How do i test for Radium-based Lume?
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  1. #1
    Member ContemporaryVictorian's Avatar
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    How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    Hello! So my nan bought me this Ingersoll pocket watch from a thrift shop, she has only sent me one picture and i can see green dots around the dial and on the hands, is this radium paint? i've seen some other radium watches and it appears to turn yellow but this is green, on another watch forum somebody told me its from the 80's so it shouldn't have radium but someone else said it looks quite potent and that i shouldn't remove the back until i've tested it radium.

    Is it radium? i need to know as i want to wear it when i get it.

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    Helpful advice will be appreciated

  2. #2
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    Re: How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    Radium lume would be 50 years old now, and although the Radium is still hot, the Zinc Sulfide fluor - what actually glows - is mostly shot by now. And generally, it's gray/brown by now, too.

    If it 'charges up' with light, then loses luminescence over the course of hours, it's most likely not any kind of radioactive lume. Charge it up under a light, then go into a dark room. Notice how bright it is. Then leave it in the dark for a day and check it again.
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    Re: How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneJockey View Post
    Radium lume would be 50 years old now, and although the Radium is still hot, the Zinc Sulfide fluor - what actually glows - is mostly shot by now. And generally, it's gray/brown by now, too.

    If it 'charges up' with light, then loses luminescence over the course of hours, it's most likely not any kind of radioactive lume. Charge it up under a light, then go into a dark room. Notice how bright it is. Then leave it in the dark for a day and check it again.

    Is this something I should be concerned about? I've taken apart numerous old watches from the 1940s on up. I've been doing this for almost a year, totally disassembling them. Most of them, the lume is totally shot. I know the story about the Radium Girls (or whatever they were called), who were used to paint the dials and all died of cancer. But just curious if this is still an actual consideration?

    I know nuclear isotopes last for 100+ years, but I assumed there's so little here, and many of these older watches are so beyond their time, that it's not something i need to worry about. Is it something I need to worry about?

    I mean, I'm not going to lick the face or anything... but this post has me a little concerned.

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    Re: How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    Short answer: No. Don't lick the dial, don't snort the dust in the case.

    Longer answer: The Radium Girls were specifically instructed to 'tip' their brushes between their lips. They were told the Radium paint was totally harmless, so they'd do stuff like painting their nails and teeth with it. It wasn't just that they were painting the dials.

    Regarding hazards from working on radium-dialed watches, it's worth noting that to the best of my knowledge there was never any epidemiological wave of watchmakers dying of bone or immune cell cancers, so based on that I'd say hobbyists are probably pretty safe. You may wish to think hard before you collect hundreds of radium-dialed watches and store them where you sleep.

    Radioisotopes last between infinitesimal fractions of a second and billions of years, depending on the isotope. Radium has a half-life of 1600 years, so the lume is still radioactive even if it's not glowing. A 60 year old Radium dialed watch would still be 97% as radiactive as it was new. Tritium has a half-life of 12 years, so a 60 year old Tritium-dialed watch would have about 3% of the original radioactivity.

    Note that there have been dozens of threads over the years about Radium hazards. In the end, you have to decide how much it bothers you.
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    Re: How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneJockey View Post
    Short answer: No. Don't lick the dial, don't snort the dust in the case.

    Longer answer: The Radium Girls were specifically instructed to 'tip' their brushes between their lips. They were told the Radium paint was totally harmless, so they'd do stuff like painting their nails and teeth with it. It wasn't just that they were painting the dials.

    Regarding hazards from working on radium-dialed watches, it's worth noting that to the best of my knowledge there was never any epidemiological wave of watchmakers dying of bone or immune cell cancers, so based on that I'd say hobbyists are probably pretty safe. You may wish to think hard before you collect hundreds of radium-dialed watches and store them where you sleep.

    Radioisotopes last between infinitesimal fractions of a second and billions of years, depending on the isotope. Radium has a half-life of 1600 years, so the lume is still radioactive even if it's not glowing. A 60 year old Radium dialed watch would still be 97% as radiactive as it was new. Tritium has a half-life of 12 years, so a 60 year old Tritium-dialed watch would have about 3% of the original radioactivity.

    Note that there have been dozens of threads over the years about Radium hazards. In the end, you have to decide how much it bothers you.

    Thank you, I appreciate the information. I'll make sure not to lick any of the watch faces from now on!

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    Re: How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    The Ingersoll looks quite modern to me. No radium IMO.
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    Re: How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    Hi there,

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneJockey View Post
    ....to the best of my knowledge there was never any epidemiological wave of watchmakers dying of bone or immune cell cancers
    Consider that highly important informations were not yet shared by social media, when radium dials were common. We get daily informations about the danger of almost everything. But folks still drink water and use ladders, although both kill more people than nicotine and alcohol. So it is just a matter of time until someone will publish the average life-time reduction of watchmakers by radium dials.

    Regards, Roland Ranfft

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    Re: How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    Unfortunately, the profession of watchmaker goes out of fashion with a wristwatches faster than the masters could go to the other world from contact with radium. We will not see representative statistics.
    Regarding the watch in this thread I can say with confidence - it's not radium.
    Never resist an adequate temptation

  10. #9
    Member ContemporaryVictorian's Avatar
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    Re: How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    Thank you for all the helpful replies! Another watch to add my rotation/collection

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    Re: How do i test for Radium-based Lume?

    Hi there,

    Quote Originally Posted by GeneJockey View Post
    Radium lume would be 50 years old now, and although the Radium is still hot, the Zinc Sulfide fluor - what actually glows - is mostly shot by now. And generally, it's gray/brown by now, too.
    Probably, but not 100% sure. I recently auctioned this one, when it was some 76 years old:

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    To degrade, radium lume needs both, humidity and radiation, the later having the worse influence. Keeping the watch dry may keep the lume bright and functioning.

    Regards, Roland Ranfft
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