How to Change the Time on a Pocket Watch?

Pocket watches, once a symbol of status and a necessary time-keeping device, hold a special place in horological history. Their intricate mechanisms and designs still fascinate collectors and enthusiasts worldwide. Learning to adjust the time on these intricate devices can be a rewarding experience, enhancing one’s appreciation of their complex craftsmanship.

This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to change the time on a pocket watch. With step-by-step instructions, you will discover the process of correctly adjusting the time and become more familiar with your watch’s function and care.

Understanding the nuances of pocket watches, their operation, and care can deepen your admiration for these fascinating timepieces. Whether you’re an ardent collector or just starting, this article will be a useful resource in your pocket watch journey.

Understanding Pocket Watches

What Is a Pocket Watch?

A pocket watch is a portable timepiece designed to be carried in a pocket, as opposed to a wristwatch. They are traditionally attached to a chain and kept in a pocket. This protects the watch from damage while also adding a sophisticated aesthetic touch.

Types of Pocket Watches

There are three main types of pocket watches: open face, hunting case, and sidewinder. The open face watch doesn’t have a protective cover over the dial, while the hunting case watch has a hinged cover. The sidewinder, meanwhile, has its winding stem at the 3 o’clock position, differentiating it from the other two.

How Does a Pocket Watch Work?

A pocket watch functions through a fascinating orchestration of tiny parts. It works on the principle of mechanical operation, using a wound spring for power. This power then transfers through a series of gears and springs to move the watch hands at a consistent pace.

Necessary Preparations Before Changing the Time

Cleaning Your Hands

Before you handle a pocket watch, make sure your hands are clean and dry. This prevents the transfer of oils and grime to the watch, which could potentially damage its delicate mechanisms.

Finding a Clean, Well-Lit Work Area

Choose a clean, well-lit area to change the time on your watch. This helps you see clearly and prevents small parts from getting lost or damaged.

Gathering Necessary Tools (If Required)

While changing the time on a pocket watch generally requires no tools, you may need a pair of tweezers or a soft cloth for handling or cleaning.

Step-By-Step Guide to Changing the Time on a Pocket Watch

How to Identify the Crown/Stem of a Pocket Watch?

The crown or stem of a pocket watch is a small knob usually located at the top of the watch. It’s used for winding and setting the time.

How to Pull Out the Crown Correctly?

To set the time, gently pull the crown outwards. If you’re dealing with an antique watch, exercise extra caution as parts may be delicate.

How to Turn the Crown to Adjust the Time?

Once you’ve pulled out the crown, turn it slowly to adjust the hands to the desired time. Move it clockwise to advance the time and counter-clockwise to set it back.

What to Do After Setting the Time?

After you’ve set the time, push the crown back into its original position. This re-engages the watch’s running mechanism.

Handling Different Types of Pocket Watches

How to Change Time on a Hunting Case Pocket Watch?

For a hunting case pocket watch, you first need to open the protective cover before accessing the crown.

How to Change Time on an Open Face Pocket Watch?

The open face pocket watch allows direct access to the crown, making the process straightforward. Simply follow the steps discussed in the section “Step-By-Step Guide to Changing the Time on a Pocket Watch.”

How to Change Time on a Sidewinder Pocket Watch?

The sidewinder pocket watch has its crown at the 3 o’clock position, but the process remains the same. Just locate the crown, gently pull it out, adjust the time, and push it back in.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Setting Time

Overwinding the Watch

It’s important to avoid overwinding your pocket watch as it can damage the mainspring. Stop winding once you feel resistance.

Incorrectly Pulling Out the Crown

Exerting too much force when pulling out the crown can damage the watch. Always handle the crown gently.

Forcing the Hands to Move

Never force the hands to move if they seem stuck. This could damage the delicate gears inside the watch. If the hands don’t move smoothly, it may be time to seek professional help.

Caring for Your Pocket Watch Post-Time Setting

How to Clean and Store a Pocket Watch?

Clean your pocket watch regularly with a soft cloth to remove any dust or fingerprints. Store it in a dry, cool place and consider a watch box for added protection.

When to Seek Professional Help?

If you notice any issues such as the watch not keeping time, making strange noises, or the hands not moving, it’s best to consult with a professional watchmaker.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Isn’t My Pocket Watch Keeping the Correct Time?

If your pocket watch isn’t keeping the correct time, it could be due to several reasons, including needing a good clean, requiring a new battery (for quartz pocket watches), or internal mechanical issues.

How Often Should I Reset the Time on My Pocket Watch?

Resetting the time on your pocket watch depends on its accuracy. If it gains or loses a few minutes every day, you might need to reset the time daily. Otherwise, adjusting the time every few days or weekly might suffice.

Can I Damage My Pocket Watch by Setting the Time Incorrectly?

Incorrectly setting the time, such as moving the hands counter-clockwise on some vintage watches, can potentially damage the movement. Always ensure you’re setting the time correctly according to the type and age of your pocket watch.


Understanding how to correctly change the time on a pocket watch is a key aspect of owning such a treasured timepiece. With patience, precision, and the knowledge from this guide, you can confidently care for and maintain the functionality of your pocket watch.

Respect the intricate mechanics of these historical pieces as you master the art of setting time. And remember, while it’s a practical necessity, it’s also a way to connect with the past – a time when these watches were a symbol of sophistication and craftsmanship.

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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