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Setting Watch Hands

From the very beginnings of watches, a means was necessary to set them to what was believed to be the correct time. At first, the common, ordinary finger was used. Then, as watches got smaller and the hands became more fragile, various methods were developed to set them. The most common methods used on American watches are listed below.


Key Set

Until the mid-1870s and into the 1880s, most American watches were key-set. This meant that a watch key (usually the same one used to wind the watch - see the Message Board thread entitled "Pocket Watch Key Sizes" for assistance in determining the key size for a specific make and model American watch) was used, fitting it over a square shaft, to change to positions of the hands. Many key-set watches have a square setting stud on the center post which supports the minute hand. To set the watch, the bezel (the metal ring that holds the crystal - the glass) is opened and the watch key is fit to the setting stud and turned, setting the hands. Unfortunately, the frequent (in terms of the life of a watch) opening of the bezel lead to crystal breakage and worse, careless fitting of the key to the setting stud occasionally lead to the slipping of the key, thus causing dial damage.

A number of watch designs avoided this problem by arranging for the hands to be set from the rear of the movement. This resulted in a second hole in the cuvette (the inner cover over the movement, under the back of the case), the first being the hole thorough which to wind the watch. Although this increased the access for dust and dirt, it did reduce wear and tear on the dial.

Key Sizes

Key sizes for key-wound, key-set watches are expressed as a number from 1 to 12, with #1 being the largest, see Barry Parker's Key No. vs. Size Table, below. Once the size is known, you can then contact the material suppliers listed below. If you lack a micrometer or caliper with which to measure the stud, measure as best you can with an precision ruler. Fortunately, the keys are inexpensive enough that you can get an assortment of five or six in the neighborhood of your measurement. Or, a whole set of 12 is priced at $20 or less at several of the suppliers.

Barry Parker's Key No. vs. Size Table


Key No.mmInches
#11.850.0728
#21.750.0689
#31.680.0661
#41.610.0634
#51.540.0606
#61.470.0579
#71.380.0543
#81.290.0508
#91.190.0469
#101.10.0433
#111.00.0394
#120.90.0354

Watch Material Dealers

Watch Materials are available from:

Brian Cavanaugh, pwpartsetc@pwatch.com
Bryan Eyring, bdeyring@hotmail.com
Jules Borel (search for the keyword "key")
Dashto
Otto Frei
Uncle Larry's Watch Shop

If the desired item cannot be found on a dealer's website, contact them and ask about it.

Lever Set

Lever-set means that you have to pull out a lever to allow the crown (winding knob) to engage the hands to set them. Starting just around the 1906-1908 period, it was generally required that watches used in railroad time service be lever-set. This was to prevent the inadvertent changing of the time while winding a watch. There were some early variations on the lever-setting operation, but well over 99% of American-made watches operate as described below.

On an open-face watch, the lever is located under the bezel (the metal ring that holds the crystal). Typically, for open-face watches, the lever is at the 6 minute position for a 16-size watch, although There Are Exceptions, and the 11 minute position for an 18-size watch. The bezel may screw off to expose the lever. Or, if the case has hinges, there should be a raised lip, just clockwise of the pendant, with which to pry the bezel open on its hinge. For most hunting-case watches, the lever protrudes from the bezel at the 21 minute position for a 16-size watch and the 27 minute position for an 18-size watch.

To set the time, the lever is pulled out, parallel to the surface of the dial. Usually, people hold the watch in their left hand and use their right thumbnail to catch the lever's little tab and pull it out. Be careful not to catch the edge of the dial with your thumbnail, dials get chipped that way. Pocketwatcher's website has some good instructions for Setting A Lever Set Watch.

Pendant Set

Pendant-set means that you pull out the crown (winding knob) to engage it to the hands to set them. Early pendant setting arrangements were patented, making it difficult for some watch companies to market pendant-set watches without paying royalties (which put them at a cost disavantage). The Hampden Watch Co. touched on the subject in a 1900 Ad Touting Lever-set Watches which described the payment of royalties to patent holders and that the Supreme Court ("...the highest court in the United States...") declared pendant-set patents invalid.

Other Setting Means: Pin-Set

Probably less than 0.1% of the jeweled American-made watches, some of the earlier non-key-set ones, were fitted with a setting means other than the those described above (key-set, lever-set and pendant-set). Of those, pin-set (also known as nail-set) was the most prevalent. A good example of these being the setting means used on Waltham watches, specifically the model 70 Crescent St. grade. There may have been other setting means used in very, very small quantities.


Winding and Setting Your Watch

Pocketwatcher's website has instructions for Winding & Setting Your Watch. When to wind a watch has been the subject of much debate. Perhaps the best answer has been given by the British Clock and Watch Makers' Guild.

This page has been seen 8,661 times.

Current Discussion: Main discussion

  1. tom mcintyre

    tom mcintyre Technical Admin
    Staff Member NAWCC Star Fellow NAWCC Ruby Member Sponsor

    Aug 24, 2000
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    retired SW dev
    Boston
    OK folks, the obvious approach does not work. Deleting the original article got rid to the comments.

    I believe I know why. The first thread had the comments associated with it. They displayed with the second thread after I renamed it, but they did not really get moved.

    When I deleted the original "setting" article. it dumped the comments.

    I have reported this bug to the Vault Wiki developers.
     
  2. kirxklox

    kirxklox Registered User
    Deceased

    Tom: It worked correctly when I renamed this Additional NAMES for American watch companies
     
  3. bryan eyring

    bryan eyring Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Dec 11, 2007
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    Very odd. My first approach was to simply rename the original topic to "Setting" directly via double clicking the title on the Main Am. PW page.
    When I did this everything carried over and Kent retained authorship but the discussion was lost. I remedied this by renaming the topic back to its original title and voila...the discussion reappeared. I then proceeded to rename the title through the "Edit" function in the actually Wiki topic. Doing this resulted in a copy of the topic being created and the original "Setting" topic remaining. The discussion only appeared on one of the two topics that were available. Not sure what is going on but it appears that the "Renaming" feature via both functions does not work properly....can anyone else comment?
    Regards,
    Bryan
     
  4. bryan eyring

    bryan eyring Registered User
    NAWCC Member

    Dec 11, 2007
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    Sam - two questions:

    A. What method did you use to change the name?

    B. Odd that the primary Topic title changed but the individual titles in the posts still read "Company". Any suggestions on how we can change BOTH?

    Regards,
    Bryan
     
  5. kirxklox

    kirxklox Registered User
    Deceased

    Bryan: You do not have the permissions to do it correctly. You can not leave redirects when editing Titles or we have problems. There are also several Glitches that are suppose to be addressed when the upgrade is completed.

    Tom will be writing some Tutorials for the operation of the Wiki. I recommend that you wait until after Tom gets these written for you to try and use your Moderator tools.
     
  6. kent

    kent Registered User
    Gibbs Literary Award NAWCC Fellow NAWCC Silver Member

    Aug 26, 2000
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    Moving material to the NAWCC Message Board
     
  7. Kent

    Kent Registered User
    Gibbs Literary Award NAWCC Fellow NAWCC Silver Member

    Aug 26, 2000
    18,246
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    Re-posting pictures whose links that were disrupted when moving to current Message Board:
     

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