Watch case polishing tools

Leo Ross

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I’m trying very hard to learn to restore and repair turn-of-the-century watch cases for basically size 16 and size 18 and possibly smaller. Would the attached images be the proper tools to polish these type of cases?

1C901851-53ED-4F38-9073-14939CF59CF2.png 099733F1-2074-40BA-A377-D5326A453F36.png
 

musicguy

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Moved to watch repair section for best answers.


Rob
 

darrahg

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Leo, I begin by using an ultrasonic for a few minutes to remove grime and then do everything by hand as I think electric polishers are too aggressive for the detailed designs found on many cases. I also lubricate the hinge and sleeve (if present) areas after.
 

Leo Ross

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Leo, I begin by using an ultrasonic for a few minutes to remove grime and then do everything by hand as I think electric polishers are too aggressive for the detailed designs found on many cases. I also lubricate the hinge and sleeve (if present) areas after.
 

Leo Ross

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I have been doing all of my cases by hand up to this point. The cases that I am speaking of are all non-precious metal, typically nickel, and I purchased over 100 of them. I am aware that when doing precious metal cases, gold filled,or rolled gold plate, that you would certainly want to do those by hand. I was just wondering if the pictured motor and buffing wheels would be correct for cleaning up largely size 18 non-precious cases?
 

karlmansson

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I have been doing all of my cases by hand up to this point. The cases that I am speaking of are all non-precious metal, typically nickel, and I purchased over 100 of them. I am aware that when doing precious metal cases, gold filled,or rolled gold plate, that you would certainly want to do those by hand. I was just wondering if the pictured motor and buffing wheels would be correct for cleaning up largely size 18 non-precious cases?
More to do with retaining shape and details than conserving precious metal I think. With plated cases you certainly want to be able to finely control material removal.
 

Marty101

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It's a matter of restoration I believe...saving what is there and making some repairs is enough for me...most of the time a "looking like new" highly polished case does not look right in my eyes.
How long can you hide the brass on a GF case anyway? :)
It's making the best of what is left without taking away what is.
 
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DoughBoyWatches

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I’m trying very hard to learn to restore and repair turn-of-the-century watch cases for basically size 16 and size 18 and possibly smaller. Would the attached images be the proper tools to polish these type of cases?

View attachment 648291 View attachment 648292
There is no reason why precious and plated metals cant be polished. jewelers do it all the time. it takes experience and can be done very well with little material removal. It all a matter of knowing what to use on what. I suggest Rio Grande for rouge, compounds, buffs, etc.

1. A variable speed motor is needed. the cheap ones on ebay are usually 2000-3000/7000-8000rpm these are not good. They do have a cheap version that is 0-8000rpm with a hooded dust collector for $175 you will want this as polishing will make a mess of you and your workshop. you will take your goggles off and it will look like you had a rouge spray tan. Rio Grande has very nice professional options between $300-$500 but you will be fine with the cheap option.

2. Buffing Vs. Polishing: Felt is used for buffing and can remove a lot of material best used on harder metals and Stainless Steel. The harder the felt wheel the easier it is to maintain edges, wider wheels are best for flat areas. Cloth is used for polishing all metals and can be used to buff plated and precious metals. There are a few types like cotton muslin etc. but it doesnt really matter the cloth type. stitching is where you get the hardness. the more rows of stitching the harder the wheel is when spinning. These are best used for polishing hard metals and buffing precious metals. Cloth wheels with no stitching are great for getting into hard to reach spaces like between watch lugs.

3. Compound: There are so many out there they all do the job good, Rio Grande has a great selection and will give a description so you can decide what will best suite your needs. They usually make them for specific metals and for different purposes. Rouge is important because it is one of the components when combined with heat will have move material from one area to another removing scratches and filling in dings or gouges. always keep wheel saturated when buffing.

4. Speed: where variable speed comes into play. Higher speed= more heat and hardens the cloth wheel. needed for removing tough marks and scratches and keeping facet lines when buffing. High speeds are best suited when polishing as polishing is a fair quick (one swoop) process. Low Speed= less heat and softer cloth wheel. Best suited for getting into those tough spots and best used when buffing plated metals.

So: speed and pressure you put on the piece will generate the heat needed to move material. Rouge is the conduit to this process. The higher the speed, the higher the heat and will make a cloth wheel harder. Less pressure on piece is best under these parameters. Lower the speed, the less heat the more pressure on the piece will be needed.

Buffing is a very long process, a stainless steel piece you can expect 20-60min depending on severity of wear on the case. This is done in a up down motion going with the direction of the wheel. Polishing is literally just a one quick swoop in one direction going left to right or right to left. When polishing I only apply rouge to one side of the wheel, leaving other side dry. So when going across the dry side will wipe the rouge off the piece.
 

karlmansson

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Buffing is a very long process, a stainless steel piece you can expect 20-60min depending on severity of wear on the case.
I guess everything is relative. I asked Kikuchi Nakagawa how long he spends polishing each of his cases (which are all finished to an insane degree of polish and attention to detail) and he said he spends a full work week of polishing with abrasive papers on various sticks and files.

There are full courses in watchmaking schools dedicated to case polishing. And even (or maybe "especially") when using a good machine with the appropriate wheels and grit there is a very good chance of messing a case up. Making something look shiny again is the easy part, maintaining case geometry while doing so is where the skill comes in. If you are interested, look up @zimmermanwatchrepair on Instagram. They do some pretty impressive restoration using laser welding, buffing and lapping with various jigs to restore cases to original finish. It helps to see how a case CAN look when properly polished when deciding which approach you want to take.

Personally, I'm not skilled or confident enough that I can remove material so precisely with a buffing wheel that I would attempt it on a case. I use abrasive backed 3M papers of decreasing grit size on a piece of pegwood cut to my needs. Takes more time but results are more controllable and better in my opinion.

Regards
Karl
 
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DoughBoyWatches

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I guess everything is relative. I asked Kikuchi Nakagawa how long he spends polishing each of his cases (which are all finished to an insane degree of polish and attention to detail) and he said he spends a full work week of polishing with abrasive papers on various sticks and files.

There are full courses in watchmaking schools dedicated to case polishing. And even (or maybe "especially") when using a good machine with the appropriate wheels and grit there is a very good chance of messing a case up. Making something look shiny again is the easy part, maintaining case geometry while doing so is where the skill comes in. If you are interested, look up @zimmermanwatchrepair on Instagram. They do some pretty impressive restoration using laser welding, buffing and lapping with various jigs to restore cases to original finish. It helps to see how a case CAN look when properly polished when deciding which approach you want to take.

Personally, I'm not skilled or confident enough that I can remove material so precisely with a buffing wheel that I would attempt it on a case. I use abrasive backed 3M papers of decreasing grit size on a piece of pegwood cut to my needs. Takes more time but results are more controllable and better in my opinion.

Regards
Karl
it depends on the case. But yes on some cases I spent about 45min just buffing one edge. And the entire case took me about 3-4 days to finish. I have done the buff sticks and sanding and what not but i never liked the results, although i know there are some that can produce some amazing results doing so. The only sanding i do now is when i do radial lapping or lapping between lugs using a belt sander. there is this tool that you can use that attaches to the case and slowly rotates it while you lap. I have seen it but can never find it and dont know what its called, so i built a DIY version with a very low rpm motor, i think it was like 16rpm or something like that.

keeping the geometry is INDEED where the skill comes. That is when i use high speed, hard buffs, and very little pressure. when doing lugs i make sure the lug iam buffing is facing down going with the direction of the wheel. and it suffices to say some area you do need a flex shaft or dremel, and the principles apply.
 

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