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Why You Need A Spring Bar Tool & How To Use It

Why The Vintage Rolex Collector Needs This Tool

You'd be surprised how worked-up people get over this. Or how unnecessarily complicated they can make it.

If you want a vintage Rolex you need to examine what lies hidden beneath the lugs. Period. 

While much has been written about what to do with the numbers you find, this post will just focus on exposing them.

To do this you need to remove the bracelet or strap. This is not difficult or technical or scary or dangerous. Nobody will get hurt and no permanent damage or harm will result. To those that say you need to go to a jeweler, a watchmaker or an AD (!?) to do this, I say Pffft.

Just take your time and perhaps a precaution if this is your first time - It's a good idea to apply some masking tape to the case lugs, as a shield against any accidental slips and scratches. 

spring bar reference table
Rolex Spring Bar Reference Table From The Vintage Rolex Field Guide.

Removing a bracelet or strap requires manipulation of the spring bars - the little springy pins that span the lugs and hold the bracelet (and end links) in place. Many find this easier if you separate the bracelet from the clasp so that it can lie flat. 

You can do this with something as simple as a paper clip, or you can spend hundreds of dollars on specialized pliers made from surgical steel, like these beauties from Bergeon (ref 6825)

If you have this sort of budget and like to change straps and bracelets regularly, this high-end tool is a good buy and will make the procedure much faster and less frustrating. 

If you only perform this procedure occasionally, a simple spring bar tool will work fine and stretch your budget to only a few dollars. It's true that the simple tool takes a little practice and some dexterity to become proficient. 

Show Me The Holes

If your watch has lug holes, it's pretty obvious what the procedure is and how to go about using the tool. Holding the watch head firmly in your non-dominant hand, carefully insert the pointy end of the tool into the lug hole and press firmly. If one end of the tool is fork-shaped, don't use this (duh!). 

Insert the tool into the lug hole and press the tip of the spring bar pin all the way (about the width of the lug). If the spring bar is old (with a rusty spring) you may need to press quite firmly to get it to move. 

When it does, you may need to apply pressure to the end link (or strap) sufficient to prevent the pin springing back. With pressure still applied, use the tool on the other lug hole to press in on the other end. You should then be able to work and wiggle the bracelet free.

What?! No Holes?!

If the case does not have lug holes, you need to tackle the pins from the underside of the case. This is a more contemporary style that appeared in the 1990s.

You should see a gap in the end link exposing the spring bar. These are shoulder-style spring bars with a small notch in them. This is what the fork-end of the spring bar tool is for. You want to use the fork to grab the notch and pull it back. Apply some pressure on the bracelet or end link to prevent the pin from springing back in to place. Then repeat on the other side. 

With both ends pressed there is nothing holding the bracelet in place and you should be able to remove it. If the watch and pins are very old and dirty, some firm wiggling may be needed to work it free.

Putting It All Back Together Again

This is actually the harder part of the procedure. Can you see the two holes on the inside of the lugs? These are where you need to get the spring bars back in to. Before you begin, take a moment to check you're avoiding the big rookie mistake.

Rookie Mistake

It is possible to install the bracelet (or strap) backwards. Not upside down but backwards. Check that the coronet on the clasp or tang buckle is oriented in the same direction as the coronet on the dial.

On the wrist, the clasp wants to close towards you. In the case of a strap, you want to attach the length with the holes on the 6 o'clock side and the buckle length on the 12 o'clock.

Carefully thread the spring bar through the bracelet and end links. Or insert them into the strap. Insert one end of the spring bar into one of the holes on the lugs. In the case of aftermarket spring bars, it may not fit or reach. That's ok, as long as it's close. 

Take the other end of the spring bar and compress it. You can use the tool or just a fingernail. With the pin pressed in, push the bar downwards into place. Apply pressure to the end link or strap and push it firmly into place. 

It may require a wiggle to get the bars to spring into the holes. Listen for a firm click when this happens. Then repeat on the other side. 

If you don't own a spring bar tool, you really should. They come in various sizes and I find the smaller pocket-size to be the most practical and convenient. If you have large hands you might find a larger tool suits you better.

To learn more, see Section 10 of The Vintage Rolex Field Guide or opt into the mailing list.