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How To Open A Pocketwatch Case

There are several types of common pocketwatch cases. It is important to understand which type you're dealing with. Below are basic instruction for opening cases that are:
  • Threaded front and back
  • Hinged front and back
  • Swing-out
  • Snap-on front and back
There are a few other variations of these, but those are rare.

Threaded Front and Back

Many pocketwatch cases have screw-on bezels and backs. This type is case it composed of three main parts; the back, the bezel (the metal ring holder the crystal) and the middle part of the case where the watch movement is held, and to which the stem is attached. This type of case will have no hinges and thin cracks between the middle, the front and the back that can be seen or felt all the way around. Under careful examination, no lip or short widening of the gap at any point will seen.

To open a screw-on back, hold the watch dial-side facing down in the palm of your left hand (reverse if you are left-handed). Hold the stem of the watch with your left thumb. Turn the back counter-clockwise using the palm of the other hand. It is important not to press down too hard on the watch body as this will only make the back cover tighter against the case and thus harder to remove. The counter-clockwise pressure is what will open the case.

This type of case is most common on 16 and 18 size watches.

Snap-on Front and Back

This type of case is built on three parts, like a threaded case. Also like a threaded case, the edges of the parts can be observed around the from the an back where those parts join to the middle. But these cases have a lip or a short wide are in the gap, used to pry off the case parts. Snap on front and back parts are not threaded but instead snap-on to the middle part. The front and back are removed using a watch case opener, inserted at the provided spot. A case opener is similar to a pocket knife - however, never use an actual knife to open a watch case as it is dangerous.

Note that the parts of these cases frequently assemble in a specific orientation. In these cases, a notch of pin can be found on one part with a corresponding slot or hole in the other part. These must line up to snap the parts together.

This type of case is found on 16s and is most common on 12 and smaller size watches.

Swing-Out Cases

This type of case has a threaded (more common) or snap-on front (bezel) and no gap for a back part. With this type of case the front can be removed, and the watch movement "swings out" on a hinge, usually at the top of the movement. The body of the case is otherwise a single part. These cases sometimes require a case opener to left the movement out. Also, if the stem pulls out the setting position (even if it is a lever-set watch) this is required to swing the movement out. These types of cases are probably the trickiest to open, and to close again. They are particularly common on 18 size watches, as they were once a requirement of some railroad grade specifications.

Hinged front and back

This type of case has a visible hinge for both the front and the back. They will typically be a lip for opening these sections also. A case opener may be required. These cases will frequently have a third hinged cover inside the back cover. This is a "dust cover" provided so that the back can be opened for winding without exposing the movement. Sometimes these are called "triple hinge" cases. The dust cover may have a hole positioned to allow winding with a key. These cases are frequently seen with 18 size movements, particularly key-set/key-wind movements, and also with 6 size and smaller watches.

Hunting Cases
Hunting, or hunter, cases have lid over the front. The lid is opened by pressing down on the crown. Inside this cover is almost always a snap-on bezel. The back of a hunting case may be any of the above types. It is important when closing a hunting case, to press down on the crown, close the front, and then release the crown. "Snapping" the cover over the catch that normally holds it closed will quickly wear down the catch, and the cover will then not stay closed.

With your case open, you will be able to see the movement's serial number.  Find out about your watch by looking up the serial number here.

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