Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Wristwatch Case Restoration Done the Right Way.

So, a friend of mine, let’s call him ‘Horatio’, went and bought himself a pre-owned Omega Seamaster Chrono. It's an older model than the current version which looks like this;

 Picture courtesy of

But otherwise, it pretty much looks identical. Anyway, he brought it over to show me. The dial seems to look okay. The lume has begun to go creamy/light green, but otherwise, it’s alright. The lume is basically that- the luminous, glow-in-the-dark compound that allows you to read the time on your watch at 4:ooam with the lights off. These days, it's known in the Watchosphere by its brand name, SuperLuminova. 

See how those hour-marker dots look a little creamy? When the watch was new, they were white. Exposure to light over time does this. Exposure to water will cause them to turn greenish and then brown as time goes by. Oh yeah, apologies for the blurry photo, but you get my drift.

However, the case and bracelet have seen better days. Much better days. This watch has lived a life. The fifteen and twenty minute markers on the bezel are quite heavily scratched on both the bezel ring and the insert. Miraculously, the sapphire crystal looks flawless, but then, it's designed to take quite a few hits and scrapes before you do any noticeable damage to it. 
But, the bezel!

It's obviously had a decent scrape at some point. Ah well, they are meant to be worn, after all. And the bezel ring has some irreparable damage. It is an aluminium insert and, while it is reasonably impervious to scratching, whoever owned it before Horatio gave it a nice going-over.

There’s also a nasty dent on the seven o’clock lug. 

The worst part is the bottom chrono pusher, which has one big dent in it. I'd say the previous owner came off a bicycle. Very fast, very hard. I hope he's okay.

Now, when Omega gets a watch like this in for repair, they will usually replace all of the chronograph pushers and crowns as a matter of course. This will tend to add a couple of hundred dollars to the repair bill. I have been told in the past that these pushers and crowns arrive in kit form, and you can't just replace one button on the watch, you have to replace all four. This is what makes it such an expensive exercise. Now, while the condition of this chrono pusher doesn't affect the actual use of the stopwatch, it would be an eyesore to some collectors. If it were my watch, I'd probably leave it be and wait until I had trashed the watch further. 

And, at some point, the bracelet has been given a going over with a buffing wheel, to the extent that it now has a completely matte finish all over. No polished highlights on the middle links whatsoever. Sloppy!

Somebody had clearly taken the easy way out with this bracelet, but I'll explain more about that later.

Horatio asked me what I thought of it. I told him that it would need a little work to get it looking closer to newish condition. I told him about a guy I know who could probably rebuff the case and bracelet back to factory condition. He would probably have to get a new aluminium bezel insert to complete the transformation, but otherwise, it would wind up looking quite flash when all was said and done. 

The watch would perhaps benefit from a service, too, since the chrono hand ticked along in a jerky fashion when the stopwatch was in use.
I told Horatio that I’d get my guy to take a look at it to determine how much it could be brought back to showroom condition. Horatio told me to wear it for a week or two to see what the timekeeping was like. I promptly took the bracelet off it and put it on a leather strap, since I couldn’t be bothered removing any links from the bracelet. On closer inspection, it appears that somebody has jammed a thicker pin into one of the links and then filed it down. That link ain’t coming out anytime soon. Also, the wetsuit extension feels very, very loose and pops open if you even look at it. The clasp may need replacing, too. 

So, anyway, before getting my fellow, Mike, to have a look at it, I wore it for a few days. Timekeeping-wise, it was very good. About three or four seconds slow per day. Not bad at all, considering the condition of the case.
A few more days passed before I got in touch with Mike to arrange for him to take delivery of the watch to see what he could do with it.
“Ahh, this’ll be easy. Does he want it serviced as well?”, he asked me.
“Not sure. Didn’t ask. Just polish up the case and bracelet and we’ll see how it turns out”, I replied.

Michael has been refurbishing watches for the past five years and he recently set up his own online store to buy and sell pre-owned wristwatches, as well as refurbish timepieces back to 'as new' condition. His website is 

Polishing a watch case may sound like a no-brainer for a watchmaker, but I have seen some absolutely dreadful jobs in my time. A guy I used to work for bought himself a pre-owned Omega Bond Seamaster about ten years ago. He got it from a local jeweller who had given the case and bracelet a going over with the buffing wheel. I took one look at it and resisted the urge to scream. Every edge of the case had been ‘softened’. And by softened, I mean ruined. The shape of the crown guards had been changed by excessive buffing. The whole watch looked like a slightly thinner version of a regular Seamaster Pro. Like it hadn’t eaten for a week. The entire watch and bracelet had a matte finish. The engraving on the clasp was faint. Basically, the watch had been butchered. Or skinned. 

A watchmaker friend of mine once said that the last thing you want to do is “change the landscape” of the case. This can happen when a watchmaker tries a little too hard to remove a deep nick or scratch from a case. Sometimes, it is indeed better to attempt to disguise or lessen the look of a scratch by giving it minimal attention rather than trying to eradicate it completely. 

A week later, I gave the watch to Mike. Whatever happened, the bezel would need a new insert. As for the chrono pusher, I thought he would replace it, but he told me he was going to re-build it. What about the clasp, I asked him? For that, he was planning to order just the folding bridge section from Ofrei or someplace like that. I was intrigued to see the results when he was done. Ofrei is a parts supplier to the jewellery industry, but anybody can log onto their website and order. 

Two weeks or so went by before I got a call from Mike to say that he was done.
He dropped it off to me. And I was very impressed with his work. It looked brand new. 

The Easy Stuff-
The entire watch was stripped down. Movement was removed, all pushers and crowns and even the sapphire crystal came out.All that was left was a stainless steel watch-case. 

The bezel insert had been replaced. This much was obvious, since there was no way that you could repair scratches in an aluminium insert. Getting hold of a new one involved a few e-mails to and it was done. 

And that was pretty much it as far as the Easy Stuff goes.
The rest of the refurbishment was gonna require a little more work. Firstly, the deeper scratches needed to be addressed. For this, the only sure method was high frequency laser welding using the same grade of steel that Omega used at the factory. All scratches were filled in with steel and then polished or buffed back to the original shape of the case. End result is no signs of where the scratches were. Quite impressive.

That dent in the lug (the parts of the watch where the bracelet or strap attach to) is history.

For the chrono pusher, there were two options; purchase a new pusher or repair the existing one. Repairing the existing one proved to be the cheaper alternative. However, Mike decided that he was going to repair it 95%. This was to show that human hands had worked on this repair rather than full replacement of parts. The end result is a chrono pusher which looks brand new from almost every angle. If, however, you angle it at the light a certain way, you can still see a slight dip in the metal of the pusher. Call it a signature of the repair. It doesn’t impact on proper usage of the pusher. Everything works as it should. And, as an added footprint to show that he'd worked on it, he placed the bottom pusher at the top and vice-versa.

EDIT (4 hrs later)- Found a better picture which shows the slight 'dip' on the right edge of the pusher.

Hard to capture in photos, but there's a slight dip on one edge of this pusher. Visible only from a certain angle. Turned out nicely.
The bezel edges were reground slightly using a conical grinder. This resurrected the scalloped edge of the bezel and Mike tells me that he's the only repairer in the Southern Hemisphere with this machine. 

This is tricky work. The last thing you want to do is create uneven spacing between these scalloped edges, and it's important to ensure that they are of equal size and depth. I should have wiped the dust and fingerprints off the watch before taking photos.

EDIT- 22 hrs later; I thought that Mike had gotten a new bezel insert from However, they don't sell the bezel inserts by themselves. You have to purchase the entire bezel assembly. So, the replacement bezel insert used for this refurbishment actually came from a 'donor' watch of the same model.

The famous Seamaster Professional bracelet is an absolute dog to polish, based on what some technicians have told me. The alternating brushed and polished surfaces require a precise and methodical masking off (with heat-resistant tape) in order to get at each surface individually. It’s a painstaking process and one that I’m not sure a lot of repair centres like to undertake. This was perhaps one of the more time-consuming aspects of the job. 

The alternating polished and matte finishes, the way they're supposed to look.

The clasp was buffed without losing a noticeable depth in the finer lettering and the clasp bridge was replaced, since it could not be repaired to a satisfactory level. The diver’s extension now stays shut when it’s supposed to. 
Not that it needed it, but the case-back was also given a going-over on the buffer in order to make every matte surface of the watch match. No use having a refurbished case and leaving the case-back untouched. 

Once all this work was completed, the movement went back into the case, the crystal was reattached and new crown and case-back gaskets were fitted. The completed watch was then given a water-pressure test. 

The key to this kind of case restoration is ‘preservation’. Wherever possible, it’s best to save what you can rather than replace it. Provided you wind up with a satisfactory job at the end of it. I can’t say I’ve seen many case refurbs done as well as this one, and that includes work done by Authorised Repair Centres of the brands themselves. And Mike tells me that he can replicate any factory finish. I’ve seen some other work he’s done on Rolexes and other brands too. The grain matches perfectly and makes the watch look like new again. He did some work on a ‘60s Tissot chronograph which had a sunburst pattern around the bezel, similar to an Omega Speedmaster Mark II, and the work was flawless.

A few days after the work was completed, I gave the watch back to Horatio. Needless to say, he was very pleased with the results. I showed him the chrono pusher with the slight dip in it. No matter what angle he held it at, he couldn’t see it. Even after I explained to him exactly where it was.
“Who cares, I’m happy with it”, was his reply.

I have to say, the job turned out better than I could have imagined. Due to the fact that I've seen some pretty half-assed refurbishments over the years, I didn't think this level of case restoration was possible. 
I'm happy to be proven wrong. 

In the interests of FULL DISCLOSURE, I should mention that I am in no way affiliated with Mike's company. I just think that he does exemplary work in a field that is littered with amateurs and butchers and I'm happy to write this post in an effort to highlight his work. And while he has some great watches for sale on his site, I think he's going to be very busy with restorations, if the above result is anything to go by. 

And I'm happy to plug his website again;

Thanks for reading!


  1. I don't know much about watches, but it looks like a mighty fine restoration. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Watch repair and restoration has always amazed and fascinated me from an early age. Your post is a perfect example of my amazement at what someone can do with a watch. The work Mike did is wonderful. The end result is stunning. Thanks for posting it.

  3. I should send you my vintage Omega for restoration. ( :

  4. That is extremely impressive work there.