How to Replace Your Watch Batteries and Save Money
Guide to Using Watch Repair Toolkits for Changing Watch Batteries
With the right tool changing your watch battery can be easier than you think and a lot cheaper than paying someone to change the battery for you. The price of the tools is no more expensive than what you often get charged for having your watch battery changed and as it's a once only purchase it pays for itself right from the start; especially as the batteries themselves only cost peanuts.
So all in all, once you buy a few simple tools for changing your watch batteries you're quids in. Quids in is a British term for in profit, quid being slang for the Pound Sterling, the British Currency.
Below is my quest for discovering how easy it is to change your own watch battery and in the process saving lots of money right from the start; and having travelled down this road myself giving a step by step guide on just how easy it can be and what problems (few as they are) you may encounter. I also take time to explain something about the batteries and the different battery types that you will encounter.
From Wind-ups to Being Wound-up
A Trip Down Memory Lane
I remember the days when you could walk into any jewellers or watch shop and buy an inexpensive but good wrist watch which you needed to wind-up daily but were quite accurately, often losing or gaining just a minute or less in a month; so as long as you re-adjusted the time monthly you’d always be sure you had the correct time to within less than one minute. And the time it took to wind-up your watch was just momentary and done on the move e.g. just as you left the house for work.
Those days are long since gone. These days everyone has battery operated watches and once in a while the batteries need changing; which will be sooner rather than later if the cheap alkaline batteries were last fitted rather than the better quality silver oxide batteries. This is when you pay someone a small fortune for just a quick job taking only minutes even though the batteries themselves don’t cost much; it’s enough to wind-you-up.
You can of course still buy wind-up watches, but they are not generally available (you have to search long and hard to find them) and usually they’re very expensive.
If you own an expensive waterproof watch, the back is sealed watertight and therefore it's best to let a professional change the battery to guarantee the perfect waterproof seal is maintained.
Whereas for any other watch you own, with the right tools, you can quickly and easily change its battery yourself for a fraction of the cost of having it changed professionally.
Fed Up With Being Charged Extortionate Fees For a Simple Job
A Captured Market
When wind-up watches were phased out in preference to battery powered watches I wasn’t too bothered at first because the batteries would last for years and when they did need replacing there was a watch shop in the Shopping Arcades, Bristol that only charged a nominal fee for replacing the battery with a new Silver oxide battery but unfortunately this shop was one of many shops hit by the recession leaving just the jewellers who (having a captured market) overcharge for the service, so much so that it’s actually cheaper to buy a new watch than it is to replace the battery in an existing watch. There are watch stalls outside in the shopping centre precinct that replace batteries the batteries cheaply but they only replace them with the cheap alkaline batteries that don’t last long.
If you have an everyday watch then as it’s often cheaper to buy a new watch than replace the battery in your existing watch a number the temptation is to do just that and I know a number of people now who have spare watches tucked away in the back of their drawer simply because the battery has died and they’ve just gone out an bought a new watch. Obviously if you have an expensive watch then it’s easier to justify replacing the battery.
My Quest of Discovery on Changing Watch Batteries Yourself
A Crash Course in Tools, the Different Watch Back Types, and the Different Types of Batteries
Having decided that it’s ridiculous to pay good money in a shop (jewellers) to replace a watch battery and being charged more than the watch is worth I decided enough is enough and that as long as I can get the watch back off then changing the battery itself would be easy.
Googling on the subject, reading loads of articles and watching several YouTube videos on the subject I quickly learnt that’s there are two main types of back, one type with notches diagonally opposite each other that with the right tool can easily be turned to unscrew the back and the other type that snaps on and which is prised open by gently flipping it up from under a small lip located somewhere around the rim of the back; this second type being more difficult to get off not least because you’ve got to find the lip but also once found prising it up can be tricky; even with the right tools. In my research I also learnt about the different shapes and sizes of watch batteries and the different types, namely Alkaline and Silver Oxide; the Silver Oxide being the superior of the two.
Next, having gleamed a general overview of what’s involved and the types of tools required I started looking at the various watch repair kits available and after some thought made an informed decision on which kit I wanted; opting for one that was not over expensive but which contained the two basic tools I felt I needed and additional tools which I thought might be useful to cover all eventualities and more, the full details of what I chose and why and how I use them are given in more detail further down.
How To Change A Watch Battery With Screw Off Back
Great Video, very detailed and very informative.
My Chosen Watch Repair Tool Kit
Everything I Need and More
I’m not an expert watch repairer so I don’t know the terminology for what’s in the toolkit, and there’s no instruction with it, although it’s obvious what most of the items are for and having watched the videos on YouTube I had a good idea of what I needed to do and generally how to use the tools I needed.
I only actually need two basic tools for changing batteries one sturdy tool with a couple of adjustable pins (something like an adjustable spanner) to locate in the slots on either side of watches that have screw-on backs, and the other with a red handle which looks a little like a knife but with a blunt blade for prising open backs that snap on. The spanner type tool is easy to use and does an excellent job so I’m more than happy to change the batteries for watches with screw on backs. The latter is a lot more difficult to use, there is a definite knack to it which I’ve yet to master, but nevertheless (even though I did scratch the back of one watch) I’ve still managed to successfully prise open the three snap on watch backs for the watches that need new batteries.
The two issues with snap on backs are first you have to find the lip which is only a small area on the rim of the back and quite difficult to spot, then once found you have to press the blunt knife into that lip and with some force gently twist or pop it off. It is quite difficult to do because the knife is quite blunt and on inspection appears to be too wide to fit into the lip; but when you do get it right it does work well; so it’s just a question of getting the knack, which I’m sure will come with practice. Although I have been tempted to sharpen the blade making it thinner and therefore easier to fit into the gap but with a real risk of weakening the blade by making it thinner I’ve decided to let sleeping dogs lay and just get keep on practicing until I get the knack.
Of the other tools in the toolkit, they’re not necessary for changing batteries but one of the watched I had did have a broken strap which I was able to successfully repair using some of the other tools; so I am glad I bought the full kit and not just the couple of tools on their own. The only tools I haven’t used yet are predominantly a selection of very tine screwdrivers but I can see them coming in handy in other ways when I may need to work on anything small delicate in the home or most likely on some project or other in my DIY workshop shed. The toolkit also comes with a handy soft work mat that you place the watch on when replacing the battery or watch strap to ensure the glass front of the watch doesn’t get scratched.
The toolbox is only cardboard, but it’s a stiff cardboard (similar to the material some early box cameras were made of) so as long as you take care of it the watch repair toolkit toolbox should last well; and it does have a magnetic front so it snaps shuts nicely when not in use.
How to Change a Watch Battery with Normal Tools
Some good ideas and tips, and if you have any doubts this video should give you some confidence that with the right tools, taking care and taking your time, changing watch batteries is within the grasp of just about anyone. It also shows you how to use a small screwdriver rather than the blunt knife described further up for prising the back off of the watch.
Watch Repair Tool Kit
Replacing the Watch Battery Step by Step Guide
Using the Tools
See the images in the photo gallery below for a pictorial representation of these steps.
- Determine the type of watch back; either Screw or Snap-On back; this will determine the tool you need to use.
- If the screw-on watch back use the adjustable spanner, setting it to the correct width locate the pins in the associated indents on the rim of the watch back cover and, while holding both the watch and spanner firmly, turn the adjustable spanner anti-clockwise to unscrew the back.
- If the watch back is the type that snaps on then locating the tiny lip somewhere on the rim place the blunt knife into this lip and apply some downward twisting pressure until the back pops off; this is likely to require some practice until you get the knack, but watching the video below may help.
- Once you have the back off you can use the tweezers to remove the battery to determine which size battery you need. The Battery size is printed on the back of the battery in very small print so in some cases you may need a magnifying glass to read it; or do as I did for one battery and scan it into the printer where you can then enlarge the image.
- Once you know which battery size you need then order a new battery online, unless you already have one to hand, and preferably order the silver oxide version rather than an alkaline battery as this will last a lot longer e.g. several years instead of just six months. If the battery you take out is an alkaline battery, may start with the AG you may need to do a quick Google to find the silver oxide equivalent which often starts with SR (as discussed above).
- Once you have the correct battery, just pop it into the watch and replace the back cover either by snapping it back in place or screwing it back on (using the adjustable spanner) dependent on the type of back cover.
The Tools I Used and a Stepped Guide for Replacing Watch Batteries - For Both Snap on and Screw on Watch BacksClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Professional Way to Changing a Watch Battery
Watch Repair Tool Kits
For Changing Watch Batteries
With just a little know how and a few simple tools it's surprisingly easy to change your watch batteries; as demonstrated by the guide and videos in this how-to article. And in the process of changing the battery yourself saves you sums of money by only costing the price of the new battery and not the usual labour charge for providing the service; in the long run these savings will become significant.
I have noted that in a lot of the reviews a significant minority of people put it down to poor quality tools if they break but remembering these are precision tools for delicate work that they and the watch your working on have to handle with care, and if so (as shown by the vast majority of reviews) these tools will do an excellent job at saving you money and time.
The first few times it may seem daunting, and it can take a little while to get the hang of using the tools proficiently. I've changed quite of few for myself and my family now, and there really is nothing to it; it does get easier with practice and you do build up your confidence in changing batteries and competence in using the tools.
Another common criticism of these tool kits is that they don’t come with any instructions. Yes it’s frustrating having bought a tool kit not to know what a specific tool does or how to use it. Yet, as DIY enthusiasts will know, whenever you buy any tool kit or tool accessories kit be it for your cordless power drill, Dremel, SoniCrafter or Router etc. you never get any instructions; for that you need to buy your own DIY books or more common these days search the web for the how-to guides.
What You Need to Know About Watch Batteries
Alkaline vs Silver Oxide
The two main types of batteries are Alkaline and Silver Oxide. Alkaline batteries are a lot cheaper but they don’t last as long, typically an alkaline battery may last only six months or less if it’s been in stores on a warehouse shelf for ages waiting for shipment. Whereas a Silver Oxide battery will last for years, maybe only a year or two but sometimes as long as five years or longer so Silver Oxide is by far a better bet when choosing your batteries.
The next issue with watch batteries is size, they come in all shapes and sizes but it is important to use the correct size for the watch. To know the correct battery size for your watch you need to know the battery code which is clearly printed on the back of the battery, albeit in small print; and sometimes the print is so small that even with good eyesight you need a magnifying glass to read it.
For Alkaline batteries the coding letters start AG and for Silver Oxide the coding starts SR; the smallest alkaline battery being code AG1 with its Silver Oxide equivalent being SR626SW. In both cases the larger the number the larger the battery; so for example a watch with a larger battery may take an alkaline AG4 battery or something like a SR920Sw or SR927SW Silver Oxide battery etc.
If you do decide using Alkaline batteries you can buy packs of up to 40 or 50 assorted batteries for the price of just one Silver Oxide battery but you’ll only get four or five batteries of each size and unless you check before you purchase there is no guarantee the pack will actually contain the battery size you need. So in my mind, other than for emergencies or as a quick fix buying these multipacks can be a waste of money.
Once I had decide which watch repair toolkit I wanted and it was on order I didn’t know at that time which watch batteries I would need and rather than wait for the toolkit to arrive so that I could take the backs off the watches to find out I took a chance and ordered a pack of 40 assorted alkaline batteries in the hope that it included the sizes I wanted with a view that once I knew the sizes required I could make a note and be ensured to ordering the correct Silver Oxide battery sizes next time.
However, when the toolkit and batteries arrived I got all six watches out for the whole family requiring new batteries and when I’d taken the backs off all the watches I discovered the pack of assorted alkaline batteries didn’t include any batteries to fit two of the watches. The other four watches all required AG1 and I had four AG1 batteries in the assorted battery pack, however three of the four new alkaline batteries were already drained leaving me with just one battery I could use. I’ve since ordered the correct silver oxide batteries for all the watches and when they arrive will be able to fit them.
Books on Watch Repair - Horology Books
If you think it’s time to maintain your own watches then these books may be an invaluable reference source packed with information, tips, advice and how-to guides; albeit that time marches on and with the introduction of Quarts watches you may be limited to the more basic maintenance tasks with modern watches but for older (mechanical) watches there’s plenty of scope to learn from these books and really throw yourself into horology as a new and fascinating hobby; learning how to replace any watch component and even potentially build your own watch from scratch using component parts.