Thanks for visiting my vintage Hamilton watch blog. I like to restore US-made Hamilton wrist watches back to their original glory and share my experiences with other enthusiasts. Use the "Search" space below if you know what model you're looking for. Feel free to leave polite comments or questions in the spaces provided. Also check out my "watches for sale" on my Etsy site - the link is on the right, just below.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

What a Difference a Dial Makes!

I think there are two things that can make a dramatic difference in a watch... replacing the crystal and redoing the dial (and hands).

Replacing crystals is inexpensive and easy to do.  It's definitely a do-it-yourself project, especially if you have a few to do.

Getting dials redone is something that you need a professional to tackle for you - but pulling the dial and hands in order to send it off is something you can do yourself as well.

There are a few dial refinishers out there, but I like to use International Dial Co. in Ohio... their website is:  www.internationaldialco.com

There's a lot of debate about when you should refinish a dial... or even if you should finish it at all.  Definitely a nice original dial is more appealing than a nice refinished dial.  A cruddy original dial is probably more appealing than a cruddy refinished dial.  But a nice refinished dial is more appealing than a cruddy original dial.  So it really comes down to what makes for a cruddy dial?

Old luminous dials used Radium... which is a radioactive material that reacted to the luminous material and made it glow - all the time.  The radium oxidizes (rusts) but it's still radioactive and will be for thousands of years.  The good news is the crystal and case block the alpha rays.   But that's the reason you see radium burns on dials and crystals.

So to me, getting a luminous dial redone is actually an appealing thing to to.

Other dials get spotted and scratched and getting them redone makes for a nice improvement as well.

Here are some examples...

1930 Raleigh...

This Raleigh had an incorrect redial already.  You can tell because the font is incorrect.  In addition, the dial has a little bit of radium burn showing.  Getting this dial redone was a no-brainer.

Once it was redone with the correct dial pattern it looks excellent!

1959 Thor...

This Thor dial was a judgement call.  Although the dial was original, it was very spotty along the edges.  To me, when the spots become a distraction it's a good time to get it redone.

Here it is refinished.  This dial pattern is fairly simple so it's easy to get it to look like new.  I think it looks much better and without any distracting spots your eye can appreciate the unique design of this asymmetric watch.

1940 Whitman...

The 1940 Whitman was only made for one year so it's an uncommon watch.  I showcased this watch on my blog and featured how I restored the terribly worn case.  The dial was an old refinish but the finish on the dial was a little splotchy.  It's hard to tell in the before photo but it was a bit more yellow than it should be.

On the "after shot" the nice butler finished AGN dial really looks superb!  This old battered watch looks almost new again.

1930 Gladstone...

This 1930 Gladstone was a judgement call too.  Although the dial was spotted, it was evenly spotted so that's more of a "patina" and can actually have a pleasing look.  The case on this Gladstone is very good which is a nod in favor of getting the dial redone.

In this after-shot the dial and hands looks great with matching lume.  The watch looks almost new and that nasty old radium is gone.

1924 Illinois...

This old Illinois Cushion was a funny little watch... not so little really as it has a larger 3/0 movement.

You could wear this watch on the inside of the right wrist and it would be easy to tell the time.  "Back in the day", as they say, wrist watches were worn on the inside of the wrist.  Worn on the outside, this orientation makes for an uncomfortable head nod to read the time.  This orientation of the dial is also appropriate for a pendant watch or pocket watch.  The non-matching lume on the dial and hands is a little distracting too.

Here it is redone with a "seconds at nine" pattern.  This is a very cool layout in my opinion and the matching lume on the dial and hands pulls it all together.

Like I said above, getting a dial redone and replacing the crystal can make a dramatic improvement on an old watch.  Getting the movement overhauled to run like new is the first step - but these finishing touches really go a long way - that's for sure.


  1. Hi, here Joaquin, from Sevilla (Spain, what a very nice watches you have. I love vintage Hamilton watches, I own several of them. Looking closely several Hamilton Martin watches the I have observed substantial differences of the way that the second marks are drawn, and the spaces between them aren't identical. So, my question is, are the marks drawn by hand at the Hamilton factory, or maybe all the watches that I saw have redone dials? thank you and best regards

    1. Each dial has a pattern (or even more than one if multiple prints are involved) and what you're seeing is likely the result of different patterns being used. This occurs frequently with the Martin. Technically the 5 second marks should be more prominent and in many cases they appear to miss this detail.

  2. Thank you very much for the information. I just purchase a Martin and the placements of the seconds marks is very irregular. The seller said that looks like a refinish dial, but I am not sure because I have seen some Martin dials with the marks very much like those on my watch, Maybe can I share a pic of the watch with you? but I dont know the way

  3. I just send a pic to your email of my Martin. Thank you

  4. I am confused about the lume color on restored watches. I see many of the restored 1920's Hamiltons offered for sale with greenish numerals and hands. I also see some with other colors, sort of brownish or gold. What is the deal? Which is the most accurate to the original watches? Thanks.

    1. Luminous paint back in the day was radium-based and the gamma rays made the material in the paint glow. Sometimes the glow was blue, sometimes green and sometimes white. Maybe even other colors but those in pretty sure were the standards. Over time the paint burned out and even though the radium will still send out gamma rays for thousands of more years, the material that glowed is gone and left behind brown, green or khaki colored paint. Some dial refinishers redo dials with “vintage” lume that looks old but still glows but without radium.

      So the bottom line is usually white dials have a light green lume and dark dials have white but beyond that you can spice it up.

    2. “I’m pretty sure”, not in.

  5. I have been following your site for some time and it has been very informative. I have been looking for opinions on redialing watches. I have redialed several that I have sold, of course selling it as redialed. I have always got good feedback on the appearance. But see a lot of comments on forums and other sites and some people are adamant that redialing a watch ruins it and decreases the value. I agree that if you have a very rare watch you might not want to redial even if the dial is not in the best of condition. What are your thoughts on watch value and redialing? Or is value not a consideration and do you only look at it from the perspective of appearance?

    1. It depends. Vintage Omegas and Rolexes, etc can be severely penalized for refinished dials, or better said, original dials are prized. That said, it’s usually because it’s hard to get a refinished dial done as perfectly as an original dial. When it comes to Hamiltons it also depends. Refinishing dials was part of the old Hamilton service process. If you sent in your watch for service they would often replace the dial. It was done correctly and you were nine the wiser. Lots of “original” dials are, in fact, old correct refinished dials. Most pre 1940 dials are engraved dials... you really can’t screw them up as long as the color is correct. Having a refinished dial has very little impact on value relative to something like a worn out case. If the dial is not done well or correctly or has an unusual color (red, green, etc) then the value in my opinion is significantly reduced. But there’s a sucker born every day... right? At least that’s what some eBay sellers are counting on.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thanks Dan, I was thinking along the same lines although I was not aware that refinishing was part of the service for Hamilton. If that is the case I am sure there are very few Hamilton watches with an original dial. Unless they were serviced by the local watchmaker and not returned to the factory for service. I have had a couple redialed by International and I was very impressed with the workmanship and detail.