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Sizing Link Bracelets

By David Christianson, Certified Master Watchmaker

The rigid link band is the mainstay bracelet for most fine watches. Sold in many textures, styles and link formats, bracelets require sizing to the owner's wrist and repair from time to time.

When To Remove Links

The rigid links in these bands are typically interconnected with pins or screws. Sizing often begins with the clasp and the use of its adjustment holes. You can simply move the spring bar in one direction or the other to size many bracelets without removing any links. But for optimal fit, it's better to remove links if you find you must shorten the buckle by more than three holes. The reason: the opening end of the buckle tends to sag or hang away from the band while in use, catching on coat sleeves and table edges. This can cause it to snap open unexpectedly.

The bracelet manufacturer usually provides several links on either side of the clasp that can be removed or replaced by using a special clip that slides into the links and locks in place. Some are identified by the hole or slot in the clip; others are noted by the dimple (rather than a hole) in their underside. Many clip designs are used, but all are removed and replaced in a similar manner. (Several bracelet models require removal of pins rather than clips. Ask the vendor or your watch supply house for a special pin-removing tool to size these bracelets.)

Bracelet and watch vendors also can provide a specially made plier to simplify replacing links. Consider asking your supervisor for permission to buy this tool for your bench. Below are instructions for using basic needlenose pliers.

Removing The Links

Removing the Links

If the link has a dimple underneath, simply push down on the link behind the dimple and slide it out.

If the link has a hole or a slot in the clip, use needlenose pliers to remove the clip. Some benchworkers use a screwdriver, but this can slip easily and scar the bracelet or cut your hand.

Place one point of the needlenose pliers into the hole or slot provided by the clip and place the other point of the pliers into the adjacent link (see illustration left).

Removing the Links

Rotate the pliers counterclockwise to lever out the clip far enough to grab and pull it out with the pliers. If the clip is stubborn, grasp it farther up in the jaws of the pliers, place the pliers against adjacent links for fulcrum support, then pull the clip (as shown right).

Finally, several bracelets use links with holes opposite of where the clips are removed. Here, place one tip of the pliers into the hole, rest the other tip on the inside of the adjacent link and twist the pliers to push out the clip. With the clips removed, the links can be separated from the bracelet.

Fit The Bracelet

When fitting the watch bracelet to your wrist, hold it somewhat loosely, particularly if you wear the watch next to the hand rather than above the wrist bone. When the wrist bends, the muscles there expand. This places pressure on a tight-fitting, rigid bracelet, creating the possibility the spring bars will break and links will wear and break prematurely.

To replace a clip after the correct number of links are added or removed, reinsert the clip into the link end, press in with the flat side of a knife blade and tap it home with a striking hammer as the band rests on a bench block.

Generally, the cheaper the bracelet, the more difficult it is to replace the links. You may need to begin the link-removal procedure with a screwdriver and then grip the clip with pliers. Use pliers whenever possible to save wear and tear on you, your tools and the bracelet. In some cases, replacing the entire bracelet may be more efficient for you and more cost-effective in the long run. This is especially true if you prefer a new, good-quality watch bracelet rather than an inexpensive one that is time-consuming and costly, if not impossible, to adjust.

Reprinted with permission from the Professional Jeweler Magazine. For more information, please visit the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWCI).