(Not) Adjusting an Arcadia (FEF) 16s Thin Pocket Watch

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A friend asked me if I would have a look at her grandfather’s old pocket watch, which he owned long ago in Iran. Needless to say, I was curious. And this is what it was.

It’s a Swiss pocket watch, branded ARCADIA but made by Fleurier, better known as FEF. FEF made a bunch of high quality watches.

This watch is a 16-size pocket watch with 15 jewels. It’s a skinny thin model. It’s a nice watch, but the case is spectacular—14K solid gold, with a gold-filled dust cover.

Stripping It Down

I was happy to clean and adjust the watch. I took it apart, scrubbed it in the ultrasonic cleaner, and gave it a new alloy mainspring. (If you’re working on one of these, it gets good amplitude with a Generale Ressorts GR4362 mainspring.)

The watch cleaned up nicely, but it had clearly been through some bad hands at one point. Literally—you can see someone’s fingerprints etched into the bridges.

There were fingerprints everywhere: on the bridges, the main plate, and even the back of the dial. At least the watchmaker didn’t sneeze on it.

The watch had some other signs of malfeasance. For example, the dial hole was rough and irregular. Someone crudely reamed the hole. I suspect that while replacing the hands, the new hour hand was too wide, so someone reamed the hole instead of getting different hands. That’s a new one for me, I must say. The tip of the hour hand was missing, too.

And the metal dial itself was warped, probably from handling during reaming.

(Not) Adjusting the Watch

The watch started right up after cleaning, but I decided against adjusting it. Earlier, we considered some reasons why some watches can’t or shouldn’t be adjusted to positions. This watch ticks many of those boxes.

For one, this is someone’s heirloom watch, and I’m reluctant to modify such watches too much. They don’t usually get carried much, so the risk of damaging the watch outweighs the improvement in timing.

In addition, this watch was not designed for precision adjusting:

  • it doesn’t have mean-time screws
  • it doesn’t have a precision micrometer regulator
  • and, most distressing of all, it has flat-faced screws

Yup, that kind—the kind without a slot for a screwdriver.

These screws were not always meant to be removed. These appear to be threaded in, so they could be grabbed by the sides with a balance screw holder and replaced. But the threading and tapping for such watches can be hit or miss. For example, the holes and screws might have been tapped and threaded for a single insertion, so if you remove the screw, it might not screw back in easily or stay in snugly. I don’t want to find out with this watch.

Finally, the lower balance staff pivot is bent.

It isn’t bent by a whole lot. The watch still runs with good amplitude, and the difference between dial up (DU) and dial down (DD) positions isn’t that bad. But the bent pivot makes the timing traces on my trusty Timegrapher a bit rough and irregular, especially in one of the vertical positions.

Fine adjusting is meant to build upon a strong watch’s strengths, not compensate for problems. This watch needs a new balance staff—the only real cure, in my opinion, for a bent pivot. But I’m reluctant to restaff my friend’s grandfather’s watch, so we’ll leave it be.

The watch keeps pretty respectable time in light of its bent pivot, certainly good enough to carry day in and out if you’re not running a railroad.

The Case

This watch has a wonderful case. So few solid gold cases survived the gold bubbles in the 1970s and the 2010s.

Gold cases shine up nicely. I first cleaned it ultrasonically in the watch cleaning solution, which gets rid of most of the grime, and then scrubbed it with a soft toothbrush and dish soap.

After, it was time for polishing. For gold cases, I like Menzerna Yellow on a soft buffing wheel. For a detailed, hinged case like this, I break out the Foredom flex shaft instead of a bench buffer.

With a flex shaft, patience, and much Menzerna-ing, if that’s a verb, this case turned out very nicely.

Gold has been popular for centuries for good reasons—nothing beats it for decorative pieces.

The case’s back has an elegant design more typical of Swiss watches than American ones.

The watch came with a plastic crystal, which I buffed and re-inserted to preserve the watch as it was.

Wrapping Up

Knowing when to leave well enough alone is not one of my strong points, but this watch had enough quirks that it was best to let it be. It’s clean, oiled, and running well enough for casual use by someone not obsessed with accuracy across a range of positions and temperatures.

And it’s always nice to see a family watch get out of a drawer and back into the world.