Dial hazards?
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Thread: Dial hazards?

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  1. #1
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    Dial hazards?

    Hello all,

    Been lurking here and learning a ton during my slow entry (dissent?) into watch repair. Still very new to the whole thing but having read Fried, taken apart a few movements, watched hours of youtube videos and browsed these forums, I'm pretty thoroughly enamored with old mechanical watches and their rehabilitation.

    Which is why radium and other hazardous dials are now giving me fits of anxiety. In my search for interesting and inexpensive watches to work on, I've come across two that I worry now, in retrospect, might have radium dials. The first, a Swiss-made Belca with a FHF 70 movement is currently disassembled in my workspace while I await a new incabloc spring. The second, a Garland automatic, is on its way from an Ebayer. I don't know anything about the movement on the Garland, but for personal sentimental reasons I was looking forward to trying to diagnose its ailments and work on my first automatic. But shortly after my purchase, while pouring over the seller's photos for the tenth time (I know you all do this...) I noticed the dial burns which I think are a tell-tale sign of radium. Here are photos of both.]Name:  belca.jpg
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    So my question. WHAT AM I TO DO!? Firstly, what would you do? How do you evaluate risk on these things? I am fortunate to work at a university, so I can probably take them over to the geology or physics department to borrow a geiger counter. But in the meantime, anyone have any opinion on what I'm dealing with here?

    Thanks in advance for any thoughts (and I should note that I've read a ton on here about the radium debate - really just reaching out to you all as a function of my own anxiety more than anything else).

  2. #2
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    Re: Dial hazards?

    Quote Originally Posted by abgrace View Post
    learning a ton during my slow entry (dissent?) into watch repair.
    *descent

    I should also note that I took the Belca dial and hands out into the full sun just now to try and "charge" them to see if they harbored any residual glow in the dark. And no, they don't.

  3. #3
    DON
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    Re: Dial hazards?

    Don't lick the dials for a start and you will be fine. Not enough on the dials to cause you any harm. Yes the counter will register, but still not enough. It's said you got more from various electronic devices than from a watch.

    DON
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  4. #4
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    Re: Dial hazards?

    abgrace...you ask a good question...from all that I've been able to learn over many years, and--if you will--a fair amount of Common Sense: it's not dangerous to work on a watch with a radium dial / hands. Just, be careful not to upset the material, and see to it that any debris therefrom is 'properly disposed of'.

    I've long felt, that a careful person's chances of health problems accruing from working on radium-bearing watches, is far, far less, say, than driving a car 100 miles to see one's favorite band in concert.

    Enjoy your watch adventures...buy the best tools you can afford, never force anything, think before moving into new territories, and never be bashful about feeling the need to draw a diagram of unusual mechanisms BEFORE taking them apart! Michael.
    Molliedooker likes this.

  5. #5
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    Re: Dial hazards?

    But was it a decent descent...or did it result in a dissenting opinion????

    1. "...I took the Belca dial and hands out into the full sun just now to try and "charge" them to see if they harbored any residual glow in the dark. And no, they don't."

    Radium luminescence is not charged from exposure to light...radium is a natural emitter of radiation...with R 226 having a half-life of 1600 years. The most commonly used phosphor (luminous material) is zinc sulfide...which degrades over time...and though the radium is still emitting radiation, the phosphor no longer transforms the energy into visible light.

    2. The chief issue with radium is ingestion...your body recognizes it as Calcium and when ingested it can be laid down in bone...and stay there a VERY long time. The concentrated local emission of radiation can cause mutation in surrounding cells and lead to cancer.

    This is worth a read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radium#History

    Is there any risk to the watchmaker? Yes...but the primary risk is ingestion...and the more you ingest, the greater the risk. If you want to avoid the risk altogether, don't handle radium dials. For that matter, if it is going to keep you up at night, there are risks related to sleep deprivation...so don't handle radium dials...lack of sleep might kill you... (:

    BTW, I think I'd graduate from small seconds to sweep seconds...then graduate to autowinding and other complications...
    I like to become thoroughly competent with the foundation before building upon it...

    Regards, BG
    Last edited by BenchGuy; April 10th, 2017 at 13:05.
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  6. #6
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    Re: Dial hazards?

    Thanks everyone for the feedback. I'm arranging an appointment with a geiger counter this week just to see what level of risk I'm dealing with. Will post an update here when I get some results. And, BenchGuy, I agree that it's probably wise to begin with sub-seconds, move to sweeps and then grow from there. I'm being a little overanxious. So maybe the Garland will just hang out for a while until I'm ready for that. And thanks also for the note about luminosity. I have read that before, but came across a few places where people tried to "charge" their radium dials to try and discern whether or not there was radium present (despite, as you say, the luminous material being what burns out long before the radium). As you all are fully aware, there's lots of contradictory advice about the subject strewn across the internet and this forum - everything from "I accidentally slept near a radium watch, will I die?" to "don't lick the dial." And then, even with helpful sites like this one, the end conclusion is "These radium dials aren't going kill you instantly, or even within a few years." Rhetorically speaking, that's not the most reassuring way to phrase a risk assessment - especially to a nascent watch tinkerer just south of 40 with two small children.

    The existential dilemma continues. Maybe I'll just limit myself to working on dials that have zero lume. Or maybe, fingers crossed, these watches are not emitting tons of radiation...

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