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Recently, I bought a cheap (~$53) but elegant mechanical "retro pocket watch", newly made. That is, not an antique made in the 18th century or anything.

So far, it's worked flawlessly and feels very solid. But who knows what it will be like in 10 years? Or 20? Or 50? Or... 100?

Can I expect this thing to work for at least the rest of my life? Is it likely as good durability-wise as the fully hand-made ones of days past? Or maybe even better?

I also wonder if it's waterproof. I'm not going to go swimming with it anytime soon, but I may well pick it up to check the time when it's raining cats and dogs. Or I could accidentally drop it in a pool of water, etc.

Since it's fully mechanical, shouldn't it in theory work under water just as well? No batteries, no electronics? Even if water pours inside the glass covers on both sides, shouldn't it keep ticking? And aren't all metal parts stainless these days, so there would be no long-term damage?

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    $\begingroup$ shouldn't it in theory work under water just as well? ... stand in your living room and spin on one foot ... go try the same in a swimming pool $\endgroup$
    – jsotola
    May 15 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ Re: underwater? the movements of the springy parts may get damped? Or not. Interesting question. Long term there are chemistry and dissolved-solids issues. Sea has salt in particular, that will ruin most things, pools have chlorine, lakes have freshwater things that eventually become slime. $\endgroup$
    – Pete W
    May 15 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ Lakes have minerals that seep out of soil. Dissimilar materials will form microbatteries, which will cause corrosion. $\endgroup$ May 15 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ In addition to the risks others have noted above, the water (especially if it contains detergent) may wash away the specialist lubricants in the watch, leaving moving parts vulnerable to wear by rubbing against each other. $\endgroup$ May 16 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ Most mechanical watches have not been "fully hand made" for the past 150 years. A modern "fully hand made watch" is more likely to cost \$50,000 or \$500,000 than \$50. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    May 16 at 20:03
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Pretty sure they are not all stainless steel. I would expect some brass and I don't think I would expect the springs to be stainless steel.

Different metals with water result in galvanic corrosion. And stainless steel can still rust. Also, water leaves behind residues and junk. And water provides resistance to the gears and mechanical oscillators so it would not work properly submerged.

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I got my first wrist watch nearly 50 years ago. It was fully mechanical, spring powered, no batteries, & needed to be wound every day. My second watch, obtained a few years later, was also fully mechanical, but automatic - meaning it had a rotating weight/pendulum that moved every time the wrist moved and it wound the spring.

About 40 years ago I bought a fully mechanical pocket watch because I had to work in hazardous environment with a potential for flammable gas leaks, which prevented the use of battery powered watches for safety reasons.

Most watches older watches whether fully mechanical, mechanical and battery, mechanical and electric generator or fully electronic, wrist or pocket, made by industrial watch makers usually have the words "water resistant" or "water proof" to a depth specified, usually 30 meters (100 feet).

A watch specified as being water proof to 30 meters means it can be submerged to that depth and be fully operational provided it is properly maintained.

By way of example, the watch pictured below, is made for divers and is specified to be able to be submerged to a depth of 300 meters (1000 feet). As can bee seen on the face of the watch.

enter image description here

A watch specified as being water resistant simply means it can withstand minor splashes of water on it. If such watches get seriously wet, either by severe splashing or being dropped into a pool of water, they can stop operating. Such watches are usually not water tight, particularly around the "glass". Some watches can leak like a sieve, around the "glass".

Do not assume your watch is water tight. Ask the person who sold it to you, or the manufacturer to be certain. Just because it might looks pretty, doesn't mean it's robust.

All mechanical watches need to be maintained properly. Every year or two they should be taken to a watchmaker for a service. This will include lubricating the watch, checking the bearings, for signs of wear and checking the seals within the watch to ensure their specified level of water tightness.

I very much doubt that a watch purchased for "~$53" would be water tight. Enjoy it while you can, but keep it away from water.

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No and no.

The watch is only waterproof as long water deosn't get inside. Water can cause corrosion and leave up residue. Especially since it's unlikely the water that will get inside will be pure. It will contain minerals and might be slightly acidic. Besides, pocket watch is very delicate mechanism. When the water rushes inside, especially under pressure (and pressure under water rises quickly with depth) it flow might be enough to cause damage. As for how long is that "as long water doesn't get inside" depends on the model. Many watches have ratings telling how much water pressure it can withstand. However keep in ming that it's static pressure - rating 30M doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to dive 30 meters with it - it can withstand laying still 30 meters under water, without any movement or pressure spikes. Also in case of actual leakage it might be difficult to prove that in case you want to make use of warranty. Regardless of the rating, some light rain shouldn't hurt the watch though as long you aren't staying on the rain too long and you let it dry afterwards (kinda like non-waterproof smartphones can withstand such conditions).

As for the lasting lifetime it's highly dependent on the manufacturer, model etc. Technology allows for making watches superior to old ones. But that's expensive. And on the other hand technology allows nowadays to mass produce cheaply mechanical watches of bad quality. So definitely they aren't inherently long-lasting, though can be. A good electronic watch can easily last you longer than bad mechanical one. So it all comes down to selecting the right model. And a bit of luck, because I've learned from a friend that even swiss watches can fail after 2-3 years. Obviously, proper maintainance comes without saying, like with everything.

So, to sum up and present a bit of my own opinion - unless you want to spend lots of money choosing beetween mechanical and electronic watch (or one that has both mechanical and electronic components) is more a matter of personal preference than getting longevity.

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