Pocketwatch 101™ – Learn about Vintage and Antique Pocket Watches
Photo Instructions: How to Set a "Lever-Set" Pocket Watch
"How do I set my vintage pocket watch?" is one of the most common questions we're asked. Many vintage pocketwatches are lever-set models, which are not set by pulling out the winding crown.
Lever-setting was a feature of higher quality (often railroad-grade) pocket watches that was intended to prevent them from being accidentally reset to an incorrect time. In fact, lever-setting was a requirement of the General Railroad Timekeeping Standards. Lever-setting usually requires that the bezel be removed (or opened) and that a small setting-lever be moved in order to place the watch in "setting" mode.
Here's the correct way to set the time on your lever-set watch. This example uses a Hamilton 992B Railway Special, but the instructions are very similar for any lever-set pocket watch.
Hold the watch in dial-up position. Do this while sitting comfortably with the watch held low over a table or a padded surface so that it's not going to fall a long way if you accidentally drop it. Don't do this while standing on a ladder in your driveway!
Gently screw off the front bezel (the ring that holds the crystal). Lever-set watches almost always have screw-off bezels. Don't forget: righty-tighty, lefty-loosey!
On hunter-cased watches (those with a lid over the dial), you don't have to screw off the bezel. When you open the front cover there is usually a little notch in the bezel that the set-lever sticks through. Just look closely and you'll see it.
Occasionally, a lever-set watch may be found in a different style of case (hinged-bezel, for example). If so you'll need to open the bezel to gain access to the setting lever.
Find the setting lever (indicated here by the pointer I'm holding). You will see just the tip of the lever projecting from beneath the dial. The lever on your watch may be in a different location than this one. There is usually a notch cut in the rim of the case to accommodate the lever. You don't need any tools to do this, I'm just using this needle as a pointer.
Usually the set-lever is around the 1:00 position or around the 5:00 position on the watch.
Hook the tip of the setting lever with your thumbnail and slide it directly out from the watch.
Any time you have the bezel off the watch, be extra careful not to hook the tip of the hands with your finger or change the alignment of the hands. They must remain straight, level and parallel with the dial.
This photo shows the setting lever pulled out into it's "set" position.
This is a close-up view of the extended set-lever.
With the lever in the "set" position, turn the crown (the winding button) and you will be able to set the time. After you've set the watch, push the lever back in to "wind" position and replace the bezel on the watch.
Be careful to get the bezel threaded-on correctly as they are a real pain if you get them cross-threaded! If it seems to be cross-threaded, don't force it! Just back it up until it is aligned properly and it should go on easily.
That's all there is to it. You're now a lever-set pocket watch expert!