Stripping and re-lacquering dials with heavy patina

As dials age, the lacquer (varnish) applied to them to protect the dial finish can change to have unattractive properties.  I don’t usually recommend trying to clean such dials as the risk of losing any writing is significant but, it is possible to change this:

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

Into this – cleaned and with a very fine satin lacquer applied:

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

The most important aspect is that the risks involved are recognized and in the case above, the customer understood that.

As a way of showing this work in more detail, the sequence below shows an Omega calibre 501 dial from the late 1950s. It’s an unusual coffin furniture style with applied “pearls” as minute markers but, clearly, the lacquer has aged in such a way as to make it unattractive. It is very discoloured, stained and cracked. The text at the lower showing “Swiss Made” is already damaged by both water and having been fitted under an incorrect crystal tension ring so will not survive intact.

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

As noted, there is a significant risk in trying to improve this as it can lead to loss of the text portions which separate with the lacquer. Additionally, it’s not possible to remove all this dial furniture as the risks in doing that are too great in a reasonable timescale so, the dial is cleaned with the furniture in place.

There are various ways to remove the lacquer and this shows my preferred method. I prefer to work in stages rather than start with a very severe method as that minimises the risk of damaging the existing text. Obviously, this is far more labour intensive than just dipping in a strong cleaning solution so, takes me some time.

Here, after a first cut and there is a clear area of dial where the lacquer has been removed in the centre and extending to the Automatic text.

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

Progressing a little further and much of the lacquer has gone. It takes some time to clean around the furniture as well.

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

Almost finished and I’m left with a small area in the first S of “Seamaster” plus one or two other local areas still showing lacquer.

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

And finished with the stripping of the old lacquer. All the central text has remained but there is loss of some of the “Swiss Made” at the lower.

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

It is much more attractive now but, the lacquer must be re-applied to protect the dial finish. In order to do that, I mask the furniture as best as possible. In my opinion, it is poor practice to spray the new lacquer all over the furniture. Again, this clearly takes some time. Here, as the masking is applied.

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

And then spray new lacquer onto the dial using an airbrush. I’ve aimed for a slight patina to the lacquer here as the watch is sixty years old and neither hands nor case are perfect. This is a thicker, less fine, lacquer than that applied in the first example. The overspray on the furniture masking is clear to see and the Omega symbol will need cleaning off to remove that overspray.

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

Dial and hands re-fitted to movement.

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch

The final result is very nice but as I have noted before, there is always the risk of damaging the dial while doing this so I don’t usually recommend it.

Watchmaker showing dial lacquer removal and re-application on Omega vintage watch