Most vintage watch collectors like their watches to be as original as possible. I’m one of them. Sometimes, however, I like to make an exception. For example, when the original lume is almost gone, or someone else has already attempted to relume the hands and failed (miserably). You can read about one of those exceptions here.
In those cases, I prefer to relume the watch hands. It’s a personal choice. If the watch isn’t mine, I always discuss the options with the owner.
I’m writing this article for those who agree with me that reluming can sometimes be a necessary evil.
How do you choose a luminous compound?
The luminous compound comes in two types. Pre-mixed and in kits in which you must mix the powder with varnish and thinner.
I prefer to use the pre-mixed kind. For me, it’s exactly the right thickness and color.
Kits give you more flexibility. It’s possible to mix the luminous compound in the exact color and consistency that you want. In addition, the kits come with lume powder in different colors.
My favorite color is natural or classic white. Make sure that the lume you buy isn’t “dentist white.” That’s too bright.
There may be lume on the dial, and you should try to recreate that color for the hands.
The luminous compound can be mixed with pigment powders, model kit paints, and even nail polish to mix the perfect color.
What do you need?
- A tray with a dust cover
- A fiberglass brush
- Painter’s tape
- A mixing bowl
- An old oiler
- Luminous compound
1. Remove the old lume
Remove the old luminous compound (if any remains). You can use a blunt needle or a toothpick for this. After you’ve cleared most of it, use the fiberglass brush to remove it all.
It may seem obvious, but you should clean the hands upside down. So when you wear the watch, the sides facing you will not be scratched or damaged.
On some older watches, the hands and dial contain radium lume. Unfortunately, radium is radioactive and therefore dangerous to handle. So during the 1960s, all watch manufacturers switched to other materials such as tritium. Tritium is also radioactive, but its radiation can’t penetrate the skin.
Be careful if you have an older watch with the original luminous compound. Work only in well-ventilated rooms. Wear rubber gloves and a face mask.
Once you’re done, use a wet cloth to clean up the area.
2. Mix the new lume
Mix the new luminous compound. You can do this in a small ceramic bowl or something similar. Mix the lume with a toothpick to achieve the desired color and thickness.
Be careful to avoid little bubbles. Once you’ve relumed the hands, these will disappear. This will result in lighter spots or holes in the lume.
Slowly mixing will help you avoid bubbles.
3. Relume the hands
Fit the hands on 2 rolls of the painter’s tape. The hands should be relumed from the back with an old oiler. The capillary function causes the hole in the hand to fill with lume and stick together without dripping.
I apply 3 layers, allowing time between each one to dry. Make sure you don’t go overboard and apply too much lume.
If applied too thickly, it’ll cause the hands to rub against one another. As a result, the watch will stop running.
4. Let it dry
Use the dust cover to store the hands inside the parts tray. In this way, dust won’t collect and adhere to the lume as it dries.
You can safely refit the hands the next day after the hands have dried overnight.
Do you have any other tips on how to relume watch hands? Share them in the comments below.