Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?
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  1. #1
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    Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    Hey guys I got these two radium watches for free, a Bulova and a Hamilton. Both have good movements but don't run. I read all about them and how they give off a little radiation but nothing harmful. However, I really want to get them cleaned up because although I know it may be harmless I'd rather not have it on there lol. What would you guys do? Does anyone know anyone that would clean them up for me? That would be great really!
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    It think the Bulova is an early president model?
    Last edited by Spartcom5; August 15th, 2016 at 00:09.

  2. #2
    Member Grégoire's Avatar
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    Re: Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    By "clean them up" do you mean have them redialed?

    If so, I can recommend a few places that I've seen do some pretty good work.

    PM if interested in the details.
    Check out my "Watch of the Week" on Instagram.

  3. #3
    Member pithy's Avatar
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    Re: Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    Quote Originally Posted by Spartcom5 View Post
    . . . . . I read all about them and how they give off a little radiation but nothing harmful. However, I really want to get them cleaned up because although I know it may be harmless I'd rather not have it on there lol. . . . .
    Don't confuse benign with manageable.

    Google: "Radium Girls"

    Google: "West Chicago" and "Kerr McGee"

    Ingest a few particles and you raise your risk of cancer to the point that a life insurance actuary - if aware - would assign you the maximum risk.

    Addendum: Don't even think about touting the lack of energy of the particles emitted by radium as a mitigation to risk.

    Radium isn't the issue.

    The purity of the luminous powders employed was lacking.

    Many of the preparations used were contaminated with much more deadly isotopes.

    This is why one old watch will barely register a scintillation and another will be hotter than the next ten combined.

    This is a risk that many of us in watch repair wish we would have been more fully aware of decades ago.
    Last edited by pithy; August 15th, 2016 at 02:16.

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  5. #4
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    Re: Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    Quote Originally Posted by pithy View Post
    Don't confuse benign with manageable.

    Google: "Radium Girls"

    Google: "West Chicago" and "Kerr McGee"

    Ingest a few particles and you raise your risk of cancer to the point that a life insurance actuary - if aware - would assign you the maximum risk.

    Addendum: Don't even think about touting the lack of energy of the particles emitted by radium as a mitigation to risk.

    Radium isn't the issue.

    The purity of the luminous powders employed was lacking.

    Many of the preparations used were contaminated with much more deadly isotopes.

    This is why one old watch will barely register a scintillation and another will be hotter than the next ten combined.

    This is a risk that many of us in watch repair wish we would have been more fully aware of decades ago.
    So what should I do with them then? And I don't want a redial I just want to wash the dangerous material away so the outlines of the numbers will be there.

  6. #5
    Member ThomasBombadil's Avatar
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    Re: Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    Quote Originally Posted by pithy View Post
    Don't confuse benign with manageable.
    Whoa, thanks Pithy. Googled and read. Alarming, interesting and so very sad for those concerned.

    When I was barely a teenager I helped someone pull down asbestos ceiling tiles and dispose of them. Remember them talking about the asbestos in the tiles but it didn't mean jack to me then, it does now. One of those days I'd like to live over if I could.

    In the future I will pass on any watch with ra on the dial, as there are plenty of other watches to tempt me. But looking at the OP's pics I don't see a ra on the dial. Is there another way to tell if a watch has radium? The age possibly?

  7. #6
    Member Grégoire's Avatar
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    Re: Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    Yeah, I think the age is the real giveaway. I'm not sure but I don't believe tritium was widely used until the 1950s with radium continuing on by some manufacturers until the 1960s. It would not have been commonplace to mark the dials "Ra" when those two pieces were manufactured.

    While the case of the Radium Girls is indeed tragic, it must be remembered that they were routinely licking the brushes while applying the radium material in order to shape the bristles. This was a practice imported from the ceramics painting industry from which many of the Radium Girls were recruited. They were very closely exposed to the material day after day for years on end and even still, not all of them succumbed to radium poisoning.

    Ownership of a radium watch, if the case is well sealed, would not expose you to any more radiation over a lifetime than one day at the beach. There is a danger, however, to those who may work on many of these dials as restorers, as the dust that flakes off over the years can go airborne and may be aspirated. It's probably a good idea to respect it but not freak out too much about it if you're a casual owner.
    Last edited by Grégoire; August 16th, 2016 at 02:58.
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    Re: Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    If I open up the back of the watch could there be flakes in the movement possibly? These watches need to be worked on and so far no one will service them until the radium is gone...!

  9. #8
    Member pithy's Avatar
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    Re: Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grégoire View Post
    Yaeh, I think the age is the real giveaway. I'm not sure but I don't believe tritium was widely used until the 1950s with radium continuing on by some manufacturers until the 1960s. It would not have been commonplace to mark the dials "Ra" when those two pieces were manufactured.

    While the case of the Radium Girls is indeed tragic, it must be remembered that they were routinely licking the brushes while applying the radium material in order to shape the bristles. This was a practice imported from the ceramics painting industry from which many of the Radium Girls were recruited. They were very closely exposed to the material day after day for years on end and even still, not all of them succumbed to radium poisoning.

    Ownership of a radium watch, if the case is well sealed, would not expose you to any more radiation over a lifetime than one day at the beach. There is a danger, however, to those who may work on many of these dials as restorers, as the dust that flakes off over the years can go airborne and may be aspirated. It's probably a good idea to respect it but not freak out too much about it if you're a casual owner.
    It's not the radium that poses the significant hazard.

  10. #9
    Member Grégoire's Avatar
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    Re: Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    Yes, you made that point earlier. I apologize for not being succinct enough.

    Please replace everywhere I said "radium" with "a cocktail of unknown isotopes used by various luminous paint manufacturers including The United States Radium Corporation and especially their most popular brand known as "Undark" primarily in the 1920s, which may or may not have/had contained radium but definitely contained contaminates of much deadlier isotopes.
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  11. #10
    Member pithy's Avatar
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    Re: Radium Dials... Does anyone clean them up?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grégoire View Post
    Yes, you made that point earlier. I apologize for not being succinct enough. Please replace everywhere I said "radium" with "a cocktail of unknown isotopes used by various luminous paint manufacturers including The United States Radium Corporation and especially their most popular brand known as "Undark" primarily in the 1920s, which may or may not have/had contained radium but definitely contained contaminates of much deadlier isotopes.
    Not necessarily a totally unknown cocktail of isotopes.

    Actinium was a component of Undark and it emits a beta particle that easily penetrates most plastic watch crystals.

    The beta can penetrate skin and causes spontaneous DNA mutation and can cause cancer.

    Undark also contained radium 226 with its alpha particle which if ingested often causes bone sarcomas as well as a variety of other cancers.

    Carnotite the source ore for Undark's radium contains 53% uranium by weight but only trace amounts of radium.
    Last edited by pithy; August 15th, 2016 at 09:31.
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