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Q&A: Polishing A Vintage Watch

April 19, 2024
Home / The Vault / Q&A: Polishing A Vintage Watch

Perhaps no other topic has been as hotly debated amongst watch enthusiasts as the decision to polish a vintage watch. And we can understand why, no one wants to hear that their investment timepiece has lost value because of a poor polish job.  Within the last decade watch collecting and reselling has taken off as a popular hobby and lucrative market. Before this serge, polishing was completed without much knowledge or foresight for future value, to the detriment of some early collectors – earning it a bad reputation in the world of watches. But the next generation of watchmakers are seeking to set the record straight on polishing. We asked our Horologist Lorenzo del Rosso what it takes to polish a vintage watch – the right way!

Tell us a little about your background as a watchmaker…

I completed my watchmaking degree in my home country of Florence, Italy at the ITI-IPIA Leonard da Vinci watchmaking school. I have worked across watch brands including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Tag Huer, Zenith and Hublot. I’m currently the lead Horologist at Kalmar Antiques in Sydney and my team specialise in the restoration of vintage watches and have recently become an official OMEGA Service centre.

Should you polish a vintage watch?

Watchmaking is a complex trade which involves many different aspects, and it can take a lifetime to master all the techniques. Watchmaking is an art and a practice, that requires constant study and research. There are many facets to the art and one of these is high-end watch polishing, which can be considered a trade in and of itself.

Today, the community of watch collectors and watch enthusiasts are growing, and timepieces are becoming investments or part of personal collections.  In the maintenance of their timepiece the watch enthusiast is faced with two options: preserve the timepiece in its ‘worn’ condition or have it looking the same as the day it left the boutique.

Of, course it is a personal choice, but my answer is - YES, but only if it can be done the correct way. That is, with the right experience, knowledge base and technology.

Why is the decision to polish a watch such a contentious one?

Unfortunately, watchmakers in the past have approached watch polishing with a lack of understanding and without as much care as the servicing or repair side of watchmaking. This led to many watchmakers producing poor quality polishing work, resulting in damage to the geometry of the bezel or case. As a result, many collectors that had their timepieces polished were seeing a decrease in value when it came to selling their vintage watch.

Nowadays, the industry has become aware of the issue and higher standards are being demanded by consumers. It has been my mission to exceed these standards and to treat watch polishing with the same education, consideration, and quality as the rest of my watch making practice. Therefore, I have dedicated myself to finding the best technology, training and watchmakers in the world to be able to offer my clients the highest standards in polishing.

How has technology changed when it comes to watch polishing?

Fortunately, modern technology is helping us along this journey! Polishing techniques have come a long way and with the right skills, we are able to retain the case shape and even restore geometry to a previously polished case.

For previously polished timepieces, we now have laser welding machines that give the watchmaker the ability to add materials and rebuild worn or damaged components. Using lapping machines and specialised sanding belts we can reshape the case to its original geometry.

For specific bezels, like the iconic fluted Rolex bezel, we use a diamond cutting machine with a CNC system. This allows the watchmaker to adjust the diamond cutter to an incredibly precise point, removing enough metal to reshape and mirror polish each individual section, allowing a complete and accurate restoration of the bezel.

The laser engraver allows us to restore the original font of bezels and case backs. This is not a replacement of the bezel, but a restoration of the original. This allows us to preserve original fonts on vintage watches, many of which are not available on official replacement bezels. What’s even better, is that the client no longer needs to spend lots of money on replacing precious metal (gold or platinum) bezels and can instead preserve the original one.

These are just a few examples of how innovations in technology and the equipment we use has improved and allow us to provide extensive and precise restorations.

How do you approach watch polishing in your workshop?

I believe there needs to be a solid foundation of knowledge, training and access to the best equipment, in order to correctly polish high end watches. It is an area that I am passionate about and is a service I want to not only provide my clients, but to instil confidence in them that polishing a watch can be done correctly.  We have a dedicated polishing room on-site in our QVB premises and have just been certified as an official Omega Service Centre. We can complete all our servicing, repairs, and basic restoration processes in our Sydney workshop.

We are also the official Australian partner to Pendulum Laboratorio based in Pisa, Italy. Pendulum have multiple international workshops dedicated solely to the polishing of high-end timepieces. This collaboration gives us access to not only the best equipment available in Australia, but the best available in the world. I recently spent a week with the founder, Marco Sighieri, at his workshop and he was able to undergo training on any new processes and innovations in the field of polishing. I feel that is it not only important, but highly professional, to seek the opinions and training from those who possess a specialist skillset. The desire to be constantly learning and developing as a watchmaker is so important to me. 

All too many times I have come across watchmakers who oppose collaborating or the sharing of knowledge. I want our clients to know that we are open regarding our modus operandi. We are not only transparent about our practices but are consistently seeking to improve and offer the best services in watchmaking. 

What does the future of watch polishing look like?

I predict that the appreciation for watch polishing will grow over the next couple of years. Our aim is to be open with clients about the processes we undertake and the results that can be achieved with new technology and improved knowledge. I believe that once the client understands the quality of work we are able to produce with the right training and equipment that attitudes towards polishing a timepiece will shift.

Perhaps Patek Philippe says it best with their slogan “you never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”. Vintage watches are something to be passed down to the next generation and with the correct care they will last well beyond our lifetime. We can appreciate that this is true, but it doesn’t mean that the timepiece can’t look and function like new.

Contact us

Shop 23, Level 2, Queen Victoria Building, George Street, Sydney 
NSW, Australia.

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