The majority of the vintage watch collectors like their watches as original as possible. I’m one of those people. But sometimes I like to make an exception. For example, when there’s almost no original lume left or when someone else already tried to relume the hands and failed (miserably). Read about one of those exceptions here.
In those cases, I do like to relume the watch hands. That’s a personal preference, though. Of course, I always discuss the possibilities with the owner if the watch isn’t mine.
This article is for those who agree with me that sometimes reluming is a necessary evil.
Which luminous compound?
Luminous compound is available in 2 kinds. Pre-mixed and in kits where you’ll have to mix the powder with a varnish and a thinner.
I prefer to use the pre-mixed kind. For me, it’s exactly the right thickness and color.
With a kit, you’re more flexible. You’ll be able to mix the luminous compound in the exact color and consistency that you want. The kits come with lume powder in different colors.
I always buy a natural or classic white color. Make sure that the lume that you buy isn’t “dentist white” because that’s too bright.
If there’s any lume on the dial you should try to recreate that color and relume the hands in that color as well.
You can mix luminous compound with pigment powders, model kit paint and even nail polish to mix the exact color you need.
What do you need?
- Tray with dust cover
- Fiberglass brush
- Painter’s tape
- Mixing bowl
- Old oiler
- Luminous compound
Remove the old luminous compound (if there’s any left). You can do that with a toothpick or with a blunt needle. When you’ve cleared most of it, use the fiberglass brush to remove all. It might be obvious but you need to clean the hands upside down. This way you don’t damage the sides that face you when you wear the watch.
Older watches have radium lume on the dial and/or in the hands. Radium is radioactive and thus dangerous to handle. Sometime during the 60s, all watch manufacturers switched to other materials like tritium. Tritium is also radioactive but its radiation doesn’t penetrate the skin.
Be careful if you have an older watch with the original luminous compound. Only work in a well-ventilated room. Wear rubber gloves and a face mask. Afterward, wipe the area where you’ve been working down with a wet cloth.
Mix the new luminous compound. You can do this in a small ceramic bowl or something similar. Use a toothpick to mix the luminous to the desired color and thickness.
Be careful to avoid little bubbles. These will disappear after you’ve relumed the hands. This will cause lighter spots or holes in the lume. Mix slowly and you’ll most likely avoid those bubbles.
Fit the hands on 2 rolls of the painter’s tape. Relume the hands from the back with an old oiler. The capillary function will cause the hole in the hand to fill with lume and stick together without dripping.
I apply 3 separate layers with some time to dry in between. Don’t take it too far because too much lume will cause the hands to touch. The minute hand will catch on the hour hand or a subdial hand will catch on the hour hand.
Both events will stop the watch from running so it’s important to avoid applying it too thick.
Store the hands in a parts tray and use the dust cover. That way dust doesn’t accumulate and stick to the lume while it’s drying.
Leave the hands to dry overnight so you can safely refit the hands the next day.
Do you have any other tips on how to relume watch hands? Share them in the comments below.
Founder & editor of WahaWatches. I’ve been collecting watches for years. My favourite part is to pull them to bits.