How to Open a Pocket Watch Back?

Pocket watches, an embodiment of history and elegance, carry a timeless charm that transcends the centuries. As a fusion of intricate engineering and intricate design, they have won the hearts of countless enthusiasts and collectors. Gaining an understanding of how to open a pocket watch back is crucial as it not only enhances the care and maintenance process but also heightens the appreciation for these vintage timepieces.

Delving into the realm of pocket watches can feel like stepping back in time. Behind those polished covers lies a captivating world of gear trains, escapements, and balance wheels. It’s a universe that intrigues and mystifies, where every turn of the hand is a testament to the delicate ballet of mechanical precision.

Stepping into this article, you will embark on a journey exploring the art of opening a pocket watch back. Along the way, you’ll grasp the nuances that distinguish different types of pocket watch backs, the necessary tools for the task, and the step-by-step guides to accomplish it. So, hold onto your pocket watch chain as we dive into the fascinating world of 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. Originating in the 16th century, these watches typically come with a chain to allow them to be secured to a waistcoat, lapel, or belt loop, preventing them from being dropped or lost.

Different Types of Pocket Watch Backs

Pocket watch backs can be classified into three primary types: screw-off, hinged, and snap-off.

Screw-Off Pocket Watch Backs

These backs are threaded and screwed onto the watch case. They require a particular type of grip or tool to unscrew.

Hinged Pocket Watch Backs

Hinged backs, as the name suggests, are attached to the watch case by a hinge and open outwards like a door.

Snap-Off Pocket Watch Backs

Snap-off backs are designed to snap into place. To remove them, you need to carefully pry them off.

Essential Tools for Opening a Pocket Watch Back

The right tools can make the process of opening a pocket watch back a breeze. Key items you might need include a watch case opener, a watch case holder, a magnifier, a soft cloth, and potentially a set of precision screwdrivers. Most of these tools can be found in a standard watch repair kit, available online or at watch repair stores.

How to Open a Screw-Off Pocket Watch Back?

Opening a screw-off pocket watch back involves a series of careful steps. Always remember to handle your pocket watch with care to avoid damaging its intricate internal mechanism.

  • Set the Watch in a Case Holder: This step ensures stability while you work on the watch.
  • Fit the Case Opener: Adjust the case opener’s size to fit the grooves on the watch back.
  • Unscrew the Back: Turn the opener counter-clockwise to unscrew the back.
  • Remove the Back Carefully: Once loose, carefully remove the back to reveal the movement inside.

How to Open a Hinged Pocket Watch Back?

Opening a hinged pocket watch back requires a delicate touch.

  • Locate the Lip: Find the small lip or notch on the edge of the case.
  • Insert a Case Knife or Blade: Carefully insert a blade into the lip.
  • Gently Pry Open: Gently apply pressure to pry open the case.

How to Open a Snap-off Pocket Watch Back?

Snap-off pocket watch backs can be a bit tricky to open, but with the right technique, it can be done effectively.

1. Inspect the Case: Examine the back of the pocket watch case to identify the small groove or lip.

2. Position the Blade: Using a case knife or a specialized case opening tool, position the blade or tool at the groove.

3. Apply Steady Pressure: Apply gentle and even pressure while rotating the tool to separate the back from the case.

4. Pop Off the Back: With the right amount of pressure and rotation, the snap-off back should pop off, revealing the inner workings of the pocket watch.

Common Mistakes When Opening a Pocket Watch Back and How to Avoid Them

While opening a pocket watch back, it’s essential to be aware of common mistakes that can potentially damage the watch. Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:

1. Using Excessive Force: Applying too much force can lead to scratches, dents, or even the breaking of delicate components. Take it slow and steady.

2. Using the Wrong Tools: Using improper tools can also result in damage. Invest in the appropriate tools or seek professional assistance.

3. Mishandling the Watch: Rough handling or dropping the watch can cause severe damage. Always exercise caution and handle the pocket watch with care.

How to Properly Close a Pocket Watch Back After Opening?

Closing the pocket watch back requires precision and attention to detail. Follow these steps to ensure a secure and proper closure:

1. Align the Back: Ensure that the back is correctly aligned with the case.

2. Apply Gentle Pressure: Apply even pressure while rotating the back clockwise to screw it back on (for screw-off backs).

3. Engage the Hinge: For hinged backs, gently close the back and ensure that the hinge is aligned properly.

4. Snap the Back On: When dealing with snap-off backs, line up the back with the case and press firmly until you hear a satisfying snap.

How to Care for Your Pocket Watch to Minimize Frequent Opening?

Frequent opening of the pocket watch back can expose the delicate inner components to potential damage. To minimize the need for opening, follow these tips for proper care:

1. Regular Cleaning: Keep your pocket watch clean by using a soft cloth to remove dust and debris. Avoid using harsh chemicals or immersing it in water.

2. Proper Storage: Store your pocket watch in a protective case or pouch to shield it from scratches, dust, and moisture.

3. Professional Servicing: Periodically, have your pocket watch professionally serviced by a watchmaker to ensure it remains in optimal condition.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I open a pocket watch back without specific tools?

While it’s technically possible to open a pocket watch back without specialized tools, it’s highly recommended to use the appropriate tools designed for the task. Using improper tools or makeshift alternatives can lead to damage and scratches, risking the integrity of the watch. Investing in a quality watch repair kit or seeking professional assistance is the best approach.

How can I tell what type of pocket watch back I have?

Identifying the type of pocket watch back you have is essential to determine the appropriate method for opening it. The easiest way to identify the back type is to closely examine the watch case. Screw-off backs have visible screw threads, hinged backs have a small hinge, and snap-off backs typically have a small groove or lip. If you’re uncertain, consult a watchmaker or use online resources for guidance.

What do I do if my pocket watch back won’t open?

If you encounter difficulty in opening a pocket watch back, it’s crucial to avoid using excessive force, as it can cause damage. Here are a few steps to follow:

  • Ensure that you’re using the correct technique for your specific type of pocket watch back.
  • Double-check that you have the right tools and that they are properly positioned.
  • If the back remains stubbornly sealed, it’s best to seek professional assistance from a qualified watchmaker or repair specialist. They have the expertise and tools necessary to safely open the watch without causing harm.

Is it safe to open a pocket watch back by myself?

Opening a pocket watch back can be a rewarding and educational experience if done with care and proper knowledge. However, it’s essential to exercise caution, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the process. If you’re unsure about your ability to open the watch safely or if the watch holds significant sentimental or monetary value, it’s recommended to have it opened by a professional watchmaker. They possess the expertise to handle delicate timepieces without risking damage.

Should I get my pocket watch professionally opened and cleaned?

Periodically having your pocket watch professionally opened and cleaned is highly recommended, especially if you notice any issues with its performance or if it hasn’t been serviced for an extended period. A professional watchmaker can carefully open the watch, clean the intricate components, lubricate the necessary parts, and ensure that everything functions smoothly. Professional servicing not only maintains the watch’s accuracy and longevity but also helps prevent potential damage that could arise from improper handling.


Opening a pocket watch back is an art that requires patience, precision, and the right tools. By following the proper techniques outlined in this article, you can safely unveil the intricate inner workings of these magnificent timepieces. Remember to handle your pocket watch with care and seek professional assistance if you’re unsure about the process.

So, whether you’re a pocket watch enthusiast or simply want to gain a deeper understanding of these mechanical wonders, mastering the skill of opening a pocket watch back opens the door to a realm of horological fascination. Embrace the journey and unlock the secrets that lie within these exquisite timekeepers.

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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