Why do wrist watches stop working when I wear them?

Wristwatches, is a timeless accessory that serves both fashion and function. From the intricate gears of analog designs to the sleek circuitry of digital ones, they’ve woven their way into our daily lives. But sometimes, these reliable timekeepers come to an unexplained halt when worn by certain individuals.

While it might seem like a mystery, there’s a science behind it. Wristwatches can stop working for a myriad of reasons, including individual body chemistry or external physical factors. Knowing the underlying causes can prevent unexpected time-telling pauses and extend the lifespan of your beloved timepiece.

The topic of wristwatches ceasing function upon wear isn’t just about broken gears or drained batteries. It touches on fascinating areas like human bioelectricity, genetic factors, and even the intricate balance of quality manufacturing.

Can'T Wear Watches They Stop

Credit: watchbandit.com

Background of Watches

Brief History and Evolution

Wristwatches trace their roots to the 16th century, when clock watches were worn on chains around the neck. By the 17th century, these evolved into pocket watches, mainly popularized in Europe. The pivotal shift from pocket to wrist happened during World War I. Soldiers found it impractical to fumble with pocket watches, leading to the adoption of wristwatches. Over time, wristwatches became more than just timekeepers; they transformed into fashion statements and symbols of status.

The 20th century saw rapid advancements in watch technology. From mechanical to quartz and then to digital, watches underwent a significant metamorphosis. Each evolution aimed at increasing accuracy and durability. Today, we have smartwatches that not only show time but are also equipped with various functions, integrating daily life and technology seamlessly.

How Modern Wrist Watches Work

Modern wristwatches can be categorized mainly into two types: mechanical and quartz.

  • Mechanical Watches: These are driven by gears and springs. When wound, the mainspring stores energy. As it releases this energy, it powers the gears that move the watch’s hands. These watches require manual winding to function, although some are self-winding, thanks to a rotor that winds the mainspring due to wrist motion.
  • Quartz Watches: Quartz watches operate on a battery. They use the consistent vibration frequency of quartz crystal, exposed to an electric charge, to maintain precision. These are often more accurate than their mechanical counterparts and require less maintenance.

Common Causes

The reliability of wristwatches can sometimes be compromised. Let’s explore some prevalent causes behind watch malfunctions.

Battery Issues

Life Expectancy of Watch Batteries

The battery is the lifeblood of quartz watches. Typically, a watch battery lasts between 2 to 5 years. However, its lifespan can vary based on the watch’s design, battery type, and how the watch is used. For instance, watches with added features like backlighting or alarms might deplete batteries faster.

Signs of Battery Depletion

Regular wearers will notice subtle signs hinting at a dying battery. Some indicators include:

  • Erratic Movement: The second hand might jump in 2-4 second intervals.
  • Stop and Start: The watch might run intermittently, stopping and starting at irregular intervals.
  • Complete Stop: Eventually, the watch ceases to work altogether.

While these symptoms usually suggest battery issues, always consult an expert before jumping to conclusions. Replacing the battery promptly ensures the watch remains in optimal condition.

Electrical Interference

The Science Behind Body-Generated Electricity

Every human body functions through biochemical reactions. These reactions, especially within our nerve cells, produce minute electrical charges. While typically harmless, in rare instances, some individuals may generate electricity in slightly higher quantities.

Watches and Their Susceptibility to Electrical Fields

Modern quartz watches rely heavily on electrical circuits. When exposed to external electrical fields, including those produced by the human body, their function can be compromised. A wristwatch might stop or reset due to these electrical interferences. However, this phenomenon isn’t common and occurs only in a small fraction of the population.

Water Damage

How Water Affects Watch Mechanisms

Watches, especially their inner mechanisms, are vulnerable to water intrusion. When water seeps inside a watch, it can:

  • Rust the metal components, disrupting the intricate movement.
  • Damage the dial, making it lose its luster and clarity.
  • Impact the lubricants that ensure smooth hand movement.

Even a minuscule amount of moisture can lead to fogging inside the watch crystal, compromising visibility and functionality.

Different Water Resistance Levels in Watches

Watches come with varying degrees of water resistance, often denoted in meters or atmospheres:

  • 30 meters (3 ATM): Suitable for daily use, can resist occasional splashes.
  • 50 meters (5 ATM): Suitable for showering or swimming in shallow waters.
  • 100 meters (10 ATM): Ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
  • 200 meters (20 ATM): Designed for professional marine activities and serious water sports.
  • 300 meters and above: Fit for scuba diving and deep-sea missions.

It’s crucial to ensure the watch’s water resistance matches one’s requirements.

Skin Acidity

What is Skin pH?

The pH level measures the acidity or alkalinity of a substance. Healthy human skin typically holds a pH between 4.5 to 6.5, making it slightly acidic. This acidity helps protect against harmful microorganisms.

How High Acidity Affects Watch Functioning

Metals used in watch construction, particularly in the backplate and straps, can react with the acids released by the skin. Over time:

  • Stainless steel may discolor or tarnish.
  • Leather straps could weaken or fray.
  • The metal casing might corrode, risking moisture entry.

Excessive Sweat

The Composition of Sweat

Sweat primarily comprises water, but it also contains salts, proteins, and oils. Sodium, potassium, and calcium are the key minerals present.

The Corrosive Nature of Sweat and its Impact on Watches

Sweat, due to its salty nature, acts as a corrosive agent. Prolonged exposure to sweat can:

  • Accelerate the wear of leather bands.
  • Cause metal components to corrode, especially if the metal isn’t of high quality.
  • Potentially affect the internal workings if sweat infiltrates the watch casing.

Physical Damage

Effects of Drops, Knocks, and Pressure Changes

Physical traumas like drops or knocks can:

  • Crack or shatter the watch crystal.
  • Misalign or damage the hands.
  • Disrupt the movement, making the watch inaccurate or entirely nonfunctional.

Sudden pressure changes, like those experienced during diving, can also compromise the integrity of a watch, especially if it’s not designed to withstand such conditions.

Damage to the Inner Mechanics vs. External Aesthetics

While external damages like scratches or dents are immediately noticeable, internal damages are more insidious. A watch might still look pristine externally but could have compromised inner workings due to a sharp knock.

Genetic Factors

Are Some People Naturally ‘Watch Stoppers’?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some people tend to have watches malfunction or stop when worn. While scientifically unproven, theories range from electrostatic charges to magnetic fields generated by these individuals.

Research and Studies on this Phenomenon

Scientific consensus on this topic remains elusive. Some studies point towards higher electrical charges in certain individuals as potential culprits. However, rigorous scientific backing for such claims is still pending.

Manufacturing Defects

Quality Control in Watch Production

Reputable watch manufacturers invest significantly in quality control. Every watch undergoes rigorous testing for accuracy, water resistance, and material quality. Nonetheless, occasional oversights can lead to defective pieces entering the market.

Identifying a Defective Piece

Common signs of manufacturing defects include:

  • Inaccurate timekeeping right from the outset.
  • Misalignment of watch hands or markers.
  • Cosmetic issues like uneven finishes or visible imperfections.

If a new watch exhibits such symptoms, it’s advisable to approach the retailer or manufacturer for rectification or replacement.

Solutions and Precautions

Picking the Right Watch

How to Choose Based on Personal Characteristics and Needs

Selecting a timepiece that aligns with one’s unique traits and necessities is pivotal. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Activity Level: Athletes or those with active lifestyles should opt for durable watches, perhaps with shock resistance.
  • Skin Sensitivity: For those with sensitive skin, hypoallergenic materials like titanium or ceramic are ideal.
  • Aesthetic Preferences: While some might be drawn to the elegance of leather straps, others might prioritize the resilience of stainless steel.

Importance of Water Resistance and Material Quality

Not all watches are created equal. Paying heed to water resistance ratings ensures you’re guarded against accidental splashes or dips. Also, quality materials can stave off issues related to sweat, skin acidity, and wear and tear. Premium metals like stainless steel, titanium, or gold are not just about luxury; they also offer longevity.

Proper Maintenance

Routine Checks and Servicing

A watch’s accuracy and longevity are bolstered by regular check-ups:

  • Monitor its timekeeping abilities. If it starts losing or gaining significant time, a service might be in order.
  • Wind mechanical watches regularly to keep their mechanisms smooth.
  • For quartz watches, be prepared to change the battery every 1-3 years.

Cleaning and Storage Tips

To ensure your watch remains in pristine condition:

  • Clean with a soft cloth to remove dirt and oils. For metal bracelets, occasional cleaning with warm soapy water is beneficial.
  • Avoid exposing watches to extreme temperatures.
  • When not in use, store in a dry place. Watch boxes with cushioning are ideal.

Protective Measures

Using Wrist Bands or Barriers

Wristbands or barriers can act as a buffer between the watch and the elements (or your skin). For those particularly concerned about sweat or skin acidity:

  • Consider nylon or rubber straps during active periods.
  • Slip a thin piece of cloth or barrier underneath the watch.

The Role of Watch Placement on Wrist

The watch’s position can influence its exposure to potential harm:

  • Avoid wearing it too tight, which can lead to increased sweat accumulation.
  • Placing it slightly above the wrist joint can reduce the risk of knocks and provide better air circulation.

When to Seek Professional Help

Identifying Problems Beyond Self-Fixing

While some issues, like a dead battery or a worn-out strap, are straightforward, others demand expert intervention:

  • Fogging inside the watch face suggests water infiltration.
  • Inconsistent movement or time loss might indicate mechanical troubles.
  • Sounds or rattling from the watch are red flags.

Finding Trusted Watch Repair Services

When your prized timepiece acts up, entrusting it to a professional is paramount:

  • Seek recommendations. Often, friends, family, or online reviews can point you towards skilled technicians.
  • Verify credentials. Trusted repair services often have certifications or affiliations with watchmaking bodies.
  • Ask about warranties or guarantees on the repair work.


Why might my body’s electricity affect a wristwatch?

Each human body generates electricity, primarily through biochemical reactions. In rare cases, an individual may produce electrical discharges more frequently or with greater intensity. This can lead to disruptions in a watch’s mechanism, especially in quartz watches that rely on electrical impulses.

How does sweat damage wristwatches?

Sweat contains salts and acids. Over time, exposure to these compounds, especially in larger amounts, can corrode the metal parts of a watch or disrupt its inner workings. This is why it’s essential to regularly clean and maintain watches worn during physical activity.

Is there any way to test if I’m a ‘watch stopper’?

There’s no standardized test for this phenomenon. However, if multiple watches consistently stop or malfunction only when you wear them, and they work fine for others, you might be a ‘watch stopper’. Consulting with a watch expert or technician could provide more personalized insights.


Wristwatches, through the decades, have evolved, but their core essence remains the same: keeping time. When they falter, it’s an intriguing intersection of science, manufacturing, and human individuality.

Understanding the reasons behind watch malfunctions offers more than just a fix. It provides insights into how our bodies interact with the world and how even the most precise instruments can be influenced by seemingly intangible factors.

As we continue to rely on wristwatches, acknowledging these factors ensures our relationship with these cherished accessories remains timeless. Whether it’s a family heirloom or a modern smartwatch, the essence of timekeeping thrives through understanding and care.

Sherry's editorial journey seamlessly merges with her passion for horology at WatchReflect. As a seasoned editor and watch enthusiast, she curates insightful guides that cater to novices and connoisseurs alike. With a penchant for research and a flair for storytelling, Sherry transforms horological complexities into engaging narratives. Her mission is to illuminate the path for those navigating the multifaceted realm of timekeeping.

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