4 Simple Steps To Relume Watch Hands

 In Tutorials, Watchmaking

The majority of vintage watch collectors like their watches as original as possible. I’m one of them. 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 watch hands. That’s a personal preference. 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.

I’ve bought from Watchlume and from Cousins UK. Watchlume carries some pre-mixed colors and Cousins UK only sells kits.

Syringes with one basic color and one to mix a vintage color with. I sometimes mix it with a pigment powder for a specific 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
  • Toothpicks
  • Old oiler
  • Luminous compound

  1. Remove the old lume

    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. Some time 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.

  2. Mix the new lume

    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 lime.

    Mix slowly and you’ll most likely avoid those bubbles.

  3. Relume the hands

    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.

  4. Let it dry

    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.

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Showing 8 comments
  • Frank

    I press out a layer of Rodico and push the old radium lume into that, to remove it. Then, I fold over the Rodico sealing the old lume in, and throw it away. This way you avoid any radium dust in the air.

    • Ed

      I do the exact same thing. Use some old Rodico to trap the radium and dispose of it. I picked up an inexpensive dosimeter to check for radium on old watches. Some of them give off quite a bit (sets off the warning light/alarm on the dosimeter).

  • Bob Fate

    My Casio Divers watch, MTD1079, has lume at only the tips of the hour and minute hands, though there are voids in these hands almost down to the pivots. The watch is hard to read at night as the glowing tips get lost against the hour lumes on the dial. Would it make sense to have the hour and minute hands lumed in the voids to the pivots, or would it be too cost prohibitive? This is a $70 watch.

  • Jeff

    Any chance of having you relume a casio mdv106 dial and hands for me? Its new but lume on it is lacking big time…..

    • Melvin Hollenberg

      Hi Jeff,

      Sorry but I don’t have the time. Any independent watchmaker should be able to relume hands. Reluming a dial is something different though and I don’t think that many will take on the job, to be honest.

  • mach1

    Mix the compound with what, varnish, lacquer?

    • Melvin Hollenberg

      Yes with a varnish and you could use a thinner to delute it to the desired thickness.

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