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Watches and Magnetization

By: James Enloe

Articles | Guides | 07.25.2013

Throughout their development and history wristwatches have evolved to keep up with the needs of the wearers. Wheather that be for diving (water resistance; lume), travelers (dual time zones) or pilots (slide rule) the maufactures have provided timepieces with specific applications to assist certain professions and even protect the watch from potential exposure that may cause the watch harm. One of these elements, that perhaps many of us do not think about, is magnetism.

Magnetized Seiko by Robmks

Just like most any other metal material a watch can become magnetized when it comes into contact with certain levels of a magnetic field. Magnetic fields can be found in things as simple as a set of speakers, or magnetic bracelet to radio waves, microwaves and even X-rays. For many of us the limited contact we have with such magnetic fields produces little to no noticeable affect on the operation of our watches. However, if you do encounter such a field you may notice your watch behaving not as you would expect.

The most common effect of a magnetic field on a wrist or pocket watch is to cause the watch to run fast. Remember that the components inside that tiny little machine on your wrist are metals and many – I’m looking at you, balance spring – are quite fine and easily could be affected. The magnetic field can actually cause the individual coils to stick together, having the effect of shortening the spring and thereby speeding up the watch. In most cases it will be a quite dramatic change, to where the watch could be minutes fast in a day rather than seconds. If you suspect your watch may be magnetized you can take it to your local watchmaker (if you are lucky enough to have one) or check this yourself by using a standard needle compass. The magnetic field now given off by the watch will move the compass needle (a demonstration can bee seen here).

DemagnetizerIf your watch is magnetized it will have to be demagnetized to again work properly. As with testing for a magnetized watch, you can also do the reversal yourself. It takes a product called a demagnetizer that can be found on-line for frequently less than $50 via a number of sellers or online retailers such as Amazon or eBay (buy from someone you trust, though). It should be a simple process of passing the watch back and forth over the device to remove the magnetic field thereby returning operation to normal. If you are not sure of doing this yourself and have access to a local watchmaker, you can certainly have them do it for you as well. Aside from demagnetizing they can check the movement for any damage from the magnetic field and regulate the watch as well if needed.

Having one’s timepiece be affected by magnetic fields is not a result of the mechanical revolution of the 20th century, as one might be inclined to think. In fact the first experiments in producing an anti-magnetic watch originated in 1846 by Vacheron Constantin. Although their experiments took a few years Vacheron did become the first to produce an anti-magnetic pocket watch in 1915, while Tissot was the brand to assemble the first anti-magnetic wrist watch in 1929. Today there are a number of watches specifically designed to withstand high levels of a magnetic field, and an ISO standard (International Organization for Standardization) to define such a watch (ISO 764:2002 Horology – Magnetic resistant watches). In fact even today’s diver’s watches by ISO standards need to be anti-magnetic (ISO 6425).

ANTI-MAGNETIC_WATCHES

A magnetized watch will most likely never be encountered by most average watch enthusiasts. Both the likely hood of being in the vicinity of such a strong magnetic field and the construction of modern watches should ensure this. Those who work in such conditions are going to be well aware of the dangers presented to their timepiece and have taken proper steps to have a well protected watch or – hopefully not – will not wear a watch at all.

by James Enloe

  • http://URL Jonathan

    “I’m looking at you, mainspring”

    Don’t you mean the balance spring? I believe a magnetized mainspring would affect the power reserve of the watch, not its speed.

    • http://www.zachstarrweiss.com w&w

      Hi Jonathan,

      Yes, you are right, thanks for pointing that out.

      -Zach

  • http://www.teeritz.blogspot.com teeritz

    Having sold watches at an AD for twelve years, I dealt with a vast number of customers who would bring in watches that had suffered from magnetic interference. My explanation was always something like this; “Fifty years ago, all you had to worry about was radios and televisions. Nowadays, we plug in laptops, mobile phones, iPods, digital cameras, etc, and the risk of exposing a watch to a magnetic field is heightened.”
    One customer came in holding a MacBook and complained of the accuracy of his watch a TAG Heuer Carrera Auto). I took it downstairs to the repairer and he placed a cheap plastic hiker’s compass (those small ones that slip onto a NATO strap) next to the watch. Within 15 or 20 seconds, the needle rolled around and pointed toward the wristwatch. The watchmaker told me that laptops are very magnetic on the frame/bezel around the screen. That’s what Gen Y’s have to worry about. The Baby Boomers, on the other hand, have other ways to magnetise their watches. One gent in his late ’60s brought his watch in to get the erratic timekeeping checked. Sure enough, his watch had been magnetised. “That’s ridiculous, I’m very careful with my watch”, he stated.
    “Do you wear it to sleep?”, I asked.
    “Yes, but what’s that got to do with anything?”, he laughed.
    “Do you, by chance, have a magnetic underlay on your mattress?”, I enquired.
    “Yes.”
    It used to happen quite a lot.

  • http://URL Bjorn

    I’ve had the same watch magnetized twice. Luckily I have a local watchmaker, quickly and easily taken care of.

    So, it still happens and it’s good to raise awareness so people know what to look for and that they don’t need a full service.

    I ended up buying my own demagnetizer, but luckily haven’t had to use it yet :)

  • http://URL Ilya

    Let’s not forget Damasko!

  • http://URL Jon

    My friend’s watch got magnetized when he placed it on top of the iPad. We’re thinking that the magnets in the smartcover was the culprit.

  • http://URL Ilya

    I invested in a demagnetizer and it has saved me a lot of money and effort.

  • http://URL Joe

    “Magnetic fields can be found in things as simple as a set of speakers, or magnetic bracelet to radio waves, microwaves and even X-rays.”

    It’s actually MRIs that deal with magnetism. The magnetism in X-rays is much much weaker then a typical MR imaging system. The omega shown above can withstand 15k gauss, or 1.5 tesla. Sadly, I work mostly around 3T magnets, so they need to step it up and build me a watch!

    • http://www.teeritz.blogspot.com.au teeritz

      But if you wear TWO of those Omegas, then won’t they withstand 3.0 tesla?

    • http://URL Joe

      Hahahaha If only it was that easy ;(

  • http://URL Kane

    Anything with iron/steel in it will affect a compass needle. Try this: put a coin over or near a compass. Nothing happens. Now put anything with iron/steel in it over or near it (pocket knife, cutlery, etc.) and you’ll see the needle move. The only way a watch won’t make a compass needle move is if none of the watch’s components are made of iron/steel.

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  • http://URL Bob

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