One of the most important steps when servicing a mechanical watch movement is to thoroughly clean all of the parts to remove all traces of debris, oil residue and other contaminants from the surface of the parts.
Cleaning movement parts is necessary for many reasons, firstly a clean movement will keep time more reliably, one of the most common reasons for a watch to keep poor time is the hairspring becoming contaminated. A clean movement will also look more appealing particularly when showcased in a watch with a display case back. It is also important to thoroughly clean the movement to preserve the lifespan of the movement, over time the contact points between moving parts of the movement will wear down producing microscopic grit-like particles. If these particles are not periodically removed, these grit-like particles can exponentially increase the rate at which the moving parts wear, reducing the lifespan of the watch. Lastly thoroughly cleaning the watch movement will prevent the movement from tarnishing discolouration. Often movements will contain parts that are made of brass and steel that can discolour if they are not correctly cleaned, or not cleaned at all.
Many professional watchmakers will use a watch cleaning machine or an ultrasonic cleaning bath to clean the movement components. Whilst these methods yield exceptionally clean parts and consume little of the watchmakers time, for the hobbyist, investing in expensive cleaning equipment is not necessary.
Most hobbyists will resort to cleaning the movement by hand using a selection of cleaning solvents. Personally, I use two different cleaning fluids to clean the parts. The first fluid is simply washing up liquid (detergent) diluted with distilled water (approximately 1 drop of washing up liquid to 100ml of distilled water), the other is 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol. I have had great results using these fluids, although many prefer to use lighter fluid or specially formulated cleaning fluids. No matter which cleaning fluid you choose to use, the same basic cleaning procedure should be used.
It is important to only attempt to clean a watch movement that has been fully disassembled.
Whilst this method work for most of the parts, there are two components that should not be cleaned using this method, these are the pallet fork and the balance assembly.
The basic method involves cleaning the parts, followed by two rinses and then thoroughly drying the parts.
The first step involves letting the parts soak in the first cleaning fluid for several minutes, then using a small paint brush to agitate the surface of the parts in order to remove any stubborn contaminants. I use distilled water and washing up liquid for the first stage. If you have an ultrasonic cleaner at your disposal, you can use the ultrasonic cleaner during this step, instead of using a paint brush to agitate the parts. You may find it helpful to load the parts into a cleaning basket or a small sieve so that it is quicker to transfer the small parts between the various cleaning fluids. It is important to place the larger items in the solution before placing the smaller more delicate parts in to avoid damaging them.
It is important to use distilled water to clean the parts rather than tap water as distilled water does not contain any contaminants that will leave a residue on the parts. It is also important to not use excessive amounts of washing up liquid as you may find using large quantities of detergent will leave a residue on the parts and does not increase the cleaning power of the solution. Approximately one or two drops of washing up liquid for every 100ml of distilled water should be more than sufficient. You may find that heating the distilled water may enhance its cleaning performance as the heat will soften any oil deposits and will increase the rate of reaction between the soap and the oils. Warm soapy water is a very effective at cleaning watch parts as the warm water will dissolve any salt residues and carry away any dust and debris, and the soap will break down any oil residues.
After cleaning the watch parts in the first solution, the next step is to transfer the parts to the second cleaning fluid, for which I use 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol is a particularly useful cleaning solvent as it both dissolves any grease or oils that were not removed in step 1 and also removes any traces of the first cleaning solution from the parts.
There is no need to dry the parts when transferring them to the next solvent, however blotting them on a paper towel to remove the majority of the first solution is recommended. I usually submerge the parts in this solution for 5-10 minutes. Whilst these parts are submerged, a small brush should be used to agitate the surface of the parts to aid the cleaning process. You may find it helpful to steady the parts with a piece of pegwood whilst you are agitating the surface with a small brush.
Pegwood should be used to clean the pivot holes of the bridges and mainplate, the pegwood should be sharpened to a point and placed inside the pivot holes and then rotated. This will remove any contaminants from the pivots. It may be necessary to repeat this step several times for each of the holes, sharpening the pegwood with a knife between cleanings to remove the soiled wood. Pegwood can also be used to remove any fouling that has not been dissolved by the cleaning solutions. You may find it easier to remove the bridges from the cleaning fluid to clean them and then place them back in the cleaning fluid to soak for a few more minutes.
By this stage, the parts should clean, however, it is common practice to transfer the parts to one more cleaning fluid to remove any traces of residue. Again it is recommended that the parts are blotted before transferring them to the third and final solution. For the third cleaning fluid, again I use 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol, although lighter fluid can also be used. The benefit of using alcohol over lighter fluid for this step is that pure alcohol will not leave a residue on the parts, whereas lighter fluid often contains traces of oils that will leave a residue on the parts. Again I leave the parts to soak for 5-10 minutes in the cleaning fluid.
Now that the parts are clean the next step is to dry each part. The parts should be removed one by one from the cleaning fluid using tweezers, placed on a clean sheet of blotting paper and then dried using an air blower.
The parts should be dried one at a time, and after drying, each part should be inspected for cleanliness and then stored in a container with a dust cover to prevent the freshly cleaned parts from becoming contaminated. Any parts that are not completely clean should be cleaned again using the same process. If you are finding that multiple parts are still dirty, consider changing the cleaning fluids with fresh fluids, or use a different type of cleaning fluid. Allowing the parts to soak for a longer period and agitating the surface will also improve the cleaning results.
The balance assembly and pallet fork contain jewels that are retained using shellac. Shellac can be dissolved by some solvents, namely ethanol (methylated spirits), whilst in theory, it is safe to clean these parts using the same method as the other parts, I take extra precautions to avoid any damage from occurring. I clean these parts using lighter fluid, I soak them for a few minutes then carefully agitate the surface and then transfer them to a second container of lighter fluid to dissolve any residue.
Take extreme care when removing the balance assembly from the cleaning fluid as the hairspring, part of the balance assembly, is extremely delicate and can be deformed if the balance assembly is removed from the solvent without supporting both the balance bridge and the balance wheel. This is because the surface tension of the cleaning fluid will weigh down the balance wheel and this can stretch the spring if the balance assembly is not correctly handled.
After soaking these parts in the second cleaning fluid they then need to be dried thoroughly, the same method is used to dry these parts as all other parts.
Once all of the parts have been cleaned and thoroughly dried, the movement can be reassembled and lubricated.
In this tutorial, I will show you how to disassemble the Seagull 3620 movement. This movement is a clone of the Unitas (ETA) 6498 and thus the same process can be used to disassemble both movements. There is also a Seagull 3600 movement that is almost identical to the 3620, however, the second-hand subdial is located at 9 o’clock, rather than at 6 o’clock which is the case with the 3620. These movements feature very similar architecture, however, the arrangement of the bridges are different to accommodate for the different locations of the subdials. The Seagull 3600 is also a clone of a Unitas movement, the Unitas 6497. Therefore these instructions can be used to dismantle both the 3620, 3600 as well as the Unitas 6498 and the Unitas 6497.
In order to disassemble this movement, a basic selection of watchmaking tools are required. Please see my watchmaker’s toolkit post for more details on these tools. A link to this post can be found below.
To disassemble this movement we will begin by unwinding the mainspring. This is done by placing the movement into a movement holder (dial side down) and locating the click. The crown should then be rotated a fraction so that the click is sat on a tooth of the ratchet wheel, a small screwdriver can the be used to retract the click so that it clears the path of the ratchet wheel. It is important to maintain a grip on the crown at all times to avoid damaging the mainspring. The crown should then be allowed to slowly rotate between your fingertips until it comes to a stop. Alternatively, the watch can be left for a couple of days for the mainspring to run down by itself.
The movement should then be turned dial side up so that the hour wheel can be removed using a pair of tweezers.
The cannon pinion should be removed next using a cannon pinion tool.
The movement should be turned once again so that the dial side is facing down. The screw that secures the balance bridge should then be unscrewed. Screw heads can be easily marred by ill-fitting screwdrivers, therefore it is important to use a screwdriver that correctly fits the slot in the screw head to avoid such damage.
After this screw has been removed the balance bridge and balance wheel can be carefully lifted off of the movement. To avoid damaging the delicate hairspring, the only part that should be handled is the balance bridge, allow the balance wheel to dangle below the balance bridge and take care when placing the balance bridge into the parts tray to prevent kinking the hairspring, or snapping the balance staff.
The next step is to unscrew the two small screws that secure the pallet bridge to the mainplate.
The pallet bridge can then be lifted off of the mainplate. Although the bridge is secured with screws you will that the bridge will remain firmly attached to the mainplate, even once these screws are removed. This is because locator pins are used to align the bridge and often these are a snug fit. You may find it helpful to use a small screwdriver to help gently pry the bridge off of the locator pins. This applies to all of the bridges in this movement and often there will be a small slot on the edge of the bridge for this very purpose. Take extreme caution when removing all of the bridges to avoid bending or breaking the pivots. I recommend dedicating an old (or cheap) screwdriver to for this task as you may find that prying may damage the screwdriver.
The pallet fork can then be removed. As with many parts of the movement, the pallet fork pivots on an incredibly fine arbor, so treat all parts with great care to prevent these fragile parts from becoming bent or broken.
The crown wheel screw can now be removed – note to remove this screw it should be turned clockwise, as it has a reverse thread. The crown wheel can then be removed.
There is a small crown wheel ring (bushing) attached to the crown wheel pivot that also needs to be removed.
Next, the ratchet wheel screw needs to be unscrewed, and then the ratchet wheel can be removed from the mainspring arbor.
The click screw should then be removed.
The click can now be removed, as well as the click spring that is located beneath the click.
The three screws that hold the barrel bridge to the mainplate can now be unscrewed. The barrel bridge can then be carefully lifted off of the mainplate. Again you may require the aid of a screwdriver to pry the barrel bridge from the mainplate.
Next, the two screws that secure the train wheel bridge need to be unscrewed.
The train wheel bridge can then be removed.
The centre wheel is then removed from its jewel.
Now the main spring barrel can be removed.
The third wheel can then be removed.
And next, the second wheel.
The escape wheel is removed next.
Next, the movement should be turned so that the dial side faces upwards and the screw that secures the setting lever jumper should be removed.
Now the setting lever jumper can be removed.
The next step is to carefully remove the yoke spring. I recommend placing a finger on top of the spring whilst removing it to prevent the small spring from being catapulted across the room!
Next, the yoke can be removed.
The setting wheel can now be lifted off of its pivot.
Next, the intermediate setting wheel can be removed.
The minute wheel is removed next.
Now the movement should be turned once again so that the dial side faces downwards. The setting lever screw can now be removed.
After you remove this screw, you will find that the setting lever has fallen onto the work surface and should be picked up to avoid it being misplaced.
The crown and stem should then be pulled outwards and the sliding pinion can be removed from the channel it slides in.
Finally, the winding stem and winding pinion can be removed from the main plate.
The movement is now fully disassembled, with the exception of the mainspring barrel assembly and the balance bridge. You may wish to further disassemble the mainspring barrel for cleaning purposes. Although the balance bridge can be disassembled further, it is not usually required.
The parts can then be cleaned using your preferred method, I will be posting instructions as to how I clean watch parts shortly.
The movement can then be reassembled and lubricated, I will also be publishing a step by step tutorial on this process shortly.
I hope you have found this post to be informative and interesting and if you have any questions please do get in touch. If you would like to be notified when I post further tutorials including how to clean and reassemble this movement, please subscribe to my blog.
A selection of tools are required to disassemble and service a watch, whilst many tools are merely a convenience, some tools are absolutely essential. You do not need to spend a lot of money to acquire a basic set of watchmaking tools. I have invested approximately £400 in the tools and equipment listed below, however, if you are careful when creating your toolkit, it is possible to obtain the basic tools for any budget. These are the tools that I use to fully service a watch movement from start to finish.
A set of high-quality screwdrivers is one of the most important additions to your toolkit. It is important to have a wide selection to hand so that you can select the screwdriver that correctly fits the screw to prevent marring the head. The Bergeon ergonomic screwdriver set (pictured above) is arguably one of the best sets on the market, costing around £100 for a 9 piece set with rotating stand, it is certainly a worthy investment. If your budget will not stretch enough for the Bergeon set, A*F Swiss also make exceptionally high-quality screwdriver sets for less than half the cost of the Bergeon set.
A couple of pairs of precision, anti-magnetic, tweezers are essential for watchmaking. I have found that Dumont manufactures the best tweezers available. Like screwdrivers, tweezers come in a variety of sizes to best suit the task at hand. I would recommend buying a set of no. 2 tweezers and a set of no. 4s. The no. 2s have a broader tip and are best suited for manipulating larger parts such as rotors and wheels. No. 4 tweezers have incredibly fine tips that lend themselves for manipulating screws and other delicate parts. Dumont makes several ranges of tweezers, for around £25 a pair, the Dumoxel range offers excellent value for money as they are anti-magnetic and are highly corrosion resistant.
It is advisable to use a watch repair mat when working on watch movements, they are inexpensive (around £6) and offer many benefits. The main ones being that they protect the parts that you are working on and are easy on the eye when working on small parts for extended periods of time. They are usually pale green and made from rubber-coated foam. Using a mat also aids you in keeping track of small parts if you treat the mat as a no-go zone for anything other that the watch that you are working on and ensure that all pieces of the watch movement stay within the confines of the mat.
Hand fitting and hand removal tools
Hand removing levers are sold in pairs and are inserted underneath the hands in order to pry the hands off of the arbor. whilst other types of hand lifting tools are available, levers are by far the most inexpensive option and cost only a few pounds.
A set of hand fitting tools can be purchased for less than £10 and are used to press watch hands onto the arbor. They come in a selection of sizes and it is important to select the correct size for the hands.
Cannon pinion tool
A cannon pinion tool performs one function, that is to pull the cannon pinion off of the arbor of the wheel it is fitted to. Unfortunately, there is no other method to remove the cannon pinion safely and therefore this tool is essential when dismantling a watch movement. Cannon pinion tools typically cost around £10 upwards.
Oilers, Oil pots and Lubricants
When servicing a watch it is important to apply lubricants to all of the wear points. In order to dispense the correct amount of lubricant to the location required, oilers are used. Oilers come in a selection of sizes; each size dispenses a different quantity of lubricant. Oilers are usually sold as sets and cost around £10 for a set of 5 different sizes.
A convenient yet inexpensive addition to your kit is an oil pot, whilst you can spend £30 upwards on one it is really not necessary and a perfectly adequate oil pot can be had for as little as £3. A small quantity of lubricant can be dispensed into the oil pot so that it is easier to dip the oiler into the lubricant. It is important to choose an oil pot that has a lid, to protect the oil from contamination. Oil pots with multiple wells are particularly useful, as you will require more than one lubricant to correctly service a watch.
At least two types of lubricants are required when servicing a watch, a viscous oil, and a low viscosity oil. A viscous oil should be applied to the high friction points such as the mainspring barrel, Moebius D5 is recommended by many manufacturers, such as ETA for this application. A low viscosity oil is required to lubricate the low friction points, such as the balance end stones and other jewels. Moebius 9010 is the industry standard for this application. Some movements require specialized lubricants for optimal performance, however, Moebius 9010 and D5 will work for the majority of situations.
A benzene jar is small glass jar used for cleaning small parts. Benzene is traditionally used to clean small parts, however, a cheaper and more readily available alternative is lighter fluid. The solvent should be placed into the glass and the parts should then be left for 5-10 minutes to bathe. The parts should then be removed from the solvent and dried thoroughly with the aid of an air blower. A small jam jar works perfectly as the lid creates an airtight seal that prevents the solvent from evaporating.
Many professional watchmakers work in environments with specialist air filters that almost entirely eradicate air-bourn dust particles that can settle upon freshly cleaned watch parts. Unfortunately, many hobbyists, including myself, do not have the luxury of such equipment and must resort to other means to ensure that dust does not find its way into the movement. A simple solution is to use a dust blower to displace dust particles from the surface of the parts. There are several different styles available, the most common being a rubber bellow that when squeezed, expels high-pressure air from a nozzle. Not only is this useful for removing dust, it can also be used to dry watch parts that have been cleaned with a solvent, as mentioned above.
Another popular product for removing dust as well as fingerprints is Rodico, a sticky putty specifically formulated for this purpose. Rodico can be molded into a point and used to target offending dust particles, or rolled into a small ball to remove fingerprints or other contaminants from the surface of parts. Rodico can also be used to clean tools.
After meticulously cleaning parts, it is a good idea to store them in a container that prevents them from becoming contaminated; one of the most convenient options is to use a parts tray with a dust cover. The trays are usually divided into several sections, which can be used to organise parts. The benefit of this design is that the dust cover can be removed and replaced with one hand whilst the other hand is used to retrieve the desired part. Typically these can be had for as little as £2 and it is recommended to purchase a couple, as you can never be too organised!
Another great option is an organiser box that can be purchased from any hardware or hobby shop. These are particularly useful for the long-term storage of a dismantled movement, as most will have a lid that securely locks into place.
Whilst most watchmaking tasks can be carried out with the naked eye, some tasks do require magnification. A watchmakers eyeglass is an extremely useful piece of equipment necessary when inspecting small parts for signs of wear or damage. Watchmakers eyeglasses are available at a wide range of prices, basic models can be had for just £1, whilst these suffice higher quality eyeglasses do offer greater optical clarity and it is worth spending a few pounds more for a higher quality eyeglass. I suggest purchasing a few eyeglasses of varying magnifications, I use 2.5X, 5X and 10X depending on the application. A watchmakers eyeglass is usually held in the eye socket, however, I find a wire headband is incredibly convenient as it allows the eyeglass to be suspended around the neck when not in use.
Occasionally higher magnification is required a 40X magnification jewelers loupe can be helpful.
When working on watch movements it is advised to place the movement in a movement holder. The most convenient solution is using a universal movement holder, although movement rings are also a good option. The purpose of a movement holder is to hold the movement stable when it is being disassembled and reassembled. The reason the use of a holder is advisable is it prevent protruding parts from being damaged by keeping the movement raised above the work surface. Movement holders can be custom made to hold a specific movement, however, universal holders can be had for £5-£10.
In order to access the movement, a variety of tools are needed to open the watch case. Many watch cases can be opened with a case back knife, however, water resistant watches often require a screw back tool to open and close the case. Particularly on dive watches the case backs can be extremely difficult to turn and a watch case vice may be necessary to firmly hold the case whilst the screw back tool is used to open/close the case.
Case back press
A case back press is used to close cases that have a press fitted case back. Case back presses can also be used to press fit a replacement crystal watch glass. Case back presses can be purchased for less than £15 and usually come with a variety of plastic fittings of different sizes.
Spring bar tools
The majority of bracelets and straps are secured to the case using spring bars, the best tool for removing the bracelet or strap is a spring bar tool. This is a tool that is worth spending the extra money on to get a top quality tool, as they really are worlds apart from the cheap spring bar tools available from eBay. A good option is the Bergeon spring bar tool that can be found online for around £13. Some bracelets require a pair of spring bar tools to remove the bracelet, so it is a good idea to purchase a couple!
Peg wood – a special type of wooden stick that is whittled into a point and can be used to clean watch parts. Peg wood is extremely inexpensive and is discarded after in becomes too short to use.
Finger cots – a disposable latex finger protector worn when servicing watches to prevent oils from your fingers from contaminating the watch parts. Finger cots allow for greater dexterity than using standard latex gloves.
Polyamide tape – an abrasion resistant masking tape used when refinishing watch cases and bracelets. I have a tutorial on refinishing bracelets for more details on using polyamide tape. Here is a link to the tutorial –
Grip lock bags – used for storing small parts and protecting the dial when removing the hands.
Whilst this is by no means an exhaustive list of watchmaking tools, these are the basics that you will require to dismantle and assemble a watch. I hope that you have found this post helpful. If you have any questions please contact me. If you enjoyed reading this post, please subscribe to my blog so that you are notified when I post new articles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!