My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

Thread: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

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  1. #1
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    Question My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    Hello all - I've just recently become interested in vintage watches, and picked up a pair of watches from eBay, largely because I like the style. While I'm waiting for them to actually arrive, I'm trying to get as much information about cleaning and general care - or whatever my next steps should be - as I can.

    The first is what I believe to be a 1940 Bulova Beacon, is in running condition, and set me back about $60:
    Name:  MVC-353S.JPG
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    The second is a Fontain brand watch I know nothing about, and isn't running, but at $14 was too interesting to pass up:
    Name:  P1060470.jpg
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    So, where do I go from here? What would you all do? I have no real watch tools (although I have many suited for small electronics work), and no specialty cleaners, but am willing to pick up some.

    I'm particularly interested to see if I can clean up the dial on the Fontain, with some understanding that dial cleaning can be particularly hazardous. Is it true that even *touching* the dial by accident can be disastrous? To even start cleaning the dial, will I need to remove the hands, and will that require a special tool? Can I easily find and install a replacement winding knob on my own? Honestly, I really like the way the Fontain looks, but at $14 and non-running (with no winding knob), if I kill it, no huge loss.

    The Bulova I want to be more careful with, but would like to polish it up a bit, and use as an everyday watch. Again, it would be nice to have the dial polished up a little as well - but don't want to risk destroying it in this case. It does look more like it might be amenable to polishing, than the Fontain, though...

    Anyway, thanks for any help you can give me!

  2. #2
    Member Ray916MN's Avatar
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    Re: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    Although running, both watches should probably be mechanically serviced if they do not keep time within 30seconds or so a day. Mechanical service means disassembly of the entire movement, ultrasonic cleaning and then reassembly with special lubricants applied to specific pivots and bearing points in the movement. There are some special skills and special tools required to do this. Some people buy total junk watches to learn on. Timezone.com has online courses for learning how to service watches and also offers tool kits to go along with the courses, providing a great way for a hobbyist to learn.

    With respect to cosmetic restoration, it is true that dials can be easily ruined in cleaning attempts. Oils or solvents can easily strip finishes, create splotching or dissolve lettering. Special tools are required to remove and install hands and poor tools or poor use can easily ruin hands. Generic crowns (winding knobs) are widely available and inexpensive, so if you're looking to replace the crown that shouldn't be too hard and is typically replaced with the winding stem. Removing the stem so the crown can be replaced is generally not too difficult, but how to do it varies from movement to movement. If your thought is to replace the crown with an original crown (ie. one with some specific logo, knurling or appearance) this is very difficult to do in general on vintage watches. Correct specific crowns for watches are generally only available through original manufacturers and often they are only available as part of manufacturer authorized service.

    Personally, I leave dials alone, unless they are so bad, there is nothing to lose. Once you've seen the indices and numbers on a dial get ruined in a cleaning attempt rendering the dial pretty much useless you realize that as bad as you think a dial might look it isn't really too hard to make it look worse. The same goes for ruining hands and then realizing that you can't get similar looking hands or that if you get new hands, they stick out too much against an aged patina dial and ruin the way a vintage watch looks.

  3. #3
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    Re: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    I'd leave the dials alone as well, especially the Fontain due to the radium that's painted on the numbers and hands. Radium has the possibility of flaking off the dial in powder form and you don't want to breathe it in--it's nasty stuff.

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  5. #4
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    Re: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    very nice!!
    Quote Originally Posted by nwfisk View Post
    Hello all - I've just recently become interested in vintage watches, and picked up a pair of watches from eBay, largely because I like the style. While I'm waiting for them to actually arrive, I'm trying to get as much information about cleaning and general care - or whatever my next steps should be - as I can.

    The first is what I believe to be a 1940 Bulova Beacon, is in running condition, and set me back about $60:
    Name:  MVC-353S.JPG
Views: 4586
Size:  37.3 KB

    The second is a Fontain brand watch I know nothing about, and isn't running, but at $14 was too interesting to pass up:
    Name:  P1060470.jpg
Views: 4613
Size:  45.1 KB

    So, where do I go from here? What would you all do? I have no real watch tools (although I have many suited for small electronics work), and no specialty cleaners, but am willing to pick up some.

    I'm particularly interested to see if I can clean up the dial on the Fontain, with some understanding that dial cleaning can be particularly hazardous. Is it true that even *touching* the dial by accident can be disastrous? To even start cleaning the dial, will I need to remove the hands, and will that require a special tool? Can I easily find and install a replacement winding knob on my own? Honestly, I really like the way the Fontain looks, but at $14 and non-running (with no winding knob), if I kill it, no huge loss.

    The Bulova I want to be more careful with, but would like to polish it up a bit, and use as an everyday watch. Again, it would be nice to have the dial polished up a little as well - but don't want to risk destroying it in this case. It does look more like it might be amenable to polishing, than the Fontain, though...

    Anyway, thanks for any help you can give me!

  6. #5
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    Re: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    Yeah... I was thinking maybe that was radium, and that radium on my skin or in my lungs was probably a bad thing. I was also thinking it would be interesting to have a watch with a nice, shiny case and slightly battered dial. I am, ultimately, hoping to actually wear these watches.

    I'll wait to receive the watch, and do some more reading, before I start asking specific questions about removing the stem (thanks for the proper terminology). The timezone link looks really useful.
    Last edited by nwfisk; January 27th, 2011 at 16:33.

  7. #6
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    Re: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    Thanks! Glad to know I made some decent purchases.

  8. #7
    Member AbslomRob's Avatar
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    Re: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    I took the timezone courses when I started out; I found the first one wasn't nearly as useful as the second one, but I'd been pulling apart pocket watches for a while before I took them. Its worthwhile to get a couple of 14s or larger pocket watch movements to start with; it takes a while to get comfortable manipulating small screws with tweezers, and pocket watches have (mostly) larger screws that are a bit easier to work with. That helps you develop the skills and confidence with the tools that'll make it easier to work on the smaller movements. The oiling portion of the timezone courses (along with the materials in the kit) are an excellent starter (I'm still using the stuff I got from my kit; it lasts a LONG time), and worth the investment. For cleaning, you can just use lighter fluid and a soft-bristle toothbrush. Make a muck-board by taking some clean scrap wood, and drilling various sizes of small holes in it; then you can put the gears into the holes to make it easier to clean them. After they're dry, polish them with another (clean) toothbrush charged with chalk, then blow them clean with a blower (a turkey baster works, or one of those baby nose cleaners).
    My growing collection of "affordable" vintages: http://www.abslomrob.com

  9. #8
    Member ltri's Avatar
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    Re: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    I have the exact same fontain watch, the weird thing is mine is in the exact opposite condition as yours. The dial is in very bad condition, the hands are rusted the crystal is yellow and broken but the movement works. It was very dirty on the outside and inside. the case back and bezel in hinged to the body of the case and the movement is a 6 jewel. I will show pics later. I think the case or maybe the whole watch is a pre helbros because the inside of the back is stamped Helbein Bros.
    I'm a watchbreaker not a watchmaker.

  10. #9
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    Re: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    I bet that Bulova cleans up nice after you polish or replace the crystal. The dial might be very clean.

  11. #10
    Member Outta Time's Avatar
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    Re: My First Vintage Watches - Questions about Cleaning and Care?

    A full service for a vintage watch is essential. Without it, they may run fine for awhile, or they may not. If the lube has dried up it will destroy itself in short order. If it has been oiled excessively, or dipped in WD 40, this also can degrade and etch and corrode parts. Simply rinsing the movt in lighter fluid does not cut it. Any oils or residue, including dried up lube, dirt, or old grease, will dissolve in the Naptha and be washed into crevices or under plates, and be deposited pretty much everywhere. The jewels in the balance must be cleaned separately and to do this, the watch must be dis-assembled and cleaned with cleaning solutions and rinses. We use ammoniated hydrocarbon type solutions by L&R. The hairspring in particular, must be cleaned and rinsed separately to avoid any contamination of any kind with oils or dirt in solution. Once this is done, the watch must be properly lubed, the balance jewels re-assembled after being lubed, and the mainspring greased. You can get away with using four lubricants for this: 8300 for the mainspring, D5 for the keyless works, 9415 for the escape wheel teeth/pallet stones and 9010 for the 4th, and escape wheel pivots. What I'm getting at, here, is that it is not a simple process that can be addressed by an 'all in one' solution. I see watches that have had irreparable damage done to them by running without service, and while they continue to run, it isn't running very well, or barring a complete gear train, balance and/or jewel replacement, become junkers.
    Having destroyed dials myself, I can say with confidence, it is a tricky business. I have had very limited success restoring dials, and even water can strip the lettering.
    And one more thing, if I haven't caused enough dismay- repeated use of ultrasonics can and will strip plating off movts. We use L&R machines with no ultrasonic action.
    I suppose it all depends on how much you value the watch, I am also guilty of wearing a watch unserviced, a NOS diver I got at a flea market, and it was destroyed in less than 3 months. Fortunately in my case, I was on my way to watchmaking school and was able to rebuild my watch, which would not have been possible otherwise.

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