Fatal Attraction – Protect Your High-End Watches From Magnetism
Environmental hazards are the enemies of high-end wristwatch owners. In the interest of assuring high performance, owners of luxury timepieces should take measures to avoid and, if necessary, to restore the regularity of magnetized timepieces.
High-end watches offer a rare combination of around-the-clock operation and heirloom-levels of durability. Given proper care and maintenance, most high-end watches can outlast several generations of owners. However, like fine automobiles, luxury watches require scrupulous attention to timely service in order to retain their reliability, appeal, and value.
Magnetism is a common hazard for owners of high-end watches. The modern home and workplace are rife with magnetic flux. Not only does every electronic device produce an electromagnetic flux, many – such as powerful audio equipment – include static magnetic fields produced by large permanent magnets.
Magnetization occurs because the hairspring, which controls the oscillations of a watch’s balance (“heartbeat”), becomes a permanent magnet following exposure to magnetic fields.
A watch that is placed in close proximity to these fields may become magnetized by only a moment’s exposure to – for example – a powerful speaker’s internal magnet. While extreme instances of magnetic exposure may be sufficient to stop a watch’s balance and escapement, such obvious changes are rare at the moment of exposure.
Instead, the hallmark of a magnetized watch tends to be an exceptional increase in the rate of the escapement. While COSC chronometer-certified movements typically deviate by no more than six seconds per day, and even lower-grade mechanical movements tend to vary by no more than 20-30 seconds per day, a magnetized watch may gain as much as 30 seconds per hour. The resulting deviation will become apparent within hours of the magnetizing incident.
Professional watchmakers can demagnetize a watch cheaply and quickly. Most reputable jewelers will have a watchmaker on staff or will have a working relationship with an independent watchmaker. These professionals are equipped with equipment to quickly diagnose and correct a magnetized watch; good watchmakers will have the watch corrected and ready for pickup on the same day it is received from the owner. Typical service costs range from $30-$50 U.S. dollars.
Alternatively, collectors of high-end watches who frequently encounter powerful magnetic fields may choose to keep a personal toolset with which to diagnose and correct their timepieces.
The standard tool for confirming a magnetized watch movement is a small magnetic compass such as the watchmaker-specific Bergeon 30103 box compass. By rotating the watch around the box, an owner can observe the reaction of the compass needle in order to confirm a magnetized balance spring.
Once identified, the watch can be demagnetized in moments using a watch demagnetizer such as ETIC’s Swiss-manufactured 340.4 unit. This device, which is considered the Cadillac of watch demagnetizers, costs the equivalent of two trips to the watchmaker for magnetic ablation. Owners who frequent high-flux environments should consider adding a 340.4 to their collections of watch accessories.