Our customers know that when it’s time to find storage, plugging SpareFoot.com into your address bar will let you compare facilities in your area in the blink of an eye and shave hours off of your storage search. In addition, we’ve written numerous times on this blog about how to know when it’s time to cut the clutter and rent a storage unit. What we seem to be missing, however, is how you would go about storing time—or at least your timepieces. It’s a topic whose coverage is long overdue: How do you store watches and clocks?
Watches and clocks combine one of our most basic, utilitarian needs—the ability to keep time—with craftsmanship and style in a way that few other objects in our lives do. At the higher end, they are simultaneously complex machines with precise internal mechanics and works of art fashioned by renowned designers out of rare and valuable materials. Some can even be investments: solid, material goods that accrue value over time and can be sold at a profit later in life or passed down through the family for posterity. Even when they don’t bear the names of famous designers, they’re often antiques or heirlooms of sentimental value, or at least functional tools we many want to see on our wrists or walls in the future. That’s exactly why so much thought needs to be put into their storage: Watches and clocks have fragile machinery and delicate ornamentation, and often hold a lot of value.
Because the complex topic of storing watches and clocks is beyond the realm of even the storage experts here at SpareFoot, I’ve enlisted Katie Knaub, director of education at the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors, to help us.
Some Things to Watch Out For
Katie’s first piece of advice is something of a warning: The proper care and keeping of watches and clocks is such a complex subject that, despite the simplicity of my question, the answer “could really be the subject of a whole book … because so much is dependent on what type of clock or watch you are talking about and the various materials that make up that particular clock or watch.” In other words, many of the finer details have to do with the mechanics and materials specific to that individual timepiece, and we don’t have enough room for that much coverage.
There are, however, some universals that Katie advises you to watch out for: “Clocks and watches are delicate instruments and should be treated accordingly. They can be harmed if subjected to direct sunlight, extremes of temperature or dampness, and should not be moved more than necessary.”
The keys to keeping your clock or watch ticking rest in proper preparation, packing, maintenance and, of course, the right environment.
Watches and clocks should be thoroughly cleaned before being placed in storage. For the extra cautious, consulting an expert technician for a diagnosis or any maintenance before you put the timepiece away for any period is always a good idea.
Many collectors keep their automatic watches on winders. Since automatic watches have springs that keep wound by the natural movement of your arm, a winder will keep them precise in absence of any movement. Many winders also act as protective cases designed to keep watches safe and can save you the worry of finding suitable packing material for your watch. Keep in mind that there are many types and brands of winders, which themselves will require winding over time. Some even can be programmed to wind your watch after a specified period. Be aware that some watch enthusiasts caution against the use of winders, as some might damage the watch—do research and make sure the winder you use is right for your watch.
When it comes to mechanical clocks, Katie tells us to “keep loose pieces such as weights, pendulums and keys with the clock, or clearly labeled as to which clock they belong.” When it comes to those of the electronic variety, “remove batteries from electric clocks and store them away from the clock as they can leak and cause damage,” Katie said.
The proper packaging is vital in protecting your watch against one of storage’s greatest hazards–dust. This is particularly true of old watches. As Katie told us: “Dust can clog some parts of old watches, so it is best to keep them in boxes or display cabinets when not in use.”
One of the better options is to simply save your watch or clock’s original packaging, and then place it back into that packaging for storage. However, although the manufacturer’s packaging often is ideal for protecting the timepiece, it probably wasn’t designed with space efficiency in mind, which obviously is a concern with any storage unit. If the original packaging is too bulky, consider one of the many watch storage cases out there on the market.
You might find it more efficient to pack several watches in the same box. If so, make sure to use sufficient padding or you may come away with a scuffed watch face or wristband. “To help keep watch straps in good condition, roll up some acid-free tissue to form a cylinder that will support the strap or buy rolls or supports made for the purpose,” Katie said. Don’t use bubble wrap as padding, she said, as it can retain dampness and cause the steel in the movement to rust.
“Clocks should be stored in a cool, clean, dry and dust-free area, not in a damp basement or loft. The best location is out of direct sunlight, away from heat or cold and away from forced air vents or baseboard heaters,” Katie said.
The best way of protecting against threats from temperature and humidity is to rent a climate-controlled storage unit.
Old watches are particularly vulnerable to damage from humidity and dust. Some collectors protect these timepieces by storing them in cigar humidors. Designed to keep delicate tobacco and paper at stable temperature and humidity levels, humidors also will protect against dust and typically are structurally strong, so they won’t be crushed nearly as easily as a cardboard box.
Storing large clocks–such as grandfather clocks–is a particular challenge, as these timepieces may be as large or larger than many of the pieces of furniture in your storage unit, but still far more delicate, often containing large panes of glass. Covering glass with plastic or acid-free paper can help prevent scratches. If your grandfather clock is made of wood, take the same precautions you do when storing other wood furniture: Cover surfaces with finishes like linseed oil or furniture polish to keep them moisturized, then cover the clock to prevent scratches. Katie told us that large clocks “should be on a stable base which does not move with the floorboards as people walk past.” That’s great advice, but you also should make sure the clock is kept off the unit’s floor (which guards against problems with humidity and pests) by putting it on a stable base.
No matter what precautions you take or how perfect the environment, you can’t simply stick your timepiece in a storage unit and then forget about it for the next decade. “All mechanical clocks should be lubricated or re-lubricated roughly every three to five years,” Katie said. “These same clocks should be cleaned about every eight to 10 years. Cleaning removes all dust and dirt and any corrosion or rust, and removes all of the old oil.”
While you might be able to take care of basic cleaning and maintenance yourself, Katie advocates professional help: “Servicing should be done by a qualified technician.”