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Let us start by saying that a vintage watch is designed to be worn, shared and enjoyed, so our best advice is to rotate and wear each of your vintage watches (with the care and respect they deserve) as much as possible.
If you must store them for a prolonged period of time, find a safe, dark and dry location and wind them fully at regular intervals, at least once a month. This will help keep the parts well lubricated and allow the watch to function reliably for years.
We also suggest that you have your watch serviced by a quality watchmaker (not the jeweler in the mall) every three to five years. Service should include cleaning, lubricating, regulating and gasket inspection.
A person would go to the jewelry store, select the make and grade (quality) of the movement they desired, and then pick out a case, or perhaps they would choose a certain quality of case and then use the balance of their budget on the movement. The jeweler would then assemble the two in a matter of moments.Even when watches were cased at the watch factory, the same model case might be fitted onto any variety of movements, or the same model/grade of movement would be put in a variety of cases. Whichever set of circumstances occurred, the best documentation available is for the movements, not the cases. Thus, it is through the movement that a watch's identification can be made. The serial number on the movement can also date the watch. You can find them here.
The best advice is not to open your watchcase unless you have a compelling reason to do so.
If you must open it, stop if the case lid seems stuck after normal amounts of effort has been expended, and take it to a watchmaker.
Before attempting to take off the back, make sure you are seated at a table with an ample and reasonably cushioned surface area in front of you. A mouse pad works well. Most watches have either screw-on or snap-on cases. Screw-on cases are of more recent vintage and typically have a number of groves around the back edge of the case.
There are special tools to remove these types of cases, and you should not try without these tools. Either buy yourself the right tool or take it to a watchmaker. However, the vast majority of vintage watches have snap-on case lids.
First thing is to examine all the way around the back lid to try to understand the construction and to see if there is a “natural” place (i.e. a little grove or slight gap) to focus your efforts. It is worth trying the fingernail approach first as we’ve found that this works about half the time or so. In any case, it’s worth a try since fingernails are soft and is unlikely to damage the case, or worse, the movement inside. If this doesn’t work, there are tools specifically made to be case openers. If a case opener isn't available, we recommend something not too sharp but with a good thin edge. Most Swiss pocket knifes have a good small blade well suited for this purpose. But be careful and do not use excessive force for knives are sharp and are known to slip and cut.
Set the watch face down on your mouse pad and use a low stool so that you can look closely at what you're doing without bending over too much. If you're right-handed, hold the knife, in your right hand, with the sharp edge in the slot.
Then, use your left thumb against the back edge of the knife to hold the knife in the slot. Using moderate force only, rotate the knife handle a little in each direction to "pop" the back off. Only wrist action should be used. Keep your elbows tight to your body. Using wrist action only will avoid potential knife slippage and scratching or damage to the case and movement. Keep the knife parallel to the tabletop and to the watch.
If this doesn't work, it’s time to visit your watchmaker.
If this proves successful, we suggest you take some good close up pictures of the movement to record it for future use and reference.
If you don’t have a camera, write down all serial numbers and other markings on the movement.