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Sterling Dial Pocket Watch - to Restore or Not Restore?

wspohn

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Generally speaking, a tremendous amount of damage and loss of value takes place with antiques, including timepieces, due to inept or misguided restoration attempts.

I have a watch from the 1870s that came down in my family, so will never be sold, so value isn't my primary purpose. Because the dial is sterling, it has of course gone dark/black over the last 150 years, though the gold brightwork actually looks rather nice against that background.

Most of the sterling dial watches I see have been left aged as is rather than being restored and I wondered where people stand on this, as I have had thoughts of carefully polishing the silver portion. And if you vote for cleaning, would the best way to do that be to remove the hands and then the dial first?

Maker is Alexander Kelt of Dundee Scotland. I haven't taken the time to check the date on the sterling case but no doubt either before or during Kelt's active period.

What would you do?

The watch runs well, though no doubt it is in need of maintenance.

(BTW, the sterling watch chain is not original to the watch).

P7270179_0192.JPG
 

svenedin

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I cannot advise about whether you wish to leave it as it is or clean it; that is up to you.

If you do decide to clean the dial it must be done off the watch. You do not want any type of cleaning product or dirt to contaminate the movement. If it were me, I would not use any type of metal polish because all of them are abrasive and they could harm the delicate machined pattern on the dial. I would use a "dip" type treatment on both the dial and the case (having removed the movement). I have had great success cleaning silver watch cases with very hot water, baking soda and aluminium foil. This is a well known method for removing tarnish from silver cutlery, jewellery etc. It is simple, absolutely non-abrasive and no silver metal is lost. It only requires a soft toothbrush on really stubborn tarnish. You can repeat the process several times -the water gets extremely dirty. The silver must be in physical contact with the aluminium foil because what is actually happening is an electrolytic process. The tarnish on the silver is silver sulphide but the aluminium being more reactive combines with the sulphur instead so that the silver sulphide tarnish is turned back to silver and the aluminium becomes coated with aluminium sulphide. After the case and dial is clean it must be rinsed extremely thoroughly in clean water, patted dry and then left to dry. I have used a fan oven at 50 degrees centigrade with the door open to dry cases very thoroughly over an hour or so. Before putting the dial back on you might want to consider a very light coat of Renaissance wax to inhibit future tarnishing.

That's my tuppence on cleaning silver. I'll leave it to the experts to explain how to remove (and re-fit) the hands, remove the movement from the case and remove the dial. You do need to know how to do it and need some tools to avoid damage.

Of course, if you feel this is all too much you could entrust the watch to a watchmaker to do it all for you.

PS: if it were mine I'd clean it up and have it running.

Stephen
 
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gmorse

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Hi wspohn,

I wholeheartedly agree with Stephen on this, both in his approach and in the method he describes. The silver dials and cases were clean and bright when they came from the makers, so to appreciate their craftsmanship now, the surfaces need to be clean, whilst, most importantly, remaining as far as possible undamaged.

DSCF6031.JPG DSCF6047.JPG DSCF6352.JPG

This dial was cleaned using the auto-electrolysis technique which Stephen describes.

Regards,

Graham
 

svenedin

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Thank you Graham. I would add a further refinement to the cleaning process I describe. Before placing the silver item in the cleaning bath it is a good idea to do a pre-clean with some ordinary dish detergent and then rinse. This removes grease/oil from the surface of the silver which can inhibit the cleaning process.
 
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gmorse

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Hi Stephen,

This removes grease/oil from the surface of the silver which can inhibit the cleaning process.
It also has the effect of reducing the surface tension of the water and improving the 'wetting' effect. Some ultrasonic tank manufacturers recommend it as well, even if you're floating smaller containers in the water in the tank.

Regards,

Graham
 

Dr. Jon

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I would also suggest that before using water and detergent you soak the dial in a lacquer removing solvent on the possibility that someone may have put a coat of lacquer on it.
 

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