A watch face, commonly known as a dial, on a wrist or pocket watch can be replaced with the proper tools, although replacing it requires knowledge of the watch’s internal parts. Replacing vintage watch faces is easier than replacing dials on new models, because vintage watches have less parts. While changing a watch dial will devalue the watch because it’s no longer original, a replacement may be the only option to save a damaged watch.
Ensure the watch is stopped. Open the snap case back of the watch with a blunt blade, being careful not to scratch the case. Unscrew a screw-down case back by placing it crystal-side down in the palm of your hand and rotating counterclockwise with your other palm or fingertips. Many newer models may require a case remover, which will require a visit to a watchmaker.
Lift the mechanical or electronic movement from the case and place the movement in the movement holder. The watch face and hands will be attached. Contemporary watches have a gasket between the case back and case that should be replaced as a precaution to ensure the watch remains water resistant.
Place the watch hands remover on top of the watch face directly over the post that holds the hours, minutes and seconds hands. Place the hands-grabber tool on its feet on the face. Pull each hand one at a time from the post.
Remove the two screws from the face that fastens it to the movement. Underneath the dial are the hour wheel and a small spring. Ensure they remain in place--they can easily fall out without the dial in place.
Use your fingertips to grasp the replacement dial by the edges and place it over the center post on top of the movement. Ensure that you do not get fingerprints on the face.
Install the hands onto the posts with the hands-grabber tool in the reverse order that you removed them.
Return the movement to its case and replace the case back, and the gasket if it has one, in the reverse order of removal.
Things You'll Need
- Watchmaker’s screwdriver set
- Watch hands remover and hands grabber
- Movement holder
- Blunt blade
- Parts tray
- Replacement watch face
Any watch face that fits the case can be used as a replacement dial and doesn’t necessarily have to be an original looking dial.
Handle the dial, or face, gently. Forcing it off the movement could crease or crack the dial.
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.