The world of vintage watches can be a complete mind field. Through the very nature of these watches being 'old', guaranteeing condition, reliability and authenticity is frankly a complete lottery. Without having the necessary knowledge or experience, this can open you up to buying watches with the wrong movement, crown, hands, dial, the list goes on! However, I, over the next few weeks, want to educate you all, as well as educating myself through the process I am sure! I want to be able to publish this mini series of articles about the do's and dont's of the watch world, and ultimately help you all to be smarter consumers, and avoid inadvertently buying frankenwatches! As you can tell by the title, we are first going to focus on dials, in particular on vintage watches.
Now, it is commonly held opinion that the most important part of a watch, is the dial. For the most part, this means a beautifully untouched dial, with no discolourisation, damage, scratches or cracks. But in recent years, this belief has been flipped on its head. The fashion now is that patina is great, with spider dials, tropical dials and natural sunburst dials to name a few, fetching significantly higher prices than their mint counterparts.
A stunning Vintage Rolex 5508 with Crazy beautiful 'Spider' Dial
One of the most infamous watches for patina... a tropical dial Speedy
Whatever side of this argument of patina vs untouched you fall on, there is one belief that all watch geeks and collectors can agree on. Whether a dial is untouched or damaged, neither one of those are as bad as a dial that has been refinished, or poorly replaced. Now there are instances where watch dials are replaced by the original manufacturer. Some may argue that this is still replacement, and therefore bad, but if it is a age accurate, sensitively done replacement, I see no problem with this in particular. The many instances in which it is done badly is where the replacement or repair has been conducted by a third party. This repair could range from reluming the markers to re-painting the dial, and will vary in quality and appearance based on the third party that has carried out the repair.
There are a few tell-tale signs, however, which you can learn how to spot in order to ensure that you are not thinking, or actually buying, a redial when perusing Ebay or Chrono24 in the early hours of the morning!
1. Quality and Consistency of Printing
The most obvious way to spot a redial is to look at the printing of any logo, text, or numerals on the dial. For the most part, watch dials will have been, and continue to be, printed in a factory. This will mean that there is uniformity across all of the text. However, re-dials are usually painted by hand. This will mean that fonts will be inconsistent, such as the example below:
A universal geneve triple calendar... As you can see the font is wonky, and this watch cant be a calendar and a poulerouter...
Despite there being some more obvious examples of horrendous redials, such as the shocker above, there are quite often much more subtle differences that are a hell of a lot harder to spot. One way to spot whether the dial on your watch may have been reprinted is to look at the consistency across all areas of the dial. For example, if your watch is a vintage three register chronograph, and the numerals within the subdials are a certain shape, the same numerals in the minute track around the outside should be the same shape! If they arent, then this is a pretty sure sign of some re-painting having been done at some point.
2. Incorrect Logo Font
Now this is a much easier way to spot whether your watch is not as genuine as you may have thought. Like with the quality and consistency of printing, the logo will be the same issue. It will have been printed when the dial was originally made. This means that repainted or re-done logo's will be a very obvious tell-tale sign of a re finished dial. Of course with all of these things to look for there will be better executions of re-painted logo's, but this means that there are also some that look like the examples below... which are more clearly re-applied.
As you can see here, these are two vintage enicars with completely different fonts on the logos... courtesy of Ebay
Now lume on vintage watches is something that you really do not see at all. I mean obviously you will still be able to see the lume itself on the numerals and in the hands, but it should not have any actual luminosity left in the case of the watches we are talking about, which will be vintage. This is probably the easiest way to spot a re-done watch. Simply turning the lights off or putting a UV light on the dial for a bit will quickly show whether the watch has been re-done or not. Simply put, if there is visible lume, its most likely been tampered with, if there is still lume but no luminosity, there is a much higher chance that the lume itself is original.
Now i apologise for the quality of this photo... but this is clearly a military watch from the 40's? Which should not have this quality of lume still... a clear sign that something is not right.
Now these are the main three ways to spot re-dials on vintage pieces. However, being able to detect whether or not a vintage piece that has caught your eye, or you have already bought, has got a dial that has been meddled with in some way; is a combination of these factors, as well as having some experience in buying vintage pieces! This is just a case of being experienced at looking at watches, and examining watches with these factors in mind.
This is going to be a mini-series that we intend to continue until we run out of things that we can write about! Being able to educate you all in this way is something that is informative, and is actually useful! If there is anything specifically that you would like us to cover we would love to hear your suggestions geeks!
Editor and Co-Founder