How to Repair Faces of Vintage Watches

By Rob Wagner ; Updated April 12, 2017
Repairing a vintage watch face is difficult, but cleaning the face is easy.

Repairing the face, which is more accurately called a dial, on a vintage watch is a difficult task that only experienced watchmakers can perform. It’s delicate work that also requires repainting the dial and extensive research to reproduce the original appearance. Amateurs should not repair dials without training. However, the novice can return a watch to near its original condition with some mild cleaning tools. Vintage watch owners should keep in mind that mildly spotted or damaged dials are usually preferable to repaired or repainted faces. A watch showing its age enhances the vintage appearance.

Assessing Dial Damage

Use a jeweler’s loupe to examine the face, or dial, of a vintage watch. If the dial is discolored, it will be almost impossible to return it to the original condition. This is because the protective lacquer that coats the dial has aged and acquires a patina that coats the face. Mild to moderate patina is acceptable in vintage watch circles, because it helps reflect the true age of the watch.

Use the loupe to find spotting. Spotting is a common problem with vintage watches, and is usually the result of dust and dirt getting under the crystal over time. This may be easier to clean.

Examine with the loupe whether the manufacturer’s name, which is usually painted on the dial of vintage watches, is clear and crisp or missing portions of letters. If letters are missing, the only way to repair it is to have the dial repainted by a vintage watch restoration expert.

Accessing the Dial

Use a rubber jar opener to remove the bezel from the watch case. The bezel is the ring that holds the crystal, or glass covering, in pace. Cover the bezel with the rubber jar opener. Use your fingertips to twist the bezel counter-clockwise until it’s removed from the case. The dial is now exposed.

Place the hands grabber over the minute, hour and second hands post in the center of the dial. Lift with the grabber, one by one, each hand from the post.

Leave the dial in the case. Place it face up on a table.

Cleaning and Repairing the Dial

Use a toothpick to remove dirt from the dial. Apply Rodico, which is cleaning putty, to the dial to remove spots and residue.

Dip a cotton swab into a small dish of warm, soapy water. Use dish soap mixed in water. Gently rub the moistened cotton swab on the dirty areas of the dial. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles on more stubborn stains.

Use a hair dryer on low setting to blow-dry the dial. Do not use a cloth or paper towel. The result will be a clean dial free of spotting and scuff marks, with the acceptable light to moderate patina remaining. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 in the “Accessing the Dial” section in reverse order of disassembly to reassemble the watch.

Things Needed

  • Jeweler’s loupe
  • Rubber jar opener
  • Hands grabber tool
  • Rodico watch repair tool
  • Toothpicks
  • Cotton swabs
  • Dish soap and warm water
  • Hair dryer

Tip

Gingerly clean the dial so you don’t accidentally remove the finish or paint. Gentle but persistent scrubbing usually does the trick as you work slowly.

Warning

Never leave the dial wet for longer 15 seconds. Dry and repeat the process. Leaving the dial wet could stain it.

About the Author

Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.