How accurate are the watches you have collected? There is a way to find out, and that is to use an instrument called a watch timegrapher.
In this guide, we’re going to discuss what a timegrapher is, what it measures, its pros and cons, and how to use one. By the time you finish, you should be ready to confidently use a timegrapher yourself.
What is a Watch Timegrapher?
A timegrapher is an instrument that can tell you how accurate your watch is by checking its beat rate, amplitude, and beat error.
- Beat rate: This tells you the rate of the movement. The number is how many seconds per day your watch is running ahead or behind.
- Amplitude: This informs you about the health of the movement, specifically by telling you how much rotation (arc) there is in the balance wheel swing.
- Beat error: This number will tell you how varied or consistent the balance wheel swing timing is.
Advantages of Using a Timegrapher
Why use a timegrapher? Here are some of its benefits:
- Check the health of a watch you just bought. When you examine a new timepiece you have purchased, you probably will be focused mostly on its appearance, the integrity and condition of its parts, and whether it appears to be working as it should. But with a timegrapher, you can get a more objective reading on the performance of a new acquisition.
- Monitor the health of the watches in your collection. You want to keep your vintage watches running in tiptop condition. Regularly checking them with your timegrapher will let you know if any of them might need work.
- Easily calibrate your watches. If the movement of your watch can be regulated by turning a lever, using a timegrapher can ensure a fast and efficient process.
- Learn how your watch behaves in different positions (e.g. dial up / dial down) which will help you determine the correct position to leave your watch overnight in order to keep it accurate overall.
- Make a more competitive and informative post when selling a watch. If you are looking to part with a timepiece, you can post the results of the timegrapher so that prospective buyers know 1-the true working condition of the watch, and 2-that you know what you are talking about.
Disadvantages of Using a Timegrapher
So, does a timegrapher have any drawbacks? Generally speaking, if you get a high-quality timegrapher in working condition, there are no technical drawbacks per se. It should do the job it was designed to do.
Many timegraphers are made overseas, so you might need to get one shipped to you from abroad. If so, there is always the chance of customs costs and delays.
The only real disadvantage is perhaps the fact that you may become obsessed with checking your watches’ health and regulating them, to get them as precise as possible. You can easily spend hours going through your collection and verifying the beat errors. You may also notice that some of your watches (including high-end $5k+ timepieces) have a bad beat rate or a low amplitude. Then you’ll wonder whether these watches require a service. So, if you’re about to purchase a timegrapher, be prepared for some disappointment and try to keep your “watch OCD” under control.
So those are some potential drawbacks to be aware of, but generally speaking, a timegrapher is a great addition to any watch collector’s supply set.
How to Use the WeiShi 1000 Timegrapher
The timegrapher I have is the WeiShi 1000. I got mine for around $140 from Amazon.
Before I get into how to use it, I need to mention that you may encounter some confusion over the fact that there are two timegrapher products on the market which seem to be interchangeable: the WeiShi 1000 and the Ace 1000.
To clarify, these devices appear to be identical apart from the re-branding. In fact, your Ace timegrapher could very well come with a WeiShi user manual, or vice versa. They are most likely made at the same factory in China.
Regardless, it is one of the top timegraphers out there as it’s cheap and easy to use. I’ve had a great experience with it and it is my product of choice. So, I am going to walk you through how to use a timegrapher using the WeiShi/Ace 1000 as my model.
WeiShi 1000 Timegrapher Components
You will notice that a timegrapher consists of two components:
- The stand for your watch, which contains a microphone.
- The readout device with the buttons and screen.
These two components are linked together.
Steps for Using a WeiShi 1000 Timegrapher
Once you have your watch timegrapher set up on your desk or table, it is time to take your readings. Follow the steps below to find out how accurate and precise your watch is.
1. Position the watch on the stand
Take a look at the watch stand. The left-hand side has a metal bracket, and to the right there is a plastic bracket which you can slide back and forth. This makes it possible to put different sizes of watches on the stand.
Setting your watch on the stand is as simple as sliding over the plastic bracket, putting the watch down between the plastic and the metal brackets, and then adjusting the plastic component as needed to hold it gently in place. The top of the dial should be positioned upward.
One thing which I do advise is that you use some masking tape or electrical tape to cover the metal. The tape is a softer surface than the metal to rest the watch against, and will prevent scratching.
2. Turn on the timegrapher
On the cord, you’ll find the power switch. Power on the device.
3. Adjust the settings
If you have your settings already adjusted to your liking, all you need to do is hang tight at this point. The timegrapher will automatically take its readings.
If you want to visit the menu, hit the red “start/stop” button to stop the device. Then, push the “menu/speaker” button to get into the menu.
You will see four settings in the menu:
- Beat Rate
- Lift Angle
- Test Period
Test period is the amount of time that the device will gather its readings for before it displays a result. The more time you give it, the more data it can take into account. Since the results you are getting are an average of the data the device measures, the more data which is included, the more accurate the readings will be.
So if you are in a rush, you can use one of the shorter test period settings. But if you want the most accurate reading, pick the longest possible test period. I usually set it to 12 seconds.
The two settings available for beat rate are automatic and manual. Choose whichever you are comfortable with. I have always been perfectly happy with the auto setting on this particular device.
Finally, we come around to lift angle. This is the most important setting if you are concerned about getting an accurate reading of the watch’s amplitude.
If you have the wrong lift angle in the settings, the amplitude reading will not be accurate.
So, hopefully, you know what your watch’s lift angle is, and can enter it in accordingly. Not sure? Anywhere from 50 to 52 degrees is generally a pretty good guess if the watch is a modern one.
If you don’t want to guess, run a quick search for “movement reference + lift angle” and you will most probably find the accurate number.
Again, if you do not have the lift angle and you do not care about the amplitude reading, you can feel free to ignore it.
4. Press the start button
It is time to take your readings! To do this, just push “start.”
5. Wait for a moment and check the readings
Regardless of the test period you selected, consider waiting for a few moments before you look at the readings. You don’t need to do this if you positioned the watch a while ago, but you do need to if you just placed it or have been fiddling with it since. You need it to sit still, or your readings will be inaccurate.
Now you can take a look at the readings and interpret them (see the next section). Write down what you see.
6. Make notes about the readings in a variety of positions
You will notice that the watch stand can rotate. There is a good reason for this.
A watch doesn’t just sit still in one position all day long. As you move around, your watch ends up in different positions as well. You want to know how accurate it is in a number of positions.
So, get measurements for all of the following:
- Watch face up
- Watch face down
- Crown up
- Crown left
- Crown right
- Crown down
Some people skip some of these. It is up to you. If you just want to do some quick and dirty checks, you can use the dial up position.
How to Interpret Readings from a Watch Timegrapher
Now that you have the basic steps down to taking readings with a timegrapher, let’s talk about what those readings mean.
The numbers you see on the display screen line up with the labels across the top of the device: Rate, Amplitude, Beat, and Error.
I defined these terms for you already, but how do you know if you are getting “good” numbers?
- Ideally, the Beat Rate will fall within +/- 7 seconds per day. That means that your watch is running ahead or behind by no more than 7 seconds each day. If it is within +/- 20 seconds, that is fair, but not great. Obviously, it is best for it to be 0 or as close to 0 as possible.
- A good reading on amplitude will fall between 270 and 310. If it is between 250-270, it is okay, but not ideal. What does it mean if you get a reading outside of those ranges? It may mean your watch needs winding, or that it is time to service the movement.
- Beat Error is another reading you want to be 0 or as close to 0 as possible. If you see anything 0.5 milliseconds or less, you are in great shape. If it is up to 1 millisecond, that is not too shabby. But if you are getting a reading that is higher than 1 millisecond, that is more inconsistency than you want from a watch.
Check out the readings on a Raketa Big Zero from my collection, this looks pretty good!
“But wait, the numbers keep on changing,” you might observe. “What does that mean? Which of the numbers is correct?”
If you leave the device running and keep watching it, you may notice little ticks up or down in the numbers. This is normal. Your watch is an imperfect mechanical device, however beautifully manufactured it may be, and small variances are to be expected. The goal is just to get an average.
You will also notice variations between the readings for the different positions. This too can be expected, and to some degree, predicted. For instance, the amplitude reading will probably be higher for the face-up or face-down position than it will be if the watch is in another position.
The more practice you get at taking and interpreting readings from your watch timegrapher, the easier and faster the process will be.
Just as an example, here are the readings from a Vostok vintage watch:
What if we try to calibrate the watch by using a regulation lever of its movement? I moved it tenderly with a toothpick and obtained the following:
Pretty good for 5 minutes of work. This is just a quick & dirty way of using a timegrapher that I used to illustrate this article. In principle, you should do this for every position to get the best average readings.
Conclusion: A Timegrapher is a Valuable Tool for Any Watch Collector
Whether you collect vintage or modern timepieces, it is well worth your while to invest in a timegrapher.
A timegrapher takes the guesswork out of figuring out whether a watch you own is accurate. It helps you decide when to take your watch in for repair work, and also may make it easier for you to sell watches in your collection.
I do recommend the WeiShi 1000, but if you choose another timegrapher, you should find its operation is much the same as what we have gone over in this guide. Good luck, and enjoy using your first watch timegrapher.