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Dpastl

Antique Watch Dial Cleaning

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Hello,

I'm working on my AS 341 movement and am trying to clean up the dial.  So far I've been able to polish the numbers by rubbing the face against some paper with a bit of polish on it.  I've also tried using a bit of soap and water as well as isopropyl alcohol, but I'm not able to bring it back to what I would expect is "clean".  Does anyone have any tips or experience with cleaning old watch dials, or what a watch dial like this "should" look like?

Closeups were done with a DLSR, taking an old manual lens and using it backwards.  Makes a great cheap macro lens!  Just make sure to check the mirror won't hit anything and the aperture is as small as possible

Thanks!

 

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Hi I read in an old book some where the gentle use of a soft pencil rubber can help but try it on a part or old dial that does not matter, steer away from spirtit based fluids as they can remove paint and decals on dials usually mild soap and a gentle rub will do.  Becarefull not to remove the patina as its is part of the watches history.

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14 hours ago, oldhippy said:

watchweasol has hit the nail on the head. A good clean pencil rubber is what you need. 

what is watchweasol? 

OP: i have been reslly researching on how to restore vintage dials and the people who do them professionally never want to give up their secrets, which kills me because Iam like, well, how did you learn??? anyway i tried all kinds of things, ultrasonic is a big NONO. i tried the boiling method and that only works on all metal dials with varnish and no ink on them. But my issue is i work on vintage copper, aluminum dials with original lume that are usually corroded with lime and grime, and every method i tried removes the lume. So i bought a lot of old metal lumed dials for $15 to experiment on and this is what i did and used. 

This did not remove any lume or ink from the dial and did not scratch or damage it in any way: I first used CLR. I took a piece of pegwood and sharpened like a pencil, i then took q-tips and soaked them with the CLR then dabbed the dial with it to wet it. i then scratched at with the pointed pegwood like i was sketching with a pencil. little by little grime came off. i will gently wipe/dab the excess CLR off with a microfiber rag as i was cleaning before i applied a new dab of CLR i repeated this until it looks satisfactory. Then i soaked the pegwood and q-tip with WD40, and repeated the same process of scratching. the wd-40 protects shines and protects the dials metal finish. I didnt leave any excess on the dial just a thin coat wiped with a rag. and the before after result is attached.

 

 

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16 hours ago, watchweasol said:

Hi I read in an old book some where the gentle use of a soft pencil rubber can help but try it on a part or old dial that does not matter, steer away from spirtit based fluids as they can remove paint and decals on dials usually mild soap and a gentle rub will do.  Becarefull not to remove the patina as its is part of the watches history.

I'm going to have to rummage through my old school supplies and find an old rubber then!

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1 hour ago, saswatch88 said:

what is watchweasol? 

OP: i have been reslly researching on how to restore vintage dials and the people who do them professionally never want to give up their secrets, which kills me because Iam like, well, how did you learn??? anyway i tried all kinds of things, ultrasonic is a big NONO. i tried the boiling method and that only works on all metal dials with varnish and no ink on them. But my issue is i work on vintage copper, aluminum dials with original lume that are usually corroded with lime and grime, and every method i tried removes the lume. So i bought a lot of old metal lumed dials for $15 to experiment on and this is what i did and used. 

This did not remove any lume or ink from the dial and did not scratch or damage it in any way: I first used CLR. I took a piece of pegwood and sharpened like a pencil, i then took q-tips and soaked them with the CLR then dabbed the dial with it to wet it. i then scratched at with the pointed pegwood like i was sketching with a pencil. little by little grime came off. i will gently wipe/dab the excess CLR off with a microfiber rag as i was cleaning before i applied a new dab of CLR i repeated this until it looks satisfactory. Then i soaked the pegwood and q-tip with WD40, and repeated the same process of scratching. the wd-40 protects shines and protects the dials metal finish. I didnt leave any excess on the dial just a thin coat wiped with a rag. and the before after result is attached.

 

 

IMG_1626.jpg

IMG_1653.jpg

Umm, wow.  That's an amazing change!  I imagine part of it is from a new crystal?  I the pencil rubber method doesn't work I might have this give this a shot.  I'm a bit leary about using such harsh chemicals.  Perhaps I'll do like you did and buy some old dials off ebay and practice.  Thanks for the suggestion!

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30 minutes ago, Dpastl said:

Umm, wow.  That's an amazing change!  I imagine part of it is from a new crystal?  I the pencil rubber method doesn't work I might have this give this a shot.  I'm a bit leary about using such harsh chemicals.  Perhaps I'll do like you did and buy some old dials off ebay and practice.  Thanks for the suggestion!

yea i mean every dial is different, but i chose CLR because its safe on metal and i chose wd40 because i read a post about using baby oil, but i didnt like baby oil because its very hard to dry up. wd40 will actually dry up fairly easily, and it still has penetrating qualities when it comes to loosening rust, dirt, grime. and again both CLR and WD are safe on metals and inks. there was no varnish on this dial. I have used the same method on porcelain dials with success. MY initial thought was that the CLR will definitely loosen and remove the old lume but to my surprise it didnt! and i even took a rag and wiped pretty hard on a scrap dial, but obviously i didnt wipe hard on this dial, but i try to test the extremes so i know how far i can take it when iam working on a good dial. Q-tips i never use for rubbing on metal dials because if their is a layer of varnish it will scratch! It is safe to use on porcelain though. pegwood will scratch varnish as well. Varnish can be very difficult to clean since some manufacturers print over the varnish layer, so removal will remove the ink. If its under the varnish then extra care must be taken, the boiling method works but it can remove the ink too in some cases, but WD40, olive oil, and detergent can penetrate the varnish without removing ink.

I now keep a piece of pegwood soaked with WD, i use it to clean watch cases and movement parts before sending them to the ultrasonic. The solution i use will remove all the WD residue so it doesnt matter, and the shine is unreal.

Edited by saswatch88

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and just to put it out there that dial had a layer of grime and corrosion on it, i should have taken a pic of the dial out of the case. the crystal was just yellow, i have another of the same dial which i will be doing soon so i will take pics this time.

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Hi as you say every dial is different  and needs to be addressed as such and treated on its merits start softly with the rubber and if not working move on to other methods, as you did.  try it all out on dials that are scrap then no tears if a method fails Its a case of progressing slowly and carefully and plenty of patience.  the Elgin looks good well done.

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8 hours ago, watchweasol said:

Hi as you say every dial is different  and needs to be addressed as such and treated on its merits start softly with the rubber and if not working move on to other methods, as you did.  try it all out on dials that are scrap then no tears if a method fails Its a case of progressing slowly and carefully and plenty of patience.  the Elgin looks good well done.

patience is attention to detail is key. it took an hour and a half to clean that dial. rubber is good but does not work well on metal dials that have a brushed or grainy surface like the one i pictured, its good for smooth dials in my opinion. Other than rubber erasure i have used a GUM erasure which can be bought from any art supply store. it does not get shredded up and leave erasure dust and it does not absorb any cleaning products you will be using on the dial. like i siad i have been researching this for a year and i have tried every solution on almost every dial. and advice must be taken lightly because agin every dial is different and one method which will work for one type of dial will destroy another.

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One thing I would like to add. Proprietary cleaning products rarely tell you exactly what they contain, unless that is a legal requirement in the jurisdiction that they are being sold in. However if you want to get a good idea of what is in them, in order to try something similar yourself, head for the hazmat sheet. In this case CLR => https://clrbrands.com/Jelmar/media/sds/CLR-SDS-6408176.pdf

So for CLR, the main active ingredients are lactic acid, and a common anionic surficant called lauramine oxide..  So you might also like to try dish soap and vinegar (acetic acid), or hand wash and cola (phosphoric acid + occasionally citric acid), or vitamin C tablets in washing powder. All of which, may have similar results, but whatever you try, test with a small area at the edge of the dial, in case whatever you are using reacts with something in the dial. 

Another trick.. to remove tarnish on silver, try baking soda and aluminium foil (and optionally a little vinegar and salt). The technique is described in various forms, on the internet, but again, tread carefully, as the plating on watch dials is typically pretty thin, and the surface is easily damaged. 
 

 

Edited by AndyHull

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3 hours ago, AndyHull said:

One thing I would like to add. Proprietary cleaning products rarely tell you exactly what they contain, unless that is a legal requirement in the jurisdiction that they are being sold in. However if you want to get a good idea of what is in them, in order to try something similar yourself, head for the hazmat sheet. In this case CLR => https://clrbrands.com/Jelmar/media/sds/CLR-SDS-6408176.pdf

So for CLR, the main active ingredients are lactic acid, and a common anionic surficant called lauramine oxide..  So you might also like to try dish soap and vinegar (acetic acid), or hand wash and cola (phosphoric acid + occasionally citric acid), or vitamin C tablets in washing powder. All of which, may have similar results, but whatever you try, test with a small area at the edge of the dial, in case whatever you are using reacts with something in the dial. 

Another trick.. to remove tarnish on silver, try baking soda and aluminium foil (and optionally a little vinegar and salt). The technique is described in various forms, on the internet, but again, tread carefully, as the plating on watch dials is typically pretty thin, and the surface is easily damaged. 
 

 

great addition andy, also i read and used toothpaste with a tooth brush to remove tarnish from silver watch cases, it removes the black and then you can polish from there with jewelers rouge.

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Speaking of toothpaste, brings us on to abrasives.

These remove material, so should be used sparingly.

Toothpaste is quite a "soft" abrasive, so if used with care, it works well, on soft materials like acrylic. It will also clean to some degree, so worth trying on stubborn grime. It is however abrasive, so will mar very soft finishes like sunburst silvering. It will also cut through and clean off decals and varnishes, so use with caution on those.

Brasso, slightly more aggressive, but that also works well on acrylic.

Bicarb as a paste with water is also mildly abrasive, and can take marks off some metals. Ceramic hob cleaner is more aggressive still, but works as an intermediate cutting compound on acrylic crystals, finish with tooth paste or brasso.

Jewelers rouge (iron oxide) works well as a metal polish and can be found in various grit sizes, so can be used as a pre-finish and a finishing polish on most metals.

Diamond lapping pastes are very aggressive, and are about the only thing you can finish sapphire crystals with. Cerium oxide will work on glass as a finishing polish, and to some degree on sapphire, but it takes a long time on the latter.

Edited by AndyHull

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