Adjusting time and date on watches

As much as it sounds like an easy task, it actually isn’t. Well, it is, but you have to be careful about few things or just follow the tips in order to get it done right.

Getting accurate time reference.

Best way to do it, is to use an atomic clock (like ) or a watch that has atomic time synchronization feature (Radio Controlled watches like Citizen AT, Casio WaveCeptor/Multiband 6, Seiko Astron GPS etc) as reference. Just make sure such watch has been synchronized properly (for example Casio Multiband 6 G-Shocks show “RCVD” text on the screen if the time has been synchronized correctly in the last ~24 hours). This way you get the most possibly accurate time.

How to sync watch with atomic clock?

Most watches hack. Hacking doesn’t mean you can hack computers with it, but it just means that when you pull out the watch crown (adjustment knob), second hand stops ticking. It stays still. So, keep it moving till it gets to 12 o’clock (aka “00” seconds) and then pull out the crown to stop it. Move the minute hand exactly 1 minute ahead of atomic time and then just wait for both, your watch and atomic time get to the same point. Make sure to have your finger under slight pressure on the crown so you can firmly push it in when you need to. Best way to set the most accurate time to the second is to push the crown in very same moment the time on atomic clock changes to a full minute (seconds change to “00”). It helps if you can mentally prepare yourself to do it a nano fraction before seconds change to the actual “00”, because you have to take finger motion into account.

Why would you even want to complicate about it so much!?

To be frank, there is no need to. Especially not with mechanical watches that are so inaccurate they will drift away from atomic time in few hours time. But it sort of makes sense on quartz watches, especially if they are HAQ grade, meaning they only lose or gain only 10 seconds a year. In that case, it makes sense, because they will keep virtually perfect time for incredibly long time.

Yay! I’ve set my time, but the minute hand is not aligned properly…

While I know most watch users won’t even notice this, but it does bother some of us (I guess it’s a mild form of OCD if you want). You might be wondering what I’m on about. Let me explain…

If you just set the time, it might happen that minute hand won’t be aligned to a minute marker perfectly when the second hand hits 12 o’clock. For example, second hand is just at 12 o’clock, but the minute hand is not centered to the minute marker, but is somewhere near it or between two minutes markers.

Properly aligned minute and second hand.

How can you achieve this? It’s really a rather simple trick. Most users just move the minute hand forward till it reaches the desired minute marker. And that’s why this problem even happens. You have to move minute hand past the time you want to adjust for lets say 5-10 minutes and then move the minute hand BACKWARDS to the desired time. This will make the minute and second hand align properly like on my photo above when the watch displays a full minute exactly. And it will be right in between two minute markers when second hand is at 6 o’clock.

I’ve observed such behavior on all my analog watches, be it mechanical or quartz. But then again, all my watches are somewhere in the sub 500 € class. HAQ quartz watches for 1500+ € might behave differently with no need to go ahead and move the minute hand backwards. I guess it’s all a matter of how accurate is the mechanism and crown connection and how much give or “air” it has when you start moving it in one or another direction.

Adjusting day and date precautions

This one requires a bit more attention, otherwise you can potentially break the watch. It’s not necessary, but it might happen.

All full analog watches use some sort of mechanism to rotate the day or/and date discs on the watch dial. If you try to change the day or date while this mechanism is in the middle of doing its job, it might break, get misaligned or get stuck. That’s why it’s important that you don’t change the time before and after the midnight. Watch manufacturers generally recommend not changing the day and date from 21:00 till 03:00 (9:00 PM till 3:00 AM), but I think you can be safe by not changing it between 23:00 and 03:00 (11:00 PM and 3:00 AM). Assuming the watch only has day and date display and no other features.

The reason for this is that watches usually require around 1 hour to perform the change for every action.

  • 23:00-00:00 – Date change
  • 00:00-01:00 – Day change (first language)
  • 01:00-02:00 – Day change (second language)

Watches often have dual language day display, for example in English and German or in English and Spanish. Depending on which one you pick, it always skips the one you didn’t pick. That’s why it requires 2 hours to perform the change, because it requires 1 hour to always skip the language you don’t use and then 1 hour to change to language you do use.

Adjusting day and date

Best way to avoid above complications is to pull out the crown for time adjustment and set the time to 06:00 (or 18:00). This way you can’t do anything wrong. Now change the day and date and set both to 1 day early as it actually is (and pay attention to select the correct language for the day!). For example if it’s Sunday, 5th day in the month, set your watch to Saturday, 4th. Now switch back to time adjustment mode and move the minute hands forward for so long till you see the day and date start changing. When this happens, it means you reached midnight. Now keep on moving the minute hand till you set the desired (actual) time. This way, day and date will change properly during midnight and not during midday. Which is very important, otherwise day and date will be all wrong all the time.

Date changing at the end of the month

Most watches with date require you to manually adjust the date depending if the month has 30 or 31 days (or 28/29 for February). Only watches that don’t require this are “perpetual calendar” or “perpetual date” watches, these already have pre-programmed dates, usually for 99 years ahead. You just have to adjust the watch properly once and it will keep perfect date forever (as specified by manufacturer, some only have for 50 years or even only 30 years). For the rest of watches that aren’t perpetual date models, you have to do it on your own. And since every other month has 31 days you effectively only have to correct the date every other month which is not too annoying really.

Easiest way to check how many days every month has without looking at the calendar is to use your hand knuckles. It’s a neat trick that we learned in school as a kid and I’ve been using it ever since.

Create a fist, look at the back of your hand and start counting months on the left hand (from left to right side). Every bump means 31 days, every dip between knuckles means 30 days. Just go from left to right. You’ll also see that when you’re in transition between both hands, you’ll end with 31 on left hand and continue with 31 on your right hand. Just like it is on a calendar for July and August! When you reach December, you just start again on the left hand if you have to repeat it. Only month that requires calendar is February because of its changing date every 4 years. And I usually have no clue when to set it to what date for that month. Pretty neat trick isn’t it? 🙂

You don’t have to ever change days because they ALWAYS follow each other in a rotating order.

Best time to change the day/date

Best time to perform day and date changes/corrections is before midday (before 12:00 AM, assuming the watch has already been set correctly for midday/midnight before!). If you do so, you don’t even have to set the day and date one day back and do a lengthy rotating of minute hand to set the midnight correctly, because the watch will already take that into account that you’re adjusting it before midday.

This also means the best time to change date for non perpetual date watches at the end of the 30 day month is in the morning when you wake up on the 1st. This way you don’t have to re-adjust it for midnight. You just flip the date one step ahead (from 31st to 1st) in the morning on the 1st day of the month if the last month had 30 days. If you do it after midday, you’ll most likely have to re-adjust it for midnight which is again a lengthy process…

But I don’t want to bother with date changing!

Well, if you really don’t like adjusting date and time at all for daylight time changes or end of the months, get yourself a perpetual calendar watch. Pretty much all digital and analog/digital combo watches use perpetual calendars. These require one time date adjustment and they will keep correct date after that forever. You will still have to manually change the time for daylight saving (DST) changes though.

But I don’t want to bother with any of this!

If you really don’t want to bother with any of this and you just want to wear the watch that always shows correct time and date without any further tweaking, get yourself a GPS or radio controlled watch. They usually cost quite more, but they are zero maintenance watches. These, once adjusted to your time zone will keep atomic perfect time assuming there is radio or GPS signal available.

Most common and good options are for example Citizen AT models, Casio WaveCeptor/Multiband 6 or amazing Casio Oceanus watches. There are also amazing Seiko Astron GPS models that use GPS instead of radio wave signal. For these you don’t even have to set the time zone, because the watch detects your location within time zones using GPS signal from satellites. And since it’s also solar powered, you basically just strap it to your wrist and never ever again worry about anything. Pretty amazing isn’t it? 🙂

6 thoughts on “Adjusting time and date on watches

  1. I bought new mechanical watch, when I move the main arrows manual, after the day 31 to day 01 the month arrow isn’t moving. Is it normal, do I have to adjust it manual?


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