How To Restore Watch Dial (2021)

Professional restorer showing how to restore watch dial

Exposure to ultraviolet light and moisture has a degrading effect on antique watch dials over the time. If a dial is very badly damaged, then the best and modern way is to replace the dial with a new one. A professional watch restoration company will make your watch run like the day you first bought it. Your watch should be restored from master watchmakers.  You will know how to restore watch dial and more information after reading this article.

The most important part of your watch is the dial, because it is the part that shows the time. Without it, the whole movement and intricate gears wouldn’t mean anything. This is the reason why it should be looking good and work like new. Professionals can also restore and repair your dial or even make it from scratch.

So, the definition of a restored dial, is a dial that has been repainted, re-coated, re-plated or one that has markers and different details replaced.

fixing watch

Watch Dial Refinishing

Watch dial refinishing business started with the appearance of the mass produced metal dial. The metal made dial, mostly silver or brass, is way easier than enamel when it comes to restoring it. Firstly by treating the surface with natural coatings and chemicals and then restoring the original print with cold enamel or special paint.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a refinished dial if the restoration was done by a professional, the restoration is disclosed by the dealer or the watch is not particularly rare or historical. Usually, collectors avoid refinished dials because a restored dial may appear to be more functional and clear but all original watches always attract attention at auction. 

Collectors see these watches more as part of history and much of that is reflected in the dial, so stripping its original dial away means erasing that past. You should always try to avoid independent dial refinishers who simply don’t care about restoring a watch properly. You should do a lot of research about the particular vintage watch that you want.

How is the watch dial refinishing process done?

  1. Clean the movements manually, ultrasonically, and mechanically.
  2. Repairing and refurbishing the movements as necessary
  3. Replace or rebuild worn or defective movement parts, crystals, gaskets, and crowns.
  4. Manufacture obsolete and unobtainable parts
  5. Replace missing or broken crystals.
  6. Refinish the hands or make them from scratch in case they are missing.
  7. Polish and refinish the screws and the other parts made of steel.
  8. Refinish bridges and plates to be as close as the original.
  9. Replace broken or worn pivots.

How To Restore Watch Dial

Watch dial is the face and soul of a watch. This is where the different trends and style are reflected the most and this is the part of the watch that makes it a unique piece of art. Watch dial restoration requires a detailed and professional study. 

Most serious and professional collectors want to see an original and not restored dial on a vintage watch. You always have to consider that once you have restored your watch there is no going back. So if you have any doubt whether to restore your watch dial or not, don’t do it. When you have decided to refinish you  have to choose someone who knows what they are doing and has the correct professional equipment.

Dial Restoration Cost

Watch dial restoration is an art and a science, so a professional will determine when refinishing makes sense and when it does not. Dials can be restored in a similar style to the original one, or if in any case the restorer might not have the exact plates for the chapter rings or name lettering then he will be guided by the customer. The repair can range from a quick battery change to  a full overhaul of a vintage watch.

A normal refinish may vary between $60 and $90 based on the type of the dial and its complexity. We can give you some examples on the cost of a watch restoration:

  • Battery cost vary from $15 to $35 (depends whether is regular or lithium)
  • Back gasket cost vary from $6 – $34
  • Clean, oil, and regulation of a simple mechanical watch cost vary from $225-375
  • Clean, oil, and regulation of a simple quartz watch cost vary from $95-225, movement replacement vary from $75 – 300+
  • Clean, oil, and regulation of a more complicated watch cost vary from $275-300+
  • Clean, oil, and regulation of a multi-function/chronograph watch cost vary from $775+
  • Clean, oil, and regulation of a complicated auto chronograph cost vary from $775 – 1200+
  • Clean, oil, and regulation of a Fusee watch cost vary from $775 – 1200+
  • Clean, oil, and regulation of a complicated watches such as repeaters, grand complications perp calendars,Etc cost vary from  $1500 – 2500+
  • Crystal replacement cost vary (note that an odd-shaped crystal will be more than a round one, as it is not as common)
    • Glass cost vary from $30 – $55 average, railroad $60-125
    • plastic cost vary from $25 – $45 average
    • Sapphire cost vary from $75 – $135 average
  • Custom-made parts cost vary from Labor is $150 per hour.
  • Basic bench-work cost vary from Labor is $100 per hour
  • Dial refinishing cost vary from $200 minimum
  • Complete restorations start at 1500.00

Vintage Watch Dial Restoration

Most serious and professional collectors want to see an original and not restored dial on a vintage watch. For professional collectors there is nothing better than a well aged dial with an even warm patina across the entire dial. The aging gives your vintage watch real character. 

But not all dials age as well as others. Missing hour markers, blemishes, flaking paint or vanish, physical damage and rust can make a fantastic timepiece look terrible and destroy its value. In these cases it is highly recommended having the dial refinished. The dial will never be the same or as good as when it was first made. 

You also have to keep in mind that an expert watchmaker isn’t always a master of refinishing, so take a look for an expert in the field. What you have to consider before restoring your vintage watch?

The Crystal – Some professional collectors claim that the original crystals should be left as it is because it may devalue the timepiece. If you decide to replace it then make sure that it will be correct and original practice as it ensures the hands, dial  and movement are protected. Leaving a damaged or cracked crystal may occur in further damages such as allowing moisture or dirt to enter, and causing irreparable damage in some cases. And if these further damages happen then the value of the watch will certainly decline. 

Water resistant gaskets – Gaskets are similar to crystal because it is a crucial line of defense against the outside world. Gaskets are something that must always be changed when restoring a vintage watch as over time they can become brittle, flatten, crack. The gasket is always recommended to be replaced. 

Hands and dial – You have to also decide whether you will keep the original dials or not. The professionals say that age-appropriate dials and hands are where the money is. Exchanging hands and dial will drastically devalue the watch and will make it look cheaper and terrible. 

Movement parts – These are the parts that must always be replaced to ensure that the watch performs as intended. This type of replacement has no bearing on the value of the watch.

Bezel, crown, and pushers – The bezel is the area of the watch that has a considerable impact on value. But, collectors do prefer original, especially some GMT, dive, or tachymeter bezels. The chronograph and crown are another area in which the collector prefers original.

The watchmaker – This might be the most crucial, choosing a competent and experienced watchmaker. You should always find out ahead of time before choosing the manufacturer or an independent repairer that if they understand the process of restoration. 

You shouldn’t allow anyone to pressure you into changing something to your watch just because they say that it needs it to be changed. You have to make your own informed decision by finding out why they want it changed.

All the decisions that we mentioned above are yours to make. The most important part is for you to understand exactly what you are doing and be aware that replacing certain parts will dramatically reduce the value of your watch in some cases. Having a vintage watch restored can sometimes be confusing and stressful.

Is your old watch worth anything?

If you want to go into a conclusion whether your watch is worth anything you should know these things first.

  • How old is your watch?
  • What’s its jewel count?
  • Is it still working?
  • Has your watch’s value been decreased?
  • What does a valuable pocket watch look like?
  • Who made the watch?

Antique watches may not be used anymore, but in addition to being neat to look at, they can be traded for cash. But, just because your watch is old doesn’t always mean it is valuable. First try to identify the age of your old watch by looking at its serial numbers which are typically found in the back of the watch.

Another way to determine the value of your old watch is based on the materials they are made of. A lot of old watches were made of precious materials that have only gone up in value over time. For example some antique watches have gold layers or gold plating, and some others have a high jewel count.

showing watch dial

How do I know if my dial is refinished?

So, what is worse than a damaged dial? A restored one. We can mention to you some steps on how to spot an restored or non original dial.

    1. Consistency of pricing and quality – Try to identify the quality of the printing on the dial. Original dials are typically printed in the factory, while re-dials are typically done by hand. 
    2. Sub-dials and minute track – Another way that professional collectors use to tell a re-dial is by taking a closer look at the printing of indices. 
    3. Incorrect logo font – One of the easiest and most difficult ways to tell if a dial has been restored is to look at the printed logo on the dial. A simple google search can tell you an example of a correct and original version.
    4. Consistency of lume – The other method is to check for the consistency of the luminous material also known as lume. 
  • The dial itself

Should you polish a vintage watch?

According to professional watch dealers, they advise people to not have their watches polished or buffed because it might end up in removing metal and might change the architecture of the case. Polishing will remove metal that you won’t be able to add back. Replacing the original parts might be a better idea, because you have the opportunity to reverse it.

If you want to learn more about the best watch movements take a look at this article.