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Jewellery Insurance

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Cleaning Luxury Watches: Do’s and Don’ts

Q Report Team
Updated on March 07, 2023
4 min read



Today’s luxury watches live mostly in boardrooms and parties. But their forebears handled the dirty work. For example, IWC’s original Big Pilot Watch saw action over the battlefields of WWII on the grimy wrists of both Allied and Axis fighter pilots. 

And although your IWC (or Rolex or Omega) hopefully won’t face enemy fire, it probably gets dirty occasionally. After all, if you love your watch as much as we do, it goes places. So between your skin’s oils and the air’s dust, your once-pristine timepiece can start to look old.

But given a good shine, it will be ready for action once more--perfect for that dinner with your future father-in-law.

The good news is that it’s pretty easy to keep a luxury watch clean. 


How to Clean a Luxury Watch: The Do’s

Do - Know Your Watch

It sounds so simple that you might wonder why we’re saying it, but you should understand your watch’s condition in a specific way. You need to know how water-resistant it is, for one. And it’s critical to know the general condition of your watch. That way, you’ll be alerted to any change in its condition and know when to take it in for professional help.

Do - Make a Cleaning Kit

As with any project, everything goes more smoothly when you have the right tools. Fortunately, watch-cleaning paraphernalia is simple and easy to come by. Here’s what you need:

  • A watch-specific brush or soft-bristled toothbrush. If you use a toothbrush, it should be a used one (extra soft) that’s been thoroughly cleaned and dried before being introduced to your watch. 
  • Toothpicks
  • A clean microfiber cloth 
  • Anti-bacterial and sanitary wipes 

Do - Inspect Your Watch Thoroughly

Every time you clean your timepiece, get up close and personal. A simple magnifying glass is perfect for this job. Inspect for damage and the ingress of moisture, and pay particular attention to the condition of the crown and other moving parts.

Additionally, look at the edge of the crystal for chips or nicks. If you notice that any of the edges are not firmly sealed to the case, you’ll want to take it in for service before the interior sustains any damage.

Do - Remove the Bracelet or Strap

If you’ve never removed your watch’s bracelet or strap, ask your jeweller to teach you how. A spring bar tool is the best implement for handling this task. By removing the strap, you’ll have access to one of the dirtiest parts of your watch--the inner side of the lugs and the last link of the bracelet. In addition, by removing the bracelet or strap, you make both the bracelet and the watch easier to clean. 

Do - Wipe the Watch

Using one of the wipes, carefully clean every edge, facet, nook and engraving. This once-over doesn’t take long, and it helps you to see the more stubborn dirt deposits.

Do - Use the Toothpick or Brush for Sticky Grime

If you find any dirty spots that don’t come off with the wipe, cut off the brittle end of a toothpick. Then, wrap the toothpick in an edge of the wipe and gently work the border into the problem areas. Keep an eye on the toothpick; you don’t want it to tear through the wipe. 

As you disrupt the detritus, gently sweep it away with the detailing brush. But, again, know your watch well. If it’s made from a softer metal like 18k gold, it’s best to be as thorough as you can with just the wipe and seek professional cleaning for severe messes.

Do - Finish with the Microfiber Cloth

A soft, clean microfiber cloth finishes the job beautifully. It wicks away excess moisture and provides a great shine. For best results, wrap the fabric around your finger, and use your nail to push the cloth into hard-to-reach spots like the inner lugs, case back seam, crystal edge and bezel.

So that’s it for the do’s. Pretty straightforward. But before you dive in, take a minute to read the don’ts, too.

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Cleaning Luxury Watches: The Don’ts

Don’t - Clean It While It’s On Your Wrist

With all the extra hand-washing we’re doing these days, soap scum can build up on wristwatches, but you should avoid trying to clean your watch while you’re wearing it. First of all, it’s nearly impossible to do a decent job when the strap or bracelet is clasped and you can’t reach the backside. But also, the one-handed approach is too fumbly to be safe.

Don’t - Use Anything Abrasive

When your watch is extra dirty, it’s tempting to use abrasive cleaning materials. But don’t, just don’t. Anything that could scratch your watch, from a dish scrubber to a paper towel, should be wholly avoided.

Don’t - Use Toothpaste

You might come across recommendations to use toothpaste as a solvent for removing dirt and grime from your watch. But toothpaste is abrasive. It has a hardness of around 3 or 5 on the Mohs Scale of Hardness. In contrast, 14k gold has a hardness level of 2.5 to 3. So toothpaste can scratch and damage a gold watch.

Don’t - Use Alcohol on Leather Straps

Leather is absorbent, so it can gather an unpleasant smell. Instead of turning to an alcohol-based cleaner, add a dab of hand soap to your cleaning cloth and gently dry and buff the leather band. You might also want to use a leather conditioner occasionally, especially if you live in a dry climate. To be safe, read the instructions that come with your luxury watch for additional information about leather straps. 

Insurance for Your Luxury Watch

You don’t have to be a World War II fighter pilot to put your timepiece at risk. Even when you care for it religiously, it just takes one second for a watch to clatter to a tile floor or be stolen from your hotel room.

For the ultimate protection, cover your timepiece with a Q Report policy. Whether you’re at home or overseas, your IWC will be protected from theft, damage and loss. Get an online quote, or if you’re more of a talker, call us at 1300 882 018. Talk soon! 

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