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I'm curious, because, while there seems to be all kinds of oils, there's actually only a few basic kinds: Mineral, petroleum, animal, and vegetable. I'm curious to know what type of oil is used in modern mechanical watches? I'm guessing it's a mineral oil since it would have to be very light, but I thought I'd better ask the experts here in the forum.
 

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Moebius oils is also the most expensive.

I find Nye or Novostar a better value.
 

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Hi -

I think that virtually all of the oils used are either petroleum-based or synthetic. Animal and vegetable oils simply have too few lubricating properties and cannot be as easily manipulated and processed to bring out exact characteristics in the oil's attributes, such as resistance to oxidation and the like.

The critical thing for watch oils is that they meet very exacting viscosity and oxidation requirements: viscosity so that they stay where they are supposed to (the improper use of oil and lubricants, usually in excess, creates dust and dirt magnets like you wouldn't believe!) and behave like they are supposed to (mainspring lubrication is vastly different from escapement lubrication, for instance); oxidation so that the petroleum-based products don't turn into different products over time (very simply put: petroleum lubricants+oxygen+temperature+time = varnish, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to use to lubricate a watch!).

Synthetic lubricants, especially the modern ones, are really great as they don't degrade over time in any way like petroleum-based products, greatly extending the life of the watch before it needs servicing.

JohnF
 

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John & lysnaderxiii, I'd like to get your feedback on the following, the info was in a post made over on the TZ-UK forum:

In the January 1997 American Watchmaker’s Institute’s Horological Times, David Christianson wrote:
Historically, animal oils and vegetable oils [were] the mainstay of horological lubricants. They can be refined and formulated to have many of the ideal properties of the perfect horological oil. But they have one serious drawback as well - they become rancid and dry up. This may be [viewed as] a serious drawback to the watch owner, but it certainly has been beneficial to watch repairmen and, as we’ll see in a moment, it has been beneficial to the watch movement as well.

When the animal and vegetable oils begin to deteriorate, they tend to thicken as they dry out, and the movement stops, long before any wear can take place because the thickened and dried oils still maintain a protective (albeit dried) film between metal surfaces. This forced the owner to have his watch cleaned and re-oiled on a regular and frequent basis, and with this frequent service the movement continued to perform its function with very little wear over very long periods of time. It is not unusual at all to find watch movements 100 and 200 years old that show very little wear.

In the search for oils that would not deteriorate in a [such a] short period of time, synthetic oils were developed that would provide many of the properties of the ideal watch oil. About a generation ago, synthetics replaced animal oils as the oils of choice.

Synthetic watch oils do retain their properties longer and watch movements run longer without wear than did movements oiled with animal oils. But synthetic watch oils have their serious downside as well. There is not the thickening and caking of the oil to stop the movement and force the owner to have his watch serviced before wear can take place. Synthetic watch oils, too, deteriorate but instead of thickening they tend to become more liquid, spread ** and evaporate over time, especially the synthetics of the recent past. The significant of this type of deterioration is that the movement will continue to run even as the synthetic oil deteriorates and evaporates (albeit less efficiently). This will continue until pivots score, often to the point of breaking and brass bearing holes wear ovoid, aggravated by dust, dirt and rust particles from leaking case gaskets and more significantly, leaking crown gaskets. Unless the owner is disciplined with a regular and frequent service schedule (and most of us aren’t), it is the worn out movement that forces the owner to seek the servicing of the watch with a resultant extensive and expensive repair bill. [unfortunately], jeweled bearings and highly polished pivots and other bearing surfaces will allow the watch to run without oil but with resultant wear.

The secret to a long-lived watch movement is frequent cleaning and oiling, just as in the past, but now more discipline is needed. The watch itself can not tell us when it needs servicing before it begins to wear out as the animal [or vegetable] oils of the past allowed us so to do.


Thoughts?
 

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Hi -

Hmmm.

Basically there is something to that, but I think that there is somehow a bit of nostalgia there that is not seeing how such frequent servicing ended up making those watches even more expensive.

I think that there's too much nostalgia for "the old ways" here: sure, it would make my watchmaker really happy to have my watches in every 2-3 years on a rotating basis. But the kind of work that had to be done on the watches was routine clean and lube, not exactly the most interesting work.
I think that given modern materials, the damage that could be done in this case is relatively minor, and given the very, very small part of the costs involved in materials - on one watch that I had worked on, the materials were less than $2, but the labor 100 times that - that it's vastly better to use the synthetics.

Of course, if you are talking a rare and basically unrepairable watch - one for which no spare parts are available and for which making new parts is exorbitant - then any good collector will have it routinely checked over time for any sort of wear and tear, and a good watchmaker will tell the customer when the watch should come in for a checkup.

The secret to a long-lived watch movement isn't simply to clean and lubricate often, but rather is a function of manufacturing and horological design in conjunction with **proper** maintenance. Taking a 7750, for instance, apart ever two years with a complete and total maintenance is wasting money: it's a bog-standard calibre for which there are a huge number of parts available, and that makes no sense.

I have quite a number of vintages, the vast majority of which date between 1940 and 1970. They are serviced either by myself (for simple cleaning and oiling when I have the time), or they go to the watchmaker when they start acting erratic. None go in on a regular schedule, as they are all serviced with synthetics and my watchmaker(s) have clearly said that there is little that needs to be done UNLESS the watch is not keeping time correctly.

I think that the danger is more for those who continue to use a watch when the time-keeping qualities become erratic because they don't know better (or can't afford to): that is where the problems really arise. I think the risk of a watch running dry today is much, much smaller than the risk of constant disassembly/assembly might carry, especially for older watches where the plates are of brass and hence rather soft: here is where klutzy watchmakers can do huge amounts of damage (not to mention the invariable scratches and dings).

JohnF
 

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MY 2 cents - you can't go to wrong with synthetics. Moebius is the most common and respected. There are proprietary oils that manufacturers have made to their specifications and some I might add "are different and make a difference". There is a school of thought in predominantly in conservation circles about animal oils that gum up and stop a watch. The thought is on older timepieces it is useful as the watch will stop prior to any damage from wear unlike a synthetic that can keep a watch running even under adverse conditions.
 

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Thankyou John and thankyou Henry, that makes sense to me.

Whilst on the subject of oils, and this is just FYI, I found the following an interesting read from the Ball Watch Web site:


Movement oil plays an important role in every mechanical movement- it acts as lubricant that reduces the friction between contact surfaces of the different small components within. Without the lubricant, the friction created will wear out the movement and adversely affect its accuracy.
Any surface contains irregularities, even when polished to a mirror finish. Therefore, when two surfaces are gently brought together, only some points on the surfaces make contact and wear against each other.
With lubrication, a protective film present on each of the surfaces separates the two surfaces. The protective film adheres to each surface and must resist being sheared off or pushed aside by the movement of the surfaces, particularly under a load.

Today's commonly available lubricants are manufactured from petroleum and consist of chains of carbon and hydrogen called alkanes. An oil molecule usually has between 15 to 20 carbon atoms, while a grease molecule will have 20 to 25. The side of the hydrogen atoms facing away from the carbon atoms has a slight positive charge, attracting it to the sea of electrons of the metals. This force will of course be considerably stronger in a longer carbon chain. The lubricant adheres to the surface yet easily slips over other lubricant molecules, reducing the level of friction as lubricant molecules rub together rather than brass and steel surfaces.
A lubricant with a longer carbon chain is less volatile, that is, it does not evaporate as easily. As the temperature rises, vibrations break apart the lubricant molecules, leaving a watch movement vulnerable to damage. Because molecules with longer carbon chains vibrate less at a given temperature, they are less likely to evaporate.

On the other hand, we must consider what happens to a lubricant in colder temperatures. In this case, the weight of longer carbon chains is no longer a benefit. Oils with higher molecular weights will thicken more rapidly and clog a watch movement.

In practice, manufacturers blend oils to modify and perfect the lubricating and thickness properties of the combined mixture. When considering how thick a lubricant to use, one must determine the thickness of that lubricant at the coldest temperature the timepiece will be subjected to. Watches worn on the wrist under normal conditions should not be lubricated with the ultra-thin lubricants necessary in extremely cold environments. By blending watch oils, a talented watchmaker can achieve perfect lubrication in all temperature ranges.

Our researchers at Ball Watch Company have engineered timepieces with special lubrication for expeditions in the North and South Poles. These timepieces feature specially blended Swiss watch oils that give the watches an operating temperature range from -40°C to 60°C. This special feature allows the Engineer Hydrocarbon to fulfill its promise as a dependable partner for Richard Limeburner in his search for the USS Alligator under the icy ocean.
 

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Hi -

Now that is just plain sensible and cool: kudos to Ball for that one!

JohnF
 
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