How to Clean Antique Watch Faces

Written by rob wagner
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Cleaning an antique watch face or dial is a straightforward exercise. Cleaning the dial can be accomplished by removing it from the movement, which is the spring mechanism that runs the watch. The face can be soaked in cleaning liquid. It can also be gently scrubbed with a cotton swab while still attached to the movement. Although removing the dial from the movement is recommended to keep the movement safe and give the face a thorough cleansing, performing the task while it's still attached still provides good results. Use proper watchmaker tools for disassembly.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Cotton swabs
  • Toothpick
  • Gentle liquid dish soap
  • Hair dryer or small blower
  • Watchmaker's precision screwdrivers
  • Hands Remover
  • Case blade

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  1. 1

    Wedge a case blade between the case and case back on a snap case of an antique wristwatch and gently it pry open. There may be two tiny screws fastening the movement to the case. Use a screwdriver to remove the screws. Remove the movement from the wristwatch. Some wristwatches have no screws fastening the movement to the case. The movement should loosen and come right out.

  2. 2

    Open the case back of an antique pocket watch by unscrewing the two screws that fasten the movement to the case. Unscrew counterclockwise the bezel that holds the crystal in place on the front of the pocket watch. Pull the crown, located at the 12 o'clock position, all the way out. Tilt the movement and dial at an angle to free the dial from the stem attached to the crown and lift it out of the case.

  3. 3

    Place the hands remover on the dial over the post holding the hands and gently remove the hour, minute and second hands.

  4. 4

    Loosen, but do not remove, two tiny screws on an antique wristwatch at the edge of the movement or the three tiny screws on a pocket watch. Wriggle the dial loose from the movement.

  5. 5

    Use a toothpick to remove dirt from the face. Drop the dial, or face, into a cup of warm soapy dish water and let it soak. Remove the dial after a thorough soak and use a cotton swap to gently scrub it. Be careful not to scrub the raised markers or numbers too hard. They are delicate and could be damaged.

  6. 6

    Use a hair dryer on a cool setting or a small blower immediately to dry the dial. Water stains can easily result if the face is not properly dried.

  7. 7

    Reassemble the hands and dial to the movement and the movement into the case in the reverse order that you disassembled them .

Tips and warnings

  • Keep the dryer a good distance from the watch face. The forced air could beak off a marker.
  • Do not force the dial from the movement. By forcing off a dial, the face could crease and crack the porcelain on older antique pocket watches.

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