Refinishing a Watch Bracelet

This tutorial will teach you how to restore your watch bracelet back to its original condition. There are 11 steps that you will need to follow, these are discussed in detail below.

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Before and after refinishing

 

STEP 1 – IDENTIFY THE MATERIAL

In order to restore your watch bracelet back to its original condition, the first step is to identify the material that the bracelet is made from.

There are many different materials that are used to make watch bracelets for example steel, titanium, gold, platinum, and plated metals.

The techniques that will be discussed in this tutorial should only be used on bracelets made from steel or titanium.

While the same techniques can be used to restore precious metal bracelets, precious metals require different abrasives to obtain the best results.

It is also important to never attempt to refinish a watch bracelet that is plated or coated with another material such as gold or PVD. The techniques discussed involve removing a small amount of material from the surface of the bracelet using abrasives, which can remove the plating or coating entirely.

While it can be difficult to judge if a bracelet is made from solid metal or plated metal, generally speaking, all solid metals are marked as such, usually, the manufacturer will engrave the bracelet material on the inside of the bracelet or on the clasp. If the bracelet is made from a solid precious metal it will bear the relevant hallmarks. However, if the bracelet is plated or coated it is unlikely that it will be marked. This is just the rule of thumb and if you are in doubt, do not attempt to refinish the bracelet.

 

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STEP 2 – IDENTIFY THE FINISH

Once you are sure that your watch bracelet is made from steel or titanium, the next step is to identify the original finish of the bracelet.

There are many different types of finishes that manufacturers apply to their bracelets. This tutorial will focus on how to restore the two most common types of finishes; brushed (satin) and polished. It will also discuss how to apply a combination of these finishes to your bracelet in order to replicate the original finish or customise your watch.

 

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Brushed (satin) finish
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Polished finish

If the bracelet features a combination of finishes the primary finish will be the finish covering the most area. For example, the primary finish of this Omega Seamaster bracelet is brushed.

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The secondary finish is the finish that occupies the smaller surface area; on the Omega Seamaster bracelet, this is a polished finish.

If your bracelet has approximately equal quantities of brushed and polished finishes, such as the bracelet from a Rolex GMT Master II Ceramic, the primary finish will always be the polished finish. this is because it is less time consuming to apply a brushed finish over the top of a polished finish than it is to polish a brushed surface.

If your bracelet only features one type of finish then that finish will be the primary finish, for example, the bracelet of the Tudor Pelagos.

 

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If you are unable to identify what the original factory finish is, it is a good idea to consult photographs of the watch in its original condition, usually, these are available online.

 

STEP 3 – DISMANTLE THE BRACELET

In order to refinish the bracelet, the bracelet must first be removed from the watch; this is to prevent damaging the watch case and to allow easy access to the whole bracelet.

Most bracelets are attached to the case using spring bars, which can easily be removed using a spring bar tool. However, some bracelets are secured to the case using other methods such as screws.

Once you have detached the bracelet from the case, it is a good idea to remove the clasp from the bracelet. On many watches, this can easily be done by removing the pins that hold the clasp to the bracelet. You may also find that the clasp is retained with the use of spring bars, in which can also be easily removed.

It may be impossible to remove the clasp from some bracelets as they are fixed using rivets. If you are unable to remove the bracelet from the clasp, the bracelet can still be refinished, but you may find that the clasp may interfere.

If the clasp has protruding parts, such as buttons like on this Omega Seamaster, you may want to remove the protruding parts so that the clasp can be refinished more easily. You will need to determine whether it is possible to dismantle your clasp and whether you feel comfortable in doing so.

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STEP 4 – CLEANING

Before attempting to refinish a bracelet it is important to clean the bracelet thoroughly with hot soapy water and a toothbrush. This is to remove any debris from the bracelet that could contaminate the abrasives. The bracelet should also be dried thoroughly before refinishing, using a paper towel or microfibre cloth.

 

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STEP 5 – Applying the Primary Finish

The next step is to apply the primary finish to the whole bracelet. The primary finish of the bracelet will determine which steps you need to follow next, however, the basic process remains the same.

 

Brushed finish

The technique that I have found to produce the best results involve securing a long strip of red Scotchbrite to a flat surface (contact me if you would like to purchase a long strip of red Scotchbrite). I usually place the Scotchbrite on a table and use a clamp to secure the strip at each end. A straight piece of wood should be placed on top of the Scotchbrite and firmly secured with several clamps. Here is a photograph of my setup.

 

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The basic technique involves laying the bracelet on top of the Scotchbrite and placing the edge of the bracelet against the straight piece of wood, and then sliding the bracelet along the wooden guide, whilst gently pressing the bracelet into the Scotchbrite to ensure full contact between the two surfaces.

 

 

The use of a guide will result in a perfectly parallel brush marks left on the bracelet, replicating the original finish. A guide must only be used with bracelets that have parallel sides (eg Omega Seamaster bracelet).

 

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Left – tapered, right – parrallel

 

Some bracelets are tapered (eg Tudor Pelagos bracelet), this means that a guide cannot be used, as it will result in diagonal brush marks. There are two techniques that m be used to obtain parallel brush marks; the first involves brushing the bracelet without the aid of a guide. If you are careful and have a steady hand excellent results can be achieved using this technique.

 

The second technique involves securing the bracelet to a piece of wood or plastic that is slightly larger than the bracelet. The bracelet should be affixed to the backer using double-sided carpet tape so that the centre line of the bracelet is running parallel the straight edge of the backer. The bracelet can then be placed face down onto the Scotchbrite and the straight edge of the backer can be guided along the wood as if it was a parallel link bracelet.

 

 

A better finish is achieved when the bracelet is moved in one direction rather than pushed back and forth. I alternate the direction every 5-10 passes. The aim is to brush the bracelet enough to remove all of the scratches and restore the finish without removing excessive material. Check your progress often and once a satisfactory finish has been achieved stop. Note deeper scratches may be impossible to fully remove.

 

Polished finish

There are several ways in which a polished finish can be applied, by far the most efficient way is to use a buffing wheel charged with green polishing compound. If you do not have access to a buffing wheel, I will discuss how a polished finish can be applied without the use of a buffing wheel.

 

Using a buffing wheel

Before polishing the bracelet using a buffing wheel it is important to correctly configure the buffing wheel. A 5-6 inch loose leaf mop charged with a compound designed for the final polishing of steel (usually green compound) is best suited for polishing a bracelet.

 

To charge the compound onto the buffing wheel, first turn on the buffing machine and allow the wheel to reach its maximum speed (if your buffing machine has a variable speed function set this to the maximum), then slowly plunge the compound into the wheel below the half way point on the wheel (see photo). Apply enough compound to the wheel so that it is entirely coated with the compound and appears the same colour as the compound. It is important to not mix the compounds that are applied to a wheel, eg only use one type of compound on each wheel. To obtain the best results a consider using a brand new wheel, that way you can be sure that there are no contaminants on the wheel that will prevent a high level of polish from being obtained.

 

If your buffing machine has variable speed controller, set the machine to a medium speed (around 2500 rpm), if you do not have the luxury of a variable speed machine, consider using a mop of a smaller diameter (4-5inch). The general rule of using a buffing wheel is if the item you are polishing is flat and angular, a higher speed should be used, and if the item is highly detailed or curved (such as a bracelet) a slower speed should be used.

 

Once you have correctly set up your machine, it is time to prepare the bracelet by securing it to a backing board such as a strong piece of wood or plastic roughly 3 inches wide and 10 inches long, it should be at least ½ inch thick. I use a high-quality double-sided carpet tape to secure the bracelet to the centre of the backing board. The backing board serves as a handle and makes polishing the bracelet both safer and easier.

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Now that everything is set up we can begin polishing the bracelet. Whilst maintaining a firm grip of the backing board, slowly introduce the bracelet to the 5 o’clock position on the spinning wheel, apply moderate pressure to the wheel, enough to cause the leaves to spread apart slightly, but not enough to stall the wheel. Slowly move the bracelet back and forth across the wheel, if your bracelet is wider than the buffing wheel, carefully move the bracelet side to side so that the whole bracelet is polished evenly. To obtain the best results, rotate the bracelet 180 degrees every 20 seconds so that the bracelet is polished evenly.

 

Depending on the condition of your bracelet buffing may take as little as 2 minutes or as long as 10, the key to successfully polishing a bracelet is to only polish enough to reinstate a polished finish and no more. Repeat this stage for both halves of the bracelet.

 

To remove the bracelet from the backing board it can be helpful to warm the bracelet up using a heat gun or hair dryer and use an old credit card to gently pry the bracelet from the board.

 

Now that the bracelet is buffed and the majority of scratches have been removed I like to clean the bracelet once again using soapy water and hand polish the bracelet with a polishing compound and a soft cloth. The method to hand polish a bracelet is exactly the same whether or not the bracelet has been buffed or not. Hand polishing the bracelet will result in a higher level of polish being obtained, than just buffing alone.

 

Hand polishing a bracelet

To polish a bracelet without the aid of a buffing wheel, I first use double-sided tape to secure the bracelet to a backing board as discussed in the previous method. I then place the backing board flat on a table. I then select a suitable polishing compound; I find that Cape Cod polishing cloths give excellent results and are abrasive enough to remove most scratches, whilst creating an exceptional lustre.

 

If you are looking for the very best results, a selection of high-quality metal polishes is needed. I have found that the best metal polishing compounds are those designed for sharpening knives. The manufacturer Wicked Edge produces knife stropping compounds that contain diamond particles of varying sizes. The finest Wicked Edge compound contains 0.5 micron particles and results in a flawless finish, however, to obtain this flawless finish, a range of these compounds must be used. I usually start with a 10 micron compound and progress with finer and finer compounds, being sure to clean the bracelet between each compound. Wicked Edge compounds are expensive however a little goes a long way, a 2mm bead of compound spread onto a paper towel moistened with rubbing alcohol is enough to polish a bracelet.

 

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Left – Wicked Edge compounds, right – Cape Cod cloths

 

Once you have selected your polishing compound of choice it is time to polish the bracelet. Whilst applying moderate pressure rub the compound coated cloth across the length of the bracelet at a brisk paste, again it is best to go in one direction and then change direction after 10-15 passes. Polish until you are satisfied with the level of finish achieved. Remember if the bracelets primary finish is polished, you only need to polish until you are satisfied with the finish of the areas that are supposed to be polished, there is no reason to spend additional time polishing the parts of the bracelet that you will later apply a secondary finish to.

 

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After polishing with Cape Cod cloths

 

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After polishing with 1 micron WE compound

 

The inside of the bracelet can also be refinished using the same techniques, but as it is not visible, and often in better condition that the outside of the bracelet, I usually refrain from refinishing this part of the bracelet.

 

The clasp of the bracelet can also be refinished using the exact same techniques, however, it is important to note that many clasps have fine details such as engravings or emblems that can be damaged by refinishing. My advice is to avoid refinishing these areas, but if you wish to do so only check your progress regularly and stop as soon as you reach a finish that you are satisfied with. Remember it is better to leave the clasp scratched, than to damage it by removing fine details in the pursuit of a flawless finish.

 

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Fine details can be damaged by excessive refinishing

STEP 6 – CLEANING (AGAIN)

Once you are satisfied that the primary finish has been applied successfully, the next step is to thoroughly clean the bracelet using warm soapy water and a toothbrush once again. It is essential to clean the bracelet again as small abrasive particles may be trapped between the links and could ruin the secondary finish.

 

STEP 7 – MASKING

In the same way that you mask areas that you do no wish to be painted when redecorating a room, the next stage is to carefully mask off the areas of the bracelet that you wish to retain the primary finish, leaving the area that you wish to apply the secondary finish to exposed.

 

A special type of abrasion resistant tape is required to mask off the bracelet, this tape can be found online at watch making suppliers and is known as polyamide tape. Whilst many widths of this tape is available I have managed to refinish many different bracelets only using one width of tape, 10mm, although having a selection of these tapes may be preferable.

 

I recommend securing your bracelet to a backing board before masking the bracelet if you are going to polish the bracelet, or if it is tapered.

 

Before applying any masking tape the bracelet should be placed on a flat surface (or backing board) and the links should be aligned so that they are perfectly straight.

 

Good lighting is required to accurately mask a bracelet, so it is advisable to work near a window or another light source. I also recommend using a magnifying visor or jeweller’s loupe when applying the tape for greater accuracy.

 

Cut off a section of tape approximately 2 inches longer than the bracelet and apply it to the bracelet, starting at one end of the bracelet gently lay the tape along the edge of the boundary, paying close attention to the alignment. When you are confident that the tape has been positioned correctly gently press the tape down to secure. Repeat this step until only the areas you wish to apply the secondary finish to is exposed.

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If there is any tape overhanging the bracelet this can either be wrapped around the bracelet or stuck down to the backing board. If you make a mistake, do not hesitate to remove the tape and try again as it is vitally important that everything is masked off correctly.

 

Occasionally it is impossible to expose all of the areas that need to have the secondary finish applied to, in which case mask the bracelet showing part of the area needing to be finished, apply the secondary finish to the exposed area and then repeat these stages again this time exposing the previously masked areas. This Omega Seamaster bracelet required the bracelet to be masked and remasked three times before all of the areas that required secondary finishing were finished.

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STEP 8 – APPLYING THE SECONDARY FINISH

Now that the bracelet has been masked correctly, it is time to apply the secondary finish. As the bracelet is masked you can apply the secondary finish in much the same way as you would apply the primary finish, with the exception that you must check the integrity of the tape regularly and replace at the first sign of degradation. Polyamide tape is designed specifically to withstand prolonged abrasion so it is unlikely it will need to be replaced during the application of the secondary finish. If the secondary finish is brushed use the technique outlined in step 5 to apply this finish, likewise if your secondary finish is polished, follow the technique for polishing a bracelet also outlined in step 5.

 

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If the bracelet has a secondary finish on the edge of the links, in order to refinish this surface both the front and back of the bracelet should be masked and the edges of the links can be finished in the same way as the rest of the bracelet.

 

STEP 10 – MORE CLEANING

Before reassembling the bracelet the bracelet should once again be cleaned thoroughly as discussed before. This is to remove any left over abrasives that may irritate your skin as well as make the watch appear dirty.

 

STEP 11 – REASSEMBLY

Now that the bracelet has been completely refinished it is time to reassemble the bracelet and attach it to the case!

 

Here are the before and after photos of the three bracelets that I refinished.

 

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Omega Seamaster Bracelet
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Davosa Pilot Chronograph Bracelet

 

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Tudor Pelagos Bracelet

 

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Tag Heuer Aqua-racer Bracelet

 

If you have any questions about the process, please contact me, or leave a comment. I hope you found this tutorial useful and good luck should you attempt to refinish your watch bracelet!

 

 

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