Anyone clean Radium off of dials?

Hey guy's new to the site and I love it, I;m in college and when you wear an old watch it draws a lot of attention! Recently got into watches and more specifically Bulovas when I found my first 1940 President at a thrift store and I'm hooked! However earlier today I recieved two watches for free. Both with radium dials... I currently have them sealed in three ziplock bags lol One of them is an early 1920s President model and looks amazing other is a unknown Hamilton. It would be amazing if anyone here would clean off all of the radium for me so I can fix them up! Assuming that when you clean it off there is no more radiation! I'm at a standstill here and have no idea what to do! Help?

Daca102090
Posted August 14, 2016 - 6:49pm

A dial refinisher can restore those dials and will remove the radium and relume with non-radioactive luminescent materials.

You do need to be careful with the old radium as it stays hot for a half life of about 800 years, even if it no longer glows.

Reverend Rob's picture
Reverend Rob
Posted August 15, 2016 - 7:56pm

Panel Member

Even a cleaned dial is still radioactive. We've discussed this at length elsewhere, just search Radium.

The biggest risk is ingestion, but this is actually easy to do if you are scraping it off, and it either gets on your skin or the dust gets inhaled. The Alpha particles exit out the front, through the crystal, but are blocked to the rear by the movt and dial. I always have a Geiger Counter handy in the shop, and we see varying degrees of activity, up to about 120 millirems. Depends on how much is on there, clocks have quite a bit more.

If Daca will pardon the correction,  the half life is actually about 1600 years. The Zinc Sulfide degrades and no longer fluoresces, but the Radium is basically still as hot as the day it was applied. My Grandfather was also a watchmaker and he got Radium poisoning during WWII because he was repairing the aircraft instruments and dials, which included re-painting. It was war time, and you were expected to get on with it, despite the toxic risks, which they were all well aware of. The body sees the Radium as Calcium and imports it into the bones where it poduces a lifelong ache.

In practical terms, I do not recommend that anyone strip Radium dials, I no longer do it myself. Contamination of the workplace is inevitable, and the effects are cumulative. I've been sending dials to International for some years now, and have never had any issues with the results, especially with Bulova dials.

Spartcom5
Posted August 15, 2016 - 11:39pm

Does stripping the radium affect the collector's value of these bulovas? I may have found someone to take it all off for me...

Geoff Baker
Posted August 16, 2016 - 4:32am

Club 5000Panel Member

Spartcom5, to Reverend Rob's point "The Alpha particles exit out the front, through the crystal, but are blocked to the rear by the movt and dial" I would suggest not removing the radium unless you're having the dial refinished, making removal a moot point. It's my opinion, based on his comments that the folks most at risk for radium poisoning are watchmakers, not watch wearers.

Spartcom5
Posted August 16, 2016 - 3:16pm

Geoff Baker wrote:

Spartcom5, to Reverend Rob's point "The Alpha particles exit out the front, through the crystal, but are blocked to the rear by the movt and dial" I would suggest not removing the radium unless you're having the dial refinished, making removal a moot point. It's my opinion, based on his comments that the folks most at risk for radium poisoning are watchmakers, not watch wearers.

On your Garfield did you have the entire dial refinished with the radium removed as well? I was fully intending to get just the radium taken off and nothing else, make it easier for someone to fix it up as several people I've talked would charge higher if it did have radium on the dial... I want to make sure I won't be messing up the collector's value of the watch at all! The dial on my watch is actually quite nice as is, no redialing needed (except the radium).

Reverend Rob's picture
Reverend Rob
Posted August 16, 2016 - 4:46pm

Panel Member

It may damage the dial removing the Radium paint, so you have to be prepared to re-dial the watch. Dials in general cannot be cleaned, that patina is there to stay and any attempts to clean a dial should be undertaken with the understanding that the dial may get ruined.

It really depends on who you talk to about the re-dail hurting the value. There are some high end watches for which this is certainly the case. It is always more desirable to have a an original dial in good condition than a re-dial. However, if the original dial is what is making the whole watch look bad, and we are talking Bulovas here, not red-letter Submariners, then getting the dial re-done is not such a bad idea, and if the case is polished up and the works have been serviced, you now have a very good looking and well functioning vintage watch. I'd put a higher value on that than some blackened, as-is watch. We often replace the dials when asked to by the customer as part of a full restoration to a watch. 

But again, removing the Radium paint may make the dial look awful, just be prepared to have to go all the way if necessary. I say this because I painstakingly removed the Radium from a lovely pink gold Bulova, I forget the model, and the now skeleton numbers on the dial looked awful. I attempted to paint in the modern lume and it looked awful. 

I sent it to the professionals, and it came back looking like a million bucks.

 

 

Spartcom5
Posted August 16, 2016 - 7:48pm

http://www.mybulova.com/watches/1929-unknown-8233 this is the watch in question. As you can see the dial is nice as is, some patina, but nothing extremely bad making a redial necessary. What would you do? Leave as is? I'm just bothered by leaving the radium on there to be honest. It's also harder to find someone who is comfortable servicing it for me for a reasonable price..... As they need to be extra careful with the dial and what not obviously! I kind of like the look of the radium gives it a nice old vibe but then I'm not very comfortable with it either and would love a nice relume, not the bright green kind but maybe something to mimic the old radium look hmmmm... any ideas?? 

bulova.fan@phil's picture
bulova.fan@phil
Posted February 7, 2017 - 9:01pm

I have come across trench watches that have green luminous material on the numbers, though the material no longer glows.  Since the adjacent areas are not radium-burned, is it safe to assume that these do not contain radium?

 

Or is it possible that the dial being porcelain/enamel (as with some trench watches), radium "burning" does not show as with metal dials?

 

Thanks in advance for any information.

Reverend Rob's picture
Reverend Rob
Posted February 7, 2017 - 11:33pm

Panel Member

Lack of 'burning' is no guarantee that Radium is not present. In fact, if there is obvious lume painted on the dial and it does not glow, and the watch pre-dates 1960, there is a good chance this is Radium. If the watch pre-dates 1950, there is a very high probability that this is Radium. Radium was used into the early sixties on watches, and into the late 70's on clocks, usually bedside radio/alarm clocks. This despite that there was plenty of evidence it was dangerous even in the 20's.

Vitreous Enamel dials are easier to clean, and there is less chance of ruining the dial, because the indices and numbers are under a final transparent glaze. I do not recommend for anyone to clean these dials, however, it is best left to a professional dial refinisher. 

bulova.fan@phil's picture
bulova.fan@phil
Posted February 8, 2017 - 12:36am

Reverend Rob wrote:

Lack of 'burning' is no guarantee that Radium is not present. In fact, if there is obvious lume painted on the dial and it does not glow, and the watch pre-dates 1960, there is a good chance this is Radium. If the watch pre-dates 1950, there is a very high probability that this is Radium. Radium was used into the early sixties on watches, and into the late 70's on clocks, usually bedside radio/alarm clocks. This despite that there was plenty of evidence it was dangerous even in the 20's.

Vitreous Enamel dials are easier to clean, and there is less chance of ruining the dial, because the indices and numbers are under a final transparent glaze. I do not recommend for anyone to clean these dials, however, it is best left to a professional dial refinisher. 

 

Thanks for the info! I'll leave this dial alone in the meantime.