Restoring a Hamilton 688: Hamilton Watch Repair For a Friend

Published: June 6, 2014

“Don’t try to be a hero” is one of the most practical pieces of business advice I’ve ever gotten from another watchmaker, who continued, “That project you take on at a low price can cost you more than money – it can destroy your productivity on other projects, and end up frustrating the customer.”

I know it’s true in my head, but in my heart, I really want to take every project that comes my way. There aren’t many of us watchmakers left, and I owe it to loyal customers to at least try on the hard projects if I’ll take the easier projects. And, truthfully, we get in a lot of watches that other watchmakers wouldn’t work on anyways – watches that were rode hard and put up wet 30 or 40 years ago.

I got such a watch in recently – a Hamilton 688. At church – a situation in which I couldn’t really say no. One of our members had seen me at a public event at an antiques gallery at which I was giving repair estimates. He found out I was a watchmaker.

“No one else will touch my watch Matthew,” my fellow church member said. “Would you mind taking a look at it and repairing it? I ran it through a cleaner 30 years ago and it hasn’t run since. My parents gave it to me as a high school graduation gift and I’ve thought about it a lot since they passed.

“Uh oh.” I thought. “This thing is gonna have major rust. It’s gonna be hard. But how can I say no to that?”

I got the watch at church the next Sunday. When I uncased it and popped the dial, I wasn’t surprised. Rust City. Repairable? Yes – but only with a lot of work. The setting mechanism is a lost cause and will have to be entirely replaced. I’ve started the work, and I’ll update this article with before and after pictures.

The truth is that I’ll probably get a lot of surprises on this watch that will cost me money.

But when I return it to my friend and now customer, I know I’ll hear a variation of a refrain that I have heard often: “Thanks so much. Hearing this tick again is like hearing Dad’s voice one more time.”

I’ll tell the customer they’re welcome, and to let me know if they have any problems. Maybe I’ll grin a little bit too. Deep inside, I’ll smile.

And then I’ll go back to working on someone else’s watch.