Determining the Problem with Hands

Learning how to fix a watch hand, or a set of hands that doesn’t work on the watch because it his the dial, or dial indicators is relatively easy.  I would always recommend that when working on vintage or antique watches, and changing the hands, that you at least find a set of hands that closely matches the original.  However, sometimes they just can’t be found.  When we replace hands on any watch, there are some factors that we need to keep in mind.

Typically, we work with three hands on a wristwatch, however, older watches may have only two, as well as some newer watches.  First, we have to make sure the size of the hand opening, (the hole at the end of the hands) matches the pinions and wheels we are attaching them to.  This information can be found normally on the manufacturer’s info when you search by model number.  However, you can use a millimeter gage as they are given in millimeters by size.

The second important part of the hand, is of course the length.  The hands have to be long enough to make sense that they fit the watch, but not so long that they interfere with the operation.  Likewise, too short, and they will look out of place, and won’t match the design.

Watch the video tutorial here

Dealing with hands that don't fit

In this example, another watchmaker changed the movement on the watch, and used a different model movement.  He needed to change the hands, and I’m guessing that he used what ever hands where available to him at the time.  Perhaps not wanting to purchase the hands or wait for shipping.

The hands on this watch didn’t work well.  I found that there where three issues I had to deal with to fix the hands, and make them work properly on the watch with the original dial.

First, the minute hand had a downward bent tip.  This is common with pocket watches, and some wrist watches.  In this case, the downturned had would rub or get stuck on the dial indicators.  The easiest way to solve this problem is just to bend the hand so that it is straight, or at lease reduce the bend in the hand so that it does not interfere with the dial, or any of the dial indicators.

The second thing I discovered was that the hour had was a bit loose.  This can be fixed by just dimpling the opening on the hand for the hour wheel.  Thus, making the hole just about 1% smaller.  This in effect, tightens up the hand on the hour wheel.

The last problem I discovered was that the hour had was just too long for this watch dial.  On watches that have raised dial indicators, it is important to make sure that the hour hand makes a full circumference around the dial, and short of the dial indicators by at lease 1/4 of a millimeter at its closest point to any of the dial indicators.  In our example, the hour hand extended past the dial indicators, and would rub against the indicator.  

Any time a hand hits a dial indicator, whether it is mechanical or a quartz movement, there probably wont be enough power generated by the movement to push the hands past that point.  This will typically stop the watch movement from running.  On some quartz watches, this can actually damage the movement, in some cases, permanently.

How to Fix the Hands

How did I manage to fix this?  Easily using only a few tools that you probably already have.

First, I removed the minute hand, and removed the downturn bend at the hand tip.  This allows the hand to extend straight over the indicators without any issues.

The hour hand was a bit more time intensive.  Using a small needle file, I first removed the hand, trimmed off about a 1.5 millimeters off the end of the hand, and filed it back to a point using the needle file.

After which I tested the hand, and if needed, I could have made more modifications to that hand so that it would fit properly.  In my case, the first time worked without issues, and I was able to set both the hour and minute hands back onto the watch over the dial.

This is a good time to test the hand setting and make sure that you have everything in position.  

Now, the final part of this is reassembly of the watch into the case.  We may run into a problem with the hands possibly hitting the underside of the watch crystal.  Double check that everything works well, and if for some reason, you still get the hands rubbing on the dial indicators or the inside of the crystal, make very small adjustments to work the hands into correct position.


The tools you'll need to do this job

Please note, these are amazon affiliate links, and if you use these to purchase the tools, I will make a very small commission from Amazon  Thanks!

In this tutorial, I only used one type of tweezers, if you do have any, here is a great set of non-magnetic tweezers for under $12.00.

Hand pushers allow you to gently push the hands onto their respective pinions or wheels without doing damage.  I recommend them, but if you don’t have any you can improvise.  I do however use these almost every day.  This set is under $26.00.  

Pry tools are important.  I recommend you have at least two, and should have three just in case.  This tools is under $7.00 and you can purchase it direct on amazon also.

Watch pads are important to have.  Placing the watch on this pad will keep it from getting scratched or damaged.  The center is hollow, so that the center of the watch where the cannon pinion pokes through can also stay safe.  These are under $15.00 on Amazon, and I do recommend them.

This is a kit you can get for under $20.00.  It contains most of the miscellaneous tools you will want for general watch maintenance.  I don’t recommend some of the tools for this project, but, links to tools you should have for this repair are listed above this.


So, you can see that this repair is not very difficult.  I do recommend that you take your time and work with the hands carefully.

Try never to use metal tools around or above the dial, unless you are confident that you will not cause any damage.  Especially, not to cause damage on a customer’s watch.  

The total time to perform this task takes me about 10 minutes.  Beginners would probably be about 40 minutes the first time around.  I typically charge about $50.00 to do this repair for my customers.

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