Re-guilding?

Discussion in 'European & Other Pocket Watches' started by haneyk, Dec 10, 2007.

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  1. haneyk

    haneyk Registered User

    Apr 15, 2007
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    Say you have the watch case pictured below, from an 18th century verge watch. It looks like a brass case where all of the guilding has either worn off or been removed. Is re-guilding an option? How expensive would it be and does anyone know someone that does it?
     

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  2. Ansomnia

    Ansomnia Registered User

    Sep 11, 2005
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    I am not very knowledgeable about this but I have inquired about re-gilding with jewelers before. I was told it would involve disassembly, removal of all remaining gold, cleaning and then gilding. My impression was that costs depending on how much labour was involved and not so much on the gold, at least in the case of a small object.

    For a small easily accessible object, it's probably not expensive. You can always call up a reputable goldsmith and fax them a photo of the watch case along with dimensions.

    Amongst various caveats, there may be two things to be careful of. One is the selection of the type and colour of gold. It can make the object look quite bad if you put on the wrong colour of gold. It has to suit the object, preferably from a historically-authentic sense. So it would help greatly if you have identified the watch and have similar watches to select the type of gold to use.

    The other caveat I know of is the condition of details on the object. If the details are worn, gilding over them can make the object look worse because it gives a "blob-like" appearance and the added thin layer of gold simply masks the remaining details even more so. An reputable goldsmith will tell you if the re-gilding will be advisable. Your watch case looks in pretty good shape as far as details go but it's better to check with an expert on re-gilding.


    Michael
     
  3. Richmccarty

    Richmccarty Registered User

    Sep 3, 2007
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    In the old days, guilding was done by making an amalgam of mercury and gold (gold disolves in mercury), coating the object and then heating in a furnace or forge to bake off the mercury. This is called 'fire guilding' and is now illegal in most of the developed world because of the highly toxic mercury vapor.

    Modern 'guilding' ( not gold leaf ) is really electoplating and results in a different look than the old-fashioned fire guilding. Fire guilding gives a mellow soft looking finish while electroplating gives a 'hard' looking shiny surface. If you had an electroplated object next to a fire guilded object the difference would be obvious.

    Maybe a fine metals restorer could replicate the look of fire guilding, but I don't know.

    Hope this helps,
    Rich McCarty, GradBHI & West Dean College
    http://www.restoredclocks.com
     
  4. Ansomnia

    Ansomnia Registered User

    Sep 11, 2005
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    As Rich has pointed out, fire-gilding was the original gilding process; but it is deemed too unnecessarily dangerous in modern times. I'm not sure you will be able to locate someone to fire-gild your watchcase. I suspect artisans who restore priceless museum pieces may still use the same process but it would be daunting to locate such an expert for your project.

    IMO, the primary problems are the choice of gold and the thickness of the gilding. Electroplating involves plating the object with nickel before plating with gold. The added thickness of the plating will obscure details and give a smoother and undesirable look to the object. You can spot poorly-regilded antiques by their "blob-like" look.

    Wikipedia has a good discussion on GILDING.

    BTW, the correct spelling really is gilding and not "guilding". There is no such word as "guilding". A Guild is
    • "…an association of people with similar interests or pursuits; especially : a medieval association of merchants or craftsmen.
    There is no verb form for the word guild.


    Michael
     
  5. CZHACK

    CZHACK Registered User

    Apr 28, 2005
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    Haneyk,

    Do a Google search (advanced - all words) for the following "mercury gilding restoration services" and you will find companies that appear to still follow the old fire gilding process. Good luck.

    Mike
     
  6. Ansomnia

    Ansomnia Registered User

    Sep 11, 2005
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    There was a recent article written by Robert Loomes in CLOCKS Magazine about fire-gilding. He actually did it and it appears to be relatively simple but in his article he mentions some caveats. He has posted that article here.

    Another possible avenue to explore is to ask the goldsmith if he can electroplate the object without first adding the nickel plating. I haven't inquired about this before but if it is possible then the overall plating would be made thinner, helping preserve the details. Perhaps the colour of the gold may also take on a more authentic look.

    It is known that plated gold, regardless of the plating process, will slowly mix with the metal(s) beneath it, be it silver, brass, nickel or some other metal. Nickel apparently has the least tendency to mix with the gold, and thus results in more durable plating. But perhaps it is partly in the process of this slow mixing that the colour of antique gold plating takes on a particular look. The mixing of brass and gold would surely give a different result from that of nickel and gold.


    Michael
     

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