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Waltham A-9?

schleems18

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Oct 14, 2021
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Hi, recently picked up this watch, it seems to be all original from the outside. Watch is still sporting the same stuff green wrist band. I am wondering if anyone can provide me with some info on radium lummed hands and what precautions, if any I should take. The waterproof case? Seems to be very stuck and would take suggestions on removal as well. Thanks! IMG_20211107_080149.jpg IMG_20211107_080243.jpg
 

EscapeWheel

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That's a beauty! Many threads here suggest using a hot glue gun, squirt a batch on the rear case, slap a flat stick into the glue, wait a bit and give her a twist. It's worked for me many times. The glue comes off the case fairly easily.
 

schleems18

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I'm not sure if anyone knows where I can find a copy of the original training manual? I believe I read somewhere that the individual servicemen were trained in repairing their watches. The crown is also a little loose, which makes me think that it is possibly the original.
 

EscapeWheel

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PapaLouies

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I think the Waltham A-9, is an aircraft clock, not a wrist watch.
Regards, P/L
 

Chris Radek

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Try the rubber ball opener first. You would be surprised how often they work. The beauty is it's nearly impossible to do any damage with it.

The hands (and dial) are definitely Radium, and pretty hot, as you can see from the burnt dial where the watch displayed 2:42 for a long time. If you are going to open it, it wouldn't hurt to do it in a ventilated area, and/or to wear a mask. My understanding is the only really significant danger is inhaling any dry/crumbly particles which will sit in your lungs and zap you the rest of your life.

While the glow in the hands got used up in just a couple years, the radiation hasn't decreased significantly.
 

MrRoundel

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Nice, seemingly original, watch. I have a movement, a '42 designated 9-jewel, but no case. It's nice to have the original case, and a band of what looks to be an original design. I don't know if those cases are chromium plated, but it's some type of plating that does tend to pit and corrode. Yours looks pretty good overall.
The "A-9" in the thread's title may have come from it being a model 10609, which is the 9-jewel version of the 6/0s movement. There's also a 17J, which yours still could be, that would be have a 10617 designation. That's from the TM 9-1575 book. Enjoy.
 
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schleems18

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There is a little golden discoloration on the sides, but it's minimal and seems to be mostly on the surface. I also believe it to be the original band mostly due to the stiffness of the band and the wearing left behind after removing half of it. The crown seems loose but I haven't messed with it really at all.i plan on removing the back tonight or tmrw and will update with pics.
 

thesnark17

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I'll just echo the caution on Radium, above. Do not under any circumstances disturb the radium anywhere where you cannot immediately clean all of it up!

Outside is good. Not disturbing it is better. Replacing it with modern lume is safest, of course, but given that your lume looks to be complete and not falling apart, I wouldn't do that.

A friend had a similar watch that was rejected from the US mail for triggering a radiation sensor (yes, from within packaging!). They went ahead and tested a similar watch, and the dial was projecting ~30 μSv per hour. That's well north of a dental x-ray (5-10 μSv) and only a bit south of a mammogram (400-600 μSv)! (30 μSv * 12 hours = 360 μSv dose, for something in constant contact with the dial crystal.) The radiation is projected primarily out from the face (it's blocked by the dial, movement, and case from going the other way) - the watch is pretty safe for the wearer as long as the dial doesn't face them. Measurement at the case back was 1.6 μSv/hr versus a measured background level of 0.6 μSv/hr (so the watch adds 1 μSv/hr). Not negligible, but not incredibly dangerous either. For comparison, the average background radiation in an airplane at cruising altitude is 2.7 μSv/hr.

Inhaled or no, you do not want this stuff loose in your house... it also decomposes to radon gas, which comes with its own hazards. For undisturbed lume, the risk is extremely low though.
 

schleems18

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Alpha particles are blocked by thin layers of materiel, such as paper. Is there a coating of some kind that would work to block them? Something clear maybe? I have the watch in one of those display cases for pocket watches and pointed face down, no idea if it makes any difference what so ever. I have a 1940s chronograph with radium hands and hour indicators. From the lack of burn marks I'd guess the Chrono is drastically less hot than the ord watch. IMG_20211130_190528.jpg
 

thesnark17

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There are three types of radiation going on when radium decays: alpha [particle] radiation, beta [particle] radiation, and gamma [ray] radiation.

Alpha particles (two protons plus two neutrons) are potentially the most dangerous (if ingested) but as long as the watch is sealed, they cannot escape from it. They cannot penetrate the skin in any case. If ingested, the particles cause long-term radiation poisoning and damage/mutation that is orders of magnitude larger than other radiation. Do not leave radium open to the air in your house to avoid ingestion!!!

Beta particles (single electrons) are stopped by a few millimeters of metal, or 5+ mm of acrylic glass. They are only partially blocked by the crystal, but are substantially blocked by the dial, movement, and case. Blocking beta particles may cause them to emit gamma rays, however. Beta particles can penetrate a few centimeters into the body and will cause mutations, but they are much less dangerous than alpha particles (due to a lower total energy and quick dissipation).

Gamma rays (high-energy electromagnetic waves) are emitted whenever alpha particles or beta particles are formed, and are essentially unstoppable in this context. You would need a centimeter of lead at least. Gamma rays will go right through the body and can cause significant damage as they do so. The watch body provides minimal protection from gamma rays. Fortunately gamma rays are less damaging than the other types of radiation due to carrying less total energy (and also due to having a high chance of passing right through your body without interacting with it). However, gamma rays can mess with bone marrow and internal organs that beta particles simply can't reach.

Gamma rays are the only sort of radiation that would be around if the watch is in a display case, since beta particles would be blocked by the display glass+crystal combo.

Geiger counters do not efficiently detect gamma rays. As a result, the radiation danger from gamma radiation is not fully reflected in Geiger counter readings. The readings given above reflect primarily beta radiation since only approximately 1-4% of the gamma radiation is captured by the meter (the rays have a tendency to pass through the meter without interacting with it, just like they do with your body). It is still worth keeping in mind when thinking about wearing these early radium watches long-term that your whole body is exposed to radiation from a point source that you can't block.

Later watches use much less radium in the lume (and also less lume), as they had some understanding of how harmful it could be by then. Eventually it was replaced by tritium, which is comparatively completely safe.


TLDR: unless you will encase your watch in lead, there is nothing you can do to make it safer than it already is, aside from removing the radium.


I should also note that the watch that was stopped in the mail was missing its crystal, which would allow for a lot more beta radiation to escape. (Alpha radiation should still have been stopped by the packaging.)
 
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Dave Haynes

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Sep 12, 2000
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I knew a lot of very old watchmakers. Let's get vintage watches banned or something like that. Call your Senator and demand that radium hands be taxed and people fined for possessing them. People are very different when it comes to radiation. I had an MD friend that went to Japan to help analyze survivors of Hiroshima (This in the 90s). He said some people were totally unaffected by the radiation, others had some lingering problems.

Might remember the law of unintended consequences.
 

Jerry Treiman

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When the topic of radium on dials and hands comes up I always enjoy sharing this Waltham from about 1913. You can see how the glass crystal has been discolored from the radiation from the numbers. The hands have been re-lumed with a more modern and safe compound.
1336d4.jpg
 

schleems18

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The hands on my watch must be hotter than the sun, as it appears the radium has burnt the dial through the watch hands. I would guess the under side of those hands are looking pretty rough.
 

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