How to Open Pocket Watch Case Backs: For Rolex, Bulova, and More

How to Open Pocket Watch Case Backs: For Rolex, Bulova, and More

Opening a pocket watch case back, especially for iconic brands like Rolex, Bulova, and Hamilton, can be a delicate task. This comprehensive guide provides expert tips and step-by-step instructions to ensure you access your timepiece's inner workings safely and efficiently.

Credit: YouTube Channel - thoth1977

Understanding Pocket Watch Case Types

1. Snap-Back Cases

Snap-back cases are common in many pocket watches, including some Rolex models. To open a snap-back case, you'll need a case knife or a specialized opener. Gently pry around the edge of the case, focusing on the lugs where the case back meets the main case. This requires a delicate touch to avoid damaging the watch.

Tools Required:

  • Case knife
  • Watchmaker's loupe

2. Screw-Back Cases

Screw-back cases are typically found in Bulova and some Hamilton pocket watches. Locate the notches or slots on the case back and use a screw-back case wrench to turn the case back counterclockwise.


  1. Identify the notches or slots on the case back.
  2. Select the appropriate screw-back case wrench or precision screwdriver that fits the notches.
  3. Turn the wrench or screwdriver counterclockwise until the case back is loose.

Essential Tools:

  • Screw-back case opener
  • Precision screwdriver set

3. Swing-Out Cases (Typical for Hamilton)

Swing-out cases are commonly found in Hamilton pocket watches. Set the watch to the time-setting position, then gently lift the movement from the case by its hinge.


  1. Set the watch to the time-setting position to disengage the stem.
  2. Use a fingernail or a thin tool to initially lift the movement from the case.
  3. Continue to lift the movement until it is fully separated from the case.

What You'll Need:

  • Fingernail or thin tool

Rolex Pocket Watches (Rare)

Rolex pocket watches often feature proprietary screw-down case backs and additional security measures, requiring specialized tools and expertise. It's highly recommended to consult a professional Rolex watchmaker when attempting to open these rare timepieces.

Bulova's Unique Case Designs

Bulova pocket watches are known for their innovative and unconventional case designs. Look for hidden clasps, unique screws, or additional security measures that may require specialized tools or techniques to open the case back safely.

Essential Tools for Opening Pocket Watch Case Backs

Case Back Remover Kit

A Case Back Remover Kit includes specialized tools designed to remove various case back types without damaging the watch, such as case back wrenches, openers, and ball spring removers. The Bergeon Case Back Remover Kit is a popular choice.


A loupe, like the Optivisor Loupe, allows you to magnify the area you're working on, ensuring a clear view of the case back and its components.

Soft Cloth

A soft, lint-free cloth, such as a microfiber cloth, is necessary to protect the watch's finish during the process and prevent scratches or damage to the case.

Applying Excessive Force

Applying excessive force when attempting to open a watch case back can lead to scratches or deformation of the case. Patience and the right tool are essential when opening a watch case back.

Forgetting the Setting Position

Always set the watch to the time-setting position before attempting to open the case back. This ensures that the internal mechanisms are properly aligned and reduces the risk of damage.

When in Doubt, Seek Professional Help

Recognize when it's time to seek professional help from certified watchmakers or skilled horologists. They have the expertise and knowledge to navigate the complex inner workings of these watches and prevent irreversible damage.

Maintenance and Care After Opening


Gently clean the case back and movement using a soft-bristled brush to remove any dirt, dust, or debris that may have accumulated.


After cleaning, reassemble the watch carefully, ensuring that all components are properly aligned and sealed to maintain water resistance (if applicable) and overall performance.


Opening a Rolex, Bulova, or Hamilton pocket watch case back requires a careful approach tailored to the specific case type. By following these expert tips and investing in the right tools, you can safely access your watch's inner workings for maintenance or inspection. When unsure, consulting a professional is always the safest bet to preserve the value and integrity of your timepiece. Don't forget to share your experiences and any additional tips in the comments below!


Can I open the case back of a modern Rolex watch using these techniques?

While the techniques mentioned in this guide are primarily focused on pocket watches, modern Rolex wristwatches often have different case back designs and security features. It is generally not recommended to attempt opening the case back of a modern Rolex watch without proper training and tools, as this could void the warranty and potentially damage the watch.

Is it safe to use a regular flathead screwdriver to open a pocket watch case back?

Using a regular flathead screwdriver to open a pocket watch case back is generally not recommended. These tools are not designed specifically for watch repair and can easily scratch or damage the delicate surfaces of the case and movement. It's best to invest in specialized watch tools, such as a case knife or screw-back case wrench, to ensure a safe and proper opening.

How often should I open the case back of my pocket watch for maintenance?

The frequency of opening the case back for maintenance depends on various factors, such as the age of the watch, usage, and environmental conditions. As a general guideline, it's recommended to have your pocket watch serviced by a professional every 3-5 years to ensure optimal performance and longevity. During these service intervals, the case back will be opened for a thorough cleaning and lubrication of the movement.

Can I use the same techniques for opening pocket watches from other brands?

While the techniques outlined in this guide are specifically tailored for Rolex, Bulova, and Hamilton pocket watches, many of the principles and tools can be applied to other pocket watch brands as well. However, it's important to exercise caution and research the specific case back design of your particular watch before attempting to open it, as some brands may have unique mechanisms or requirements.

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