilled at timing precision. See also Citizen.) I’m keeping my eye on them.

  4. Interesting. We’ve favored “analog” time displays since high school (late 1980’s) and when I started wearing a “smart” watch a few years i unmediated set it to display time via an analog clock face. For as long as I remember I just can’t perceive time as progression of digits. The visual “pie chart” aspect of an analog clock face makes more sense to me. 😃

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