Ok, before I take heat on this post here is the disclaimer: The information contained in this post is only meant to convey my experiences and lessons learned over the last few years of collecting watches. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK- I am not suggesting using any of my methods or ideas so please don't PM me how you destroyed your Rolex and are taking me to small claims court. I am NOT a professional but over the last few years have re-finished literally hundreds of watches and here is what I have learned- hopefully it is useful to someone. At the end of this post I will put a few before and after pics for your enjoyment
Now this first tip is sure to draw some fire (and probably some laughs from the watch snobs) and I will probably get people accusing me of owning a retail Kiosk in the mall and trying to pump this product but for very light scratches I have found that using the "Miracle Cloth" is well, actually a miracle. They are sold in probably every mall in the country by the pushy Kiosk salespeople that most of us try to avoid making eye contact with and buying one is akin to bartering with an Arab rug trader but they really do work. I have no idea how/why they work and perhaps the active chemical that magically makes scratches disappear is radioactive and giving me testicular cancer but they work wonders. While the Miracle Cloth isn't the main product and you probably won't see it displayed in the Kiosk almost every one of the Kiosk selling jewelry cleaners (if you have been to a mall in the last decade you have certainly seen the "touch of purple" or "Razzle Dazzle" vendors) also sell the Miracle Cloth. They are inexpensive and last a very long time. Usually if you buy the cleaner they will throw in a miracle cloth. Quick note on the cleaners- the original Razzle Dazzle purple death solution works really well. The touch of purple is the environmentally friendly new alternative and shines better but the original RD is better at getting corrosion or rust off (I will take the movement out and soak the case/bracelet in this stuff and it works great). The cloth also works really well on brushed surfaces- I got a Rolex YM from a guy that owed me money and it was beat to hell and the miracle cloth did an amazing job on the brushed band. Be careful using on gold plated watches (especially vintage) and test an area first as you may rub the gold off.
For deeper scratches or re-finishing jobs I have found using a dremel rotary tool and Dialux polishing compounds is the best method. Before I go into depth there are a couple of general guidelines I have found helpful:
1. In general the higher quality of watch and material the easier it is to polish. I am not suggesting you pick up a dremel and go to work on your Patek or Rolex and it took me about a year of working on cheaper watches before i felt confident enough to even try to polish my higher end pieces but once you do they are far easier to polish. Cheaper watches with base or blended metals tend to get easily discolored and turn pink even with light polishing. So, if you have fashion watch like Diesel or Fossil be very careful and test an area first (like bottom side of lug). I have found that even watches from the same brand or manufacturer will vary greatly in respect to materials. I bought several huge "lots of watches" to experiment on and play around with and for instance one Fossil watch might hold up to heavy polishing on deep scratches and another similar looking one will turn pink immediately so enter at your own risk. I look at it this way- if the watch is so beat up I wouldn't wear it anyway i have nothing to lose by trying just be prepared to toss it in the trash if you F it up. Medium quality watches tend to get swirls in the finish which can be tough to get out (more on that later).
2. Take the time to tape off the crystal, bezel, or any other area you do not want to damage when you polish. I am very ADD and have little patience and learned this lesson the hard way (about 100 times before i actually "learned"). This is especially important on cheaper watches with acrylic crystals the drill WILL destroy the crystal if it is touched. A sapphire crystal (and most mineral/glass) will not get damaged if you accidentally touch it with the polishing wheel so use your own discretion- with a little experience you will know the ones u need to tape.
3. The polish will fly all over the place so use protective eyewear and make sure you are in an area you don't mind getting dirty. The dust from the wax will be everywhere and your wife will put your balls in a vice after repeatedly cleaning up your mess (i learned that lesson as well). Put a big piece of cloth or big towel down to catch all the dust and make clean up easier.
I use a cordless Dremel 8220 and set the speed right in the middle of the setting (my indicator has worn off so not sure what rotation/per second it is). For general polishing and very light scratches on stainless I use the Green Dialux polish and a small felt polishing wheel- they come in different sizes so you will need to find the one that is best suited for the job. If you are doing a lot of polishing like I do i suggest you go online and buy OEM wheels, the Dremel ones cost around $5-6 for FOUR which is ridiculous. On Amazon you can buy like a pack of 100 for under $20 and you will go thru a LOT of them. I bought this watch on eBay last week and here are some before and after pics:
This watch was obviously beat to hell and required a lot of work and basically i had to strip the whole damn watch down. For this I used the Orange Dialux compound which is very abrasive and will leave a finish which is almost brushed looking as you are basically taking the top layer off the steel. Once you get the deep scratches out you have to go over the whole watch again with the Dialux Green compound to polish out the scratches from the Orange and get the final shine.
I was lucky- the UN watch above polished very easily with no swirls and the fact that the entire watch had the same finish made the job a lot easier. It probably took me a total of 2 hours to get it to this point (doing it on commercial breaks from football). Often you end up with a finish that is "swirled" or cloudy and you will have to experiment with various polishing wheels and see which one works on that particular watch. For most watches the Dremel 423E cloth polishing wheel and using a lower speed will remove the swirls (using the green or silver dialux). I have noticed on many solid gold watches that i have to use a cotton buff wheel with some polish on it (they are sold on Amazon, they fall apart and are kind of a pain as they throw cotton all over the place when you first use them).
For general polishing of normal scratches on stainless steel the Dialux blue works the best and usually you do not have to do a follow up polish with the green. Use the red Dialux for Gold and Gold Plated watches.
Be realistic when evaluating the watch, some dings and scratches are just too deep to get out without damaging the watch and the best you can hope for is to smooth them out so they are not so noticeable. Also, If you do not remove the movement be mindful of the heat so you don't damage the movement.
For brushed finishes you can use the Dremel but it is far easier to use a scotch brite pad and just manually go back in forth in the direction you want the brushed look. This is kind of scary, especially with higher end watches. I just did a Rolex Yachtmaster using the scotch brite and it came out nicely. The Rolex was so beat up that i figured i had nothing to lose and it came out great. Here is a pic of the Rolex where u can see i polished one piece of the band next to the unpolished piece: