Professional Tips on How to Care For and Clean Your Luxury Timepieces

Maintaining personal hygiene has been everyone’s number one priority in the fight against COVID-19. Everyday items, including your watch, have to be sanitised regularly. Caring for your luxury timepieces is also an excellent way to cope with cabin fever. Bonhams Director of Watches, Asia, Sharon Chan, has provided some tips on how to clean and maintain your watches in tip-top condition.

First, you’ll need the following things: a loupe, a cleaning cloth made with nonwoven fabrics, cotton buds, a polishing cloth and alcohol swabs. These five items can be found in any home supply store. 

You’ll need five different tools to clean your watch

After years of wear, gold watches can become discoloured. 

Sharon Chan, Bonhams Director of Watches, Asia

Five things you’ll need to clean a watch

A loupe:

  • Used to examine each part of the watch. Check the hands for any oil leakage, the gaps in the stainless steel strap as well as the gap between the lugs and the strap for any dirt trapped. You can also better appreciate the details of the watch using a loupe. 

Cleaning cloth (made with non-woven fabric)

  • For regular cleaning. It can be found in jewellery shops or you can simply use any glass cleaning cloths. 

Polishing cloth:

  • For watches made with white gold, rose gold or yellow gold. Yellow gold watches become dull and tawny after 10 to 20 years of wear, especially in humid places like Hong Kong and Taiwan. White gold watches might become ‘hazy’ and lose their luster. 
  • Polish the surface with the cloth. However, areas with brushed texture should not be polished. Make sure to rub gently and evenly to avoid uneven colours and shininess.

Cartier’s Ref. 3058 white gold and diamond-set panthere wristwatch with sliding dial, produced in 2009|Price realised: HK$475,625

Cotton bud: 

  • Dip it in a small amount of water to clean small areas and gaps. No cleaning agent is needed.

Alcohol swab: 

  • For sanitisation and removing tough stains. It can only be used on gold or diamond surfaces and must not be used on steel watches.

Tips on how to clean different types of watches 

Besides the tools required, Sharon has also shared with us some of her tips on how to properly clean timepieces. 

Watches with leather straps:

  • Use any cloth that is made for polishing leather to clean. However, leather becomes darker overtime naturally and is considered a positive characteristic. Most people choose to change the straps only when the leather is completely torn. 

Jaeger LeCoultre asymmetrical yellow gold wristwatch, produced circa 1970|Price realised: HK$35,625

Richard Mille “Felipe Massa” RM011-FM AL Ti limited edition bronzed titanium semi-skeletonized annual calendar flyback chronograph, produced circa 2014|Price realised: HK$1,375,625

Watches with rubber and silicone straps:

  • Clean with water or alcohol swabs. Use a new eraser to rub away the dirt on light-coloured straps.

Watches with stainless steel straps:

  • Clean the gaps in the straps with a damp cotton bud. Do not disassemble watch at home as the structures of stainless steel watches can be complex. 

Omega Speedmaster Mark 4.5 Ref. 1760012, produced circa 1975|Price realised: HK$11,475

Heuer stainless steel split chronograph keyless open face watch, produced circa 1940|Price realised: HK$11,475

Pocket watches:

  • Discoloration might occur, forming a patina on the surface. It adds to the history and value of the watch so cleaning is usually not preferred. 

Sharon has also reminded us to avoid getting our watches wet when washing our hands. This also applies to waterproof watches. When the crown of the watch is not tightened, water might seep into the caliber and the watch is no longer waterproof. 

Last but not least, Sharon also mentioned that re-winding your watch, adjusting its time and date as well as testing out the timer function can help to keep the watch ‘healthy’.