Restoration Work (Part 1)

Restoring damaged watch hands

Well the past two days I finally got a bit of time in with my hobby again.

On the desk right now I have four Pierce 134 chronographs in various states of repair. The first is actually the Navigator that I serviced earlier which is now in need of a new balance staff.  The watch was repaired completely but then took a spill onto the center console of my wife’s Mini Cooper which resulted in a bent pivot. A replacement is on the way from Australia.

IMG_0575The second, third, and fourth Pierce watches all needed a full restoration. With two of the watches waiting on parts, I felt today was a good day to concentrate on the aesthetics of each piece.

Each of the three watches had hands that were either in need of restoration or replacement. Unfortunately for me, the proper hands for Pierce chronographs are pretty difficult to come by. I have checked with my normal suppliers and found that not only are new old stock replacements non-existant (which is not surprising considering that Pierce SA has been non-existant for a few decades) but acceptable generic hands are difficult to find as well.

This has left me with the unenviable task of restoring the originals or fabricating replacements; this week I’m concentrating on the former.

First things first- I removed the hands from each watch for the purpose of servicing the movement and set them aside for later. The Navigator below did not have the original hour and minute hands so I discarded them but kept the small minute recorder and sweep second hands as they looked proper.

Wrong hour and minute hands

Most Pierce chronographs have leaf or diamond styled hour and minute hands which are painted with luminous compound. The smaller minute recording hand is also a leaf style while the small running seconds hand is typically straight forward and embelishment free. The sweep second hand is painted red and has a small “pip” on the tail as a counter balance. The rest of the hands are blued steel.

The gold filled Navigator below has the proper hands but they are in a bad way. Each is rusted and the sweep second hand is missing entirely. The luminous compound is absent from the hour and minute hands.

No luminous paint = no glow in the dark

And this nickel plated Navigator has an improper minute recording hand (in red) and is missing its sweep second hand.

And these where actually blue at one time

The hands were soaked in paint thinner for twenty-four hours to loosen any remaining luminous compound. With the luminous compound softened, I worked each under the stereo microscope with pegwood and rodico to remove any remaining bits of luminous compound.

The luminous compound on these watches used Radium to activate the phosphorescent agent in the paint. Radium has a half life of 1600 years so even though the paint no longer glows, it is really no less dangerous than the day it was applied. Much care is therefore observed when working with the hands or dials. After removing the last of the paint the hands took a bath in the ultrasonic cleaner.

With the hands now clean (and my workstation thoroughly cleaned as well) it was easy to see a proper polishing was in order as some hands suffered from rusting while others had simply oxidized enough to lose their blue color.

Blue color has been oxidized away

I broke out the cordless Dremel tool and jeweler’s polish.

The Dremel is good at flinging small watch parts

Working again under the microscope and with the lowest Dremel setting, I polished each hand. It didn’t take long for them to sparkle but to return the blued steel appearance I would first need to polish each hand to a mirror finish. After achieving the desired finish each piece was worked again with pegwood and Rodico to remove excess polishing compound.

This one is starting to look pretty good

With a bit of patience each of the damaged hands were prepped for bluing.

Note that I found a replacement minute recording hand

Next week I’ll begin the bluing process with a burner and brass shavings. Wish me luck!

Author: JPMoeller

Amateur watchmaker and California resident

2 thoughts on “Restoration Work (Part 1)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: