Balance Staff Repair for Vintage and Luxury Watch Brands, or How New York City Watches Survive Being Dropped

Mechanical watches rely on ‘balance staff’s’ to keep accurate time. Dropping your watch can break the ‘balance staff.’ Let’s explore how luxury watch makers attempt to guard against this.

November 7, 2012. People come to my watch repair shop in mid-town Manhattan from all over. One thing that they all have in common is that, generally, they have a broken watch. I repair all the major luxury watch brands, such as Rolex, Jaeger LeCoultre, Omega, Tag Heuer, Hamilton, Rado, Longines and IWC. What’s interesting is that these brands, as well as vintage watches, use a balance staff system to keep accurate time. Unfortunately, if a watch is dropped suddenly onto hard pavement, the balance staff can break. I have conducted many balance staff repairs on both vintage and luxury watches. Here’s a behind the scenes look on balance staff repairs for watches.

What is a Watch Balance Staff?

Most people who own luxury or vintage watches are amazed at the mechanical innards of these timepieces. They seem very delicate, and they are. They are marvels of human engineering. What is the balance staff? The balance staff is the shaft that the balance wheel, the roller table and the hairspring are mounted onto. Unfortunately, if the balance jewels do not have shock springs, the two ends of the staff have very small tapered pivots that can then break easily. What watch repairmen call ‘staffing’ involves removing a broken watch balance staff and replacing it with a new one. Modern luxury watch brands like Rolex, Jaeger LeCoultre, Omega, Tag Heuer, Hamilton, Rado, Longines and IWC employ shock protection, and this has greatly lessened the frequency of broken balance staff pivots. However, sometimes the watches still do not perform well, and I have to replace a balance staff because the pivots are worn, bent or otherwise imperfect.

How does a Watch Balance Staff Get Broken?

One common cause of watch damage is simply dropping the watch. If your band fails, or if you are putting on or taking off the watch carelessly, and you have the misfortune of being above a hard surface (like a city street, or a tile bathroom floor), you can drop your watch and thereby break the watch balance staff. Oops. Rolex, Jaeger LeCoultre, Omega, Tag Heuer, Hamilton, Rado, Longines and IWC all use shock-absorbers in their mechanical watches to prevent the balance staff from breaking when the watch is dropped. How do they do this? Let’s compare watches to cars. What an airbag is to you in an accident is the shock-absorber to a balance staff in a crash of a watch (an impact by the watch onto a table, the floor, the wall…) The shock-absorber system called “Incabloc.” Endstone and pierced jewel together are set into a movable jewel setting. The setting is kept in position via a spring and it can switch from axial and radial impacts until the balance staff knocks against the corresponding body of the device. Therefore the sensitive pivot of the balance staff cannot absorb that much energy and will cause it to break. So in many cases these ‘shock absorbers’ protect your watch and keep the balance staff from failing. In some cases they do not. If you have a vintage watch, it may not have an “Incabloc.” Fortunately, in most cases, I can repair a watch with a broken balance staff. It just depends.

Preventing Watch Damages

So, if at all possible, treat your luxury watch with care. Don’t drop it. Handle it carefully. If the worse happens and it breaks, you can give me a call or take the watch in. I repair Rolex, Jaeger LeCoultre, Omega, Tag Heuer, Hamilton, Rado, Longines and IWC from my watch shop in New York, NY. I also can fix watches sent in by mail, especially vintage watches.

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About Ron Gordon Watch Repair

Ron Gordon Watch Repair is located at 280 Madison Ave, Ste. 510, New York, NY 10016.  We provide watch repair services throughout New York City, Manhattan, Midtown Manhattan, Downtown and the boroughs of New York, NY. Read our Google Places, Insider Pages, and City Search Reviews, online.

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