In What Resting Position Will My Mechanical Watch Remain The Most Accurate?

Roger Goodgion from Sunnyvale, California asks:

What is the most accurate position for my watch (say one with a 7750 movement) to rest in? And why? Say I was going to take it off but wanted it to be as accurate as possible when i picked it back up. Does this differ much in non-tourbillon watches, say 7750 to a 2824?

We would say the best position to leave your watch when not wearing it is flat, ideally dial facing up, although you can choose dial down if you wish.  This is for a number of reasons.

Even chronometer-rated watches (which are adjusted to be accurate in 6 positions) will often have the most accurate reading in this position.  This is because the watchmaker adjusts the rate in this flat position and can often achieve the most accurate results when it is in this workable position.  The watch may be tested and will pass in other positions, but it is this flat position that the best rate was initially achieved.

Another reason is the effect of gravity, hence the development of the tourbillon and gyro tourbillon. If a watch rests on its side the effect of gravity will pull the hairspring down more on one side and effect the timekeeping rate. This will happen also when the watch is laid flat, but across the hairspring as a whole and the effects on timekeeping are evened out.

Additionally, if a watch is placed on its side, it is often physically less stable than when it is laid flat.  There is a risk of the watch falling over in the night and scratching the case, or even falling off a night stand.

If you have a watch winder you could place your watch in this.  As it moves through the various axis it will make sure the balance isn’t effected by gravity in one position more than another. This will also ensure your watch has adequate power reserve when you wake in the morning, will protect the watch from scratches and knocks and if you only wear it occasionally it will ensure the oils are kept free and moving.

We suggest placing your watch dial up as there is a risk of scratching the glass if the surface you are placing it on is especially abrasive (such as a granite kitchen work surface).  If you choose to lay your watch flat you could place it on a small matt or towel of some kind to prevent you scratching the case and bracelet.  Some watch companies return watches in a small padded box when it comes back from a service and these are ideal for placing your watch in at night, as well as when traveling.

One last thing to remember is to keep your watch away from strong magnetic sources when it is off your wrist.  Under no circumstances place your watch on top of a stereo speaker or next to an iPad (or other tablet device) all night.  From speaking to colleagues in the industry we have been told that with the rise in electronic gadgets they are seeing more repairs coming to them to rectify the effects of magnets on watch movements.

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  • JackForster

    Practically speaking your best bet is to place the watch in whatever position compensates best for its overall rate gain or loss while it’s on the wrist.  Figuring out which position this is can be a little tricky if you don’t have access to a timing machine, of course.  Generally the biggest variations are between the vertical and flat positions.  “Accurate” is not necessarily the issue, watchmakers are  more interested in stability of rate, and dial up isn’t necessarily the position in which you will see greatest rate stability.

    It’s a little tricky without having access to a timing machine (or a watchmaker who has one) to figure out what the optimum positions are.  My most recently acquired watch, for instance, gains three seconds/day dial up, and loses seven seconds a day crown right.  (Rate variation in both positions is 0.0 ms.)

    On the wrist, however, it tends to gain a few seconds per day and I’ve found if I keep it crown down, it loses enough time at night to almost perfectly compensate for the gaining rate on the wrist.

    As a clarification, the tourbillon does not improve rate stability (though in Breguet’s day, it may have by improving spread of the oils of the day; this was actually one of its intended purposes, according to Breguet’s patent application.)  It was an attempt to reduce the _variation_ in rate between the vertical and horizontal positions.

  • hypocritebuster

    JackForster Your comment is contrary to every sane watch expert’s knowledge and experience, and I am not sure where you got the information.

  • JackForster

    hypocritebuster I’m not sure what you object to.  None of what I wrote is particularly exotic or even controversial.

  • JackForster hypocritebuster Single axis tourbillons average out the position differences between the “horizontal” positions (crown right, bottom, left and top) but they do nothing, repeat nothing, for the differences you see between the horizontal and vertical (dial up and dial down) positions. 
    As Jack pointed out, if your watch runs fast or slow on your wrist and you find another position that is the opposite, then that is what you want when you are not wearing it. From the few watches I have put on a timing machine, they generally run faster in the dial up position and slower in the vertical positions. So the rule of thumb to place your watch dial up at night is usually good. But to know for sure, have it checked on a timing machine.
    As an aside, I put a Chinese tourbillon (which I picked up for $500 a few years back) on the timer and observed that it would gain and then lose more than seconds/day during various phases of a single rotation cycle. Which is to say, the spinning tourbillon cage itself with the escapement hanging off of it was fast from 12 down to 6 when gravity was “helping” it and noticeably slower when it had to climb up from 6 to 12. But while the rate did vary during the 60 seconds of rotation, it averaged it and of course in all of the vertical positions this would be the same. But the difference between the vertical and horizontal positions was large (over 30 seconds/day), so just because a watch has a tourbillon, that does not mean it has better rate results in all positions than a quality conventional movement. 
    Every watch can be adjusted close to zero error in one position. But a good movement will have smaller variations between all positions. Cheers.

  • Diverging Clear

    I have a huge magnet from a scrap yard in my spare room that I use as a coffee table. As I pass the room my eyes roll back into my head and I piss myself a little, this table is wherei keep my watches because I figure if a robber comes into the house he will be disarmed of his gun quickly and then I can use my bow and arrow to defend my watch collection.

  • Dinkee, H. O.

    Dinkee HO here, as usual to ensure that these reference articles on ABTW are correct and factual.

    If you are trying to do this with a garbage bottom range Seiko or Miyota you are wasting your time. They are not really adjusted in any position as they leave the Malaysian sweat shop. If you are dealing with at least a bottom rung ETA or Sellita coming out of a Swiss factory, then the advice given is correct.