As the director of our state-of-the-art service facility in NYC and the director of Tourneau's service program, Terry Irby has seen it all—from cases soaked in water to rusted movements to damaged gaskets. To help you prep for summer travels, whether vacationing in an exotic location, cruising to the Caribbean or sunning pool-side at the local country club, we chatted with our resident Watch Doc on the basics of keeping watches safe, protected and running during summer travels and beyond.
Is my watch waterproof?No watch is waterproof. There is always a limit to how much water pressure a watch can handle. The term waterproof implies that it can't leak under any circumstance—that no moisture will permeate the case and get into the movement. However, under certain circumstances anything can leak. So, in the watch industry, we refer to a watch's ability to withstand water pressure as water resistance.
The back of my watch is stamped with "Water Resistant." What does that mean?A watch stamped with "Water Resistant" basically means that it is humidity-protected. It will be okay if a little bit of water splashes on it from washing your hands or from being caught in the rain—that's about it. However, just because your watch says it's "Water Resistant" does not mean you should swim or shower with it on.
Water is the biggest enemy of a watch. If you go swimming or play sports, you should have your watch checked for an accurate reading of its water resistance levels every year. The outside case may look rugged and big, but the movement is very tiny and very delicate. To be completely honest, the only thing that stands between your watch and water is a small gasket. All it takes is for one gasket to collapse—meaning that water pushes its way past the gasket and permeates the watch.
What is a gasket?A gasket is a tiny O-ring—usually made of rubber or silicon. They form seals around the stem of the crown, pushers, and correctors and sit inside the case and the crystal.
Over time gaskets dry out, lose elasticity and the ability to form a proper seal. This is why regular testing is so important for maintaining the water resistance of a watch.
Gaskets are meant to function as safety mechanisms for what I call "emergency situations." For example: you're pushed into the pool, caught in a rain storm, spill a glass of water or splash water onto your watch while washing dishes. Most watches are not intended for water use. If you're planning to swim or dive with your watch, you should think about purchasing a diver's watch.
How often should I have my watch tested?Depending on wear, we suggest having a watch tested at least once a year. Lifestyle is a major factor. For example, a person who surfs regularly—going in and out of salt water and in and out of sandy places—should have their watch tested a few times a year. Salt water especially causes a lot of corrosion, wear and tear on all components of the watch, which will cause the water resistance level of the watch to drop over time.
Really only at the time of the test can we say that the watch is 100 percent water resistant—so testing regularly to maintain the gaskets is very important.
What happens during a water resistance test?All of our stores have water resistance testing, so we can do testing fairly quickly and even while a customer waits. You can also schedule an appointment online.
Each watch is tested a little bit differently, but the bottom line is we want to make sure that all the gaskets are sealed and water resistant, not waterproof, but water resistant. When we test for water resistance we're looking to see that all gaskets are in place and properly sealed. Over time the gaskets will need to be replaced and lubricated.
What should I do if I'm on vacation and forget to remove my $20,000 watch before diving into the pool?One drop of water inside the watch can do major damage—we're talking thousands of dollars in repairs and replacements. The first thing I would do is to place the watch on a lamp or hot plate or even a radiator to warm up the back. This will push the moisture away from the delicate moving parts. You should also continue to wear your watch all the time—even at night. Your body temperature will be enough warmth to keep the moisture away from the movement. Once you get home, take the watch to a specialist at Tourneau. We will open it up, dry it and clean it and repair any water damage.
Even when I come inside from being in the rain or snow, I put my watch on the radiator just to make sure all the moisture is evaporated. This is a great habit to start and will help to maintain the longevity of your watch and its mechanical components.
Can I shower with my watch on?I would really advise against that—why take undue risk with your timepiece? In a shower you're using shampoo, soaps and other liquids which are highly corrosive to a watch's delicate components. Your watch will wear out much sooner if you expose it to soap or any detergent. If you accidentally expose your watch to soap you should rinse it off with fresh water and dry it as quickly as possible.
My watch says it's water resistant up to 100 meters; can I dive into the pool wearing it?Most people would assume it is okay to dive into a pool wearing that watch, but that's not the whole story. Diving into the pool causes an immediate change in pressure—even though it only lasts for a few seconds—diving can cause a major shock to a watch that is not meant for diving. Water resistance is all about pressure—the second you hit that water, there is an immediate shift in pressure, which forces the watch to go above its recommended level. Diving into the pool multiple times—smacking the water's surface each time—will eventually push the amount of pressure applied to the watch over its limit— and that's when water will be forced through the gaskets and into the movement.
With most watches you should avoid increased pressure situations—jumping, diving, swimming, etc... So even though a watch says it's rated for 100 meters, this really only pertains to walking into a pool or walking into the ocean from the beach.
How about my chronograph? Can I go swimming with it?While chronographs are very well-crafted timepieces and typically water resistant, they are not intended for swimming or diving. A chronograph is a complicated watch, which actually has several openings for water to enter. A typical chronograph will have five ways where water can get in (some even have seven places). There are two push buttons, a crown, the crystal and the case back gasket. At each of these points, there is a gasket that forms a seal, which protects the movement from water damage. It is very important that gaskets are replaced periodically.
How is a diver's watch different?Diving watches are specifically engineered for extreme conditions and can travel to depths of at least 200 meters. You'll notice that diving watches have minimal openings for water to permeate compared to complicated watches. A diver's watch has one screw-down crown, a sturdy case, extra heavy gaskets around the crystal and extra heavy gaskets around the case back—diving watches are designed for heavy water usage. If you are planning to regularly swim, dive, surf or boat wearing your watch a diving watch is an excellent option.
What is an atmosphere or a bar?These are the measurements that the watch industry uses to denote the amount of pressure that a watch can endure. ATM stands for atmosphere. One atmosphere is equal to about 10 meters or roughly 30 feet. A bar is just another way of stating atmospheres.
It's important to note that the numbers "50 meters, 100 meters, etc..." actually refer to the amount of pressure the watch case can withstand, not the depth to which the watch can be worn. When you wear a watch underwater it is subjected to far greater pressure, due to the motion of the wearer's arm through the water. Many activities can change the amount of pressure that is exerted on the watch: jumping into the pool, water skiing, falling while water skiing, etc...
I have a vintage Panerai diving watch with a leather strap that my grandfather passed down to me, can I swim with it?First of all, if you have a vintage diving watch, especially if it is a family heirloom, I would not recommend swimming or diving with it. You should certainly have it tested for water resistance, and because it probably has a lot of sentimental value, I would recommend being extra careful with it around water, and you should absolutely bring it to the store to be serviced at least once a year.
Now on leather straps: If a diving watch or any watch has a leather strap, this means it should be worn as an occasion or dress piece. Leather straps should be kept dry—they should never, ever get wet. Exposure to moisture, high humidity, direct intense light, cosmetic or oil products will cause the leather to deteriorate prematurely, as well as stain or discolor the strap. If your leather strap accidently comes in contact with any of these elements, dry the strap immediately with a soft absorbent cloth to help reduce any further damage. Now this may seem like common sense, but you should never wear your timepiece with a leather strap in the steam room, the sauna, while working out at the gym or doing any activity where you will perspire. If you want to wear your watch while working out, I would suggest that you consider purchasing a sport watch with a rubber strap, which is far more suitable for those types of activities.