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I may be openning a can of worms here but I thougt it might be a good idea to start a discusion on watch dial refinishing. I've read several posts on this site and others and the amount of bad info is frightning. I'll begin by saying that I have been thinking about doing this for some time but have hesitated because everyone has their own opinion on this subject and I don't want to come off as someone who is trying to sell a service. My main goal is to provide real info that may be helpful to the horoligist and to provide a place where you can get answers to some guestions you may have. My name is Rob Miller and I am the owner of International Dial Co., Inc.
The amount of information on dial refinishing is limited and the horoligist whether they do it for love or money should have a resource to turn to if there is a question. I hope this is accpted as it is given and I'll try to be as helpful as I can.

That being said lets get it started. Watch dial refinishing was born out of necessity. As everyone knows the early watches were far from waterprof and after years of service the watch would be cleaned and serviced. You can just imagine how dirty the watches and dials became. Over time crystals needed replaced, parts needed replaced and so also the dials needed work. Some companies sold replacement dials for thier own watches. Many companies used dial manufacturers for thier dials and these dial companies then sold dials directly to material houses for sale to the trade for repairs. The same dial manufacturers also refinished dials sent inby the material houses and watchmakers. Watch dial refinishing has been around a long time! Watches were a huge investment and the owners took great pride in them.
Posts: 8 | Location: Southwestern Ohio in the USA | Registered: May 02, 2007

I'd like to welcome you aboard, and commend you for making the effort to offer your expertise on this subject.

As a long time consumer of your services, I may be a bit biased, but I've used several different dial refinishing houses and found quality and attention to detail all across the board. I've also settled on some refinishers for some dials and others for different ones.

I would like to also offer that there is a lot of innocently reported misinformation that reinforces misconceptions about refinishing, and that hopefully you can serve as a resource to help clarify those issues too.

Thanks and welcome!

Posts: 267 | Location: Huntsville, Alabama USA | Registered: December 12, 2005
Hamilton WW Expert
IHC Life Member
Picture of Bryan J. Girouard
It is indeed great to have Rob here... I've been a happy customer of International Dial for 5 years... he does a particularly fine job with Hamilton dials.

Rob, without giving away any trade secrets, it would be interesting to know what all is involved a refinishing various types of dials.

Bryan J. Girouard
Art Deco Wristwatches
Posts: 169 | Location: Dallas, Texas U.S.A, | Registered: March 30, 2004
Again I'm not going to try and promote my services over any others nor will I try to speak to another companies policies or procedures. I will give honest and thoughtful answers to any questions as well as explanations on how how/why things are done. Our industry is changing and the discusion will benifit all those whom participate.
Posts: 8 | Location: Southwestern Ohio in the USA | Registered: May 02, 2007
IHC Member 376
Picture of Samie L. Smith
Robert Welcome to chapter 185 i have used your company several times and am pleased with the work you folks did..

Is there any good way to refinish the double sunk Meliame dials on the 992b. Smile
Posts: 3208 | Location: Monticello, Kentucky U.S.A. | Registered: June 24, 2004
It is an honor to have you aboard. I would be very interested indeed to learn about your business and services. I am a bit embarrassed to say that I wasn't aware that International was still in business(even though I have been keeping my medication in one of their tins for years Smile). I have used three other companies in the past but have not had a dial refinished in several years. Each company has a "personality" and, well,I would like to try out International.
I actually have a bit of a backlog of watches in need of this service and look forward to doing some business with you. I will contact for particulars and price info.

I have one question of policy that might be pertinant to address here. A customer of mine has a scarce lighter with watch that had a replaced movement. I found the correctly signed movement but it was missing the dial. I have a perfect fitting dial that is unsigned but not original. How does International deal with the ethics of producing a signed dial in these circumstances?
Posts: 536 | Location: El Cerrito, California U.S.A. | Registered: October 04, 2004
samie-- there is no real good way to refinish these types of dials. The melamine has to be totally removed. the resulting dial blank is flat(not double sunk). we then have to apply a good quality white enamel paint. we do have a printing die taken off an original dial that is an "exact" match. we also have a print with two black circles that simulate the double sunk dial. S. LaRose use to sell a good replacement dial for the 992b. I don't know if they still sell them, I believe the cost was 49.00us.

Cort-- honor may be streching things a bit but thanks for the welcome. We do not put on the names of other companies on watch dials although we are frequently asked to do so, however youdo bring up the exception to the rule. Lets face it dials get separated from the watch for any number of reasons. Many companies used the same movements and dial manufacturers sold dials to whomever would buy them often time simply changing the name. In this case the solution is simple. If you send in a dial to be refinished and the name requested in different than the name as it appers on the dial you should also send in the movement so we can verify that the dialdoes indeed fit the movement. We can also change the feet to fit the mevement if required. Even this may be more than is needed and we generally ask for this only in the case of high grade/high value watches. sometimes a scan of the dial/movement showing the names is sufficient.

Isn't this computer age great. Already two of my most frequently asked questions are posted for all to see. If I could just find the time to finish that web site of mine I'd be set!!!
Posts: 8 | Location: Southwestern Ohio in the USA | Registered: May 02, 2007
IHC Member 500
Wristwatch Expert
Picture of René Rondeau
Rob -- I'm glad to see you here on 185. You can offer a wealth of information.

(By way of full disclosure, I've been a customer of International Dial for at least 12 years now. Their Hamilton restorations are top-notch.)
Posts: 183 | Location: Corte Madera, California USA | Registered: March 31, 2005
Hi Rob:

S.LaRose is no longer in business. But, I think they sold-out of their 992b dials before that.

Since the Melamine are so hard to refinish, have you guys ever thought to produce your own replacement dial? Unless the atmosphere loses it's oxygen, sooner or later, all Melamine dials are going to die! Frown

Replacement dials, as you probably well know, are controversial. I am of the school that I would rather look at a handsome replacement than look at a dirty or damaged "original." But, I see the point of those who disagree.
Posts: 986 | Location: Flagstaff, Arizona USA | Registered: June 19, 2005
From the collector/historian's point of view, recreating obsolete dials or putting a name on a dial where it didn't exist before is, in one sense, counterfeiting. It unbalances the actual census of existing examples and skews the rarity ratings. That said, Rob's response to my question about signed dials was what I wanted to hear. I wasn't trying to catch an ethical faux pas but trying to find a good and reasonable policy on a touchy issue. In my case, a space is waiting for a dial that has vanished into the ether. With the "not what they're cracked up to be" melamine dials I think replacements should be made but should be identifyable as such too. In fact, I'd be thrilled to get an excellent dial job on this lighter watch, even with a micro-mark identifying the dial as a reproduction.

Glad you opened this can of worms Rob!
Posts: 536 | Location: El Cerrito, California U.S.A. | Registered: October 04, 2004
IHC Life Member
Picture of Roy New
Welcome Robert.
I am so pleased you have come on to the board.
I have several dials that badly need 'refinishing', I am of the 'old school' that feels that a timepiece has a better value if original, my personal view, but, I do have a few very 'bad' dials! These do need 'refinishing!'
Would you kindly let me know the best way to proceed?
Look forward to your reply or e-mail.
Timely regards.
Posts: 463 | Location: London in the United Kingdom | Registered: January 11, 2006
IHC Member 638

Welcome to Chapter 185! We often get questions about dial refinishing and there is nobody better than yourself to answer them.

My question: Do you also refinish hands whether or not the dial needs refinishing? I had a dial refinished but the original hands looked so bad with the fresh dial that I ended up with a nonoriginal replacement.

Posts: 166 | Location: Northeastern Ohio USA | Registered: July 21, 2005
Hamilton WW Expert
IHC Life Member
Picture of Bryan J. Girouard
One of the great things Rob and International have come up with is an "aged luminous" color for restoring luminous figures and hands on vintage dials.

While most of the people who buy watches from me prefer dials restored to factory-new appearance with bright gray/white luminous, as a collector I have an appreciation for a nicely aged dial.

Often times though, I'll purchase a watch for my collection with great aged color in the luminous, but the silver Butler background finish is so dark/tarnished/stained/spotted that the dial looks terrible. Now I can have the background silver Butler finish restored to uniformity and still have that nice warm aged luminous for the figures and hands.

Short of waiting 70 years for a newly refinished dial to age to just the right color, this is a good solution.

Bryan J. Girouard
Art Deco Wristwatches

Posts: 169 | Location: Dallas, Texas U.S.A, | Registered: March 30, 2004
Picture of Adam M. Dubin
Here's my Oval that has been recently refinished with International's "aged luminous" [photo courtesy of Bryan].

Posts: 261 | Location: Chicago, Illinois USA | Registered: June 01, 2006
Wristwatch Expert

I, too, would like to add my "welcome" to Rob and his decision to join chapter 185 and add his expertise. Rob was one of the guest speakers at the 2001 Time Symposium in Covington, Ky. He gave an excellent talk. Rob is one of the few people in the dial finishing business willing to come out in the open and put his reputation on the line. If it weren't for him, dial refinishing would remain the dark, secretive business it seems to have been over the decades. International Dial is also one of the few, if only, dial refinisher that will alter a brand, change wording, etc., on a dial, given extraordinary circumstances (like to correct a previous botched dial refinshing). Others won't do it, even if you provide them with the movement, and even the case!

I, too, have been a loyal International Dial customer for 15 years or more. The fact that they take Paypal to settle your bill is also a nice plus. To be honest, I have had to return a dial now and then for a "re-do", mostly for flawed or broken printing which I feel should have been caught during final inspection. But I.D. has always cheerfully done the re-do quickly, at no charge, and with no questions asked.

One question, Rob. For a while there, you weren't doing dial feet resoldering. You were down to one man to whom you "outsourced" this job, and he retired. Have you found someone else to do this work, or have you brought this work "in house" now?
Posts: 84 | Location: Evansville, Wisconsin USA | Registered: April 30, 2005
IHC Member 163
Picture of Mark Cross
I, too, want to welcome Rob to our group, and also commend him on the fine jobs I've received and seen here at the site.

To be candid, my opinion of your company is a bit jaded by the fact that when my Dad's Lipton/Rolex Oyster wrist watch dial was mailed to your company, it was lost for several months, and when it was finally found, only half the job was done, and yet it was still returned. They had repainted the outer chapter and name, but left off the red 24 hour military markings on the inner ring that MADE this watch a military dial. Confused

I was told it could be finished if I returned the dial, but since this is the ONLY wrist watch that I got from my Dad, was the only one he owned until he retired, that he got it brand new in 1943 and wore it through WW2 in the Navy, and didn't retire it from regular daily use until 1979 when he received an Accutron from the company he worked for after 25 years service. He retired the Lipton to his dresser drawer, then gave it to me several years later.

I was (and still am) leery of allowing it out of my sight again. With his passing in January this year, it means even more than it originally did, as Mom presented me with a copy of his official U. S. Navy enlistment photograph in 1943, and you can clearly see the Lipton on his wrist.

I hope this was just an isolated incident, but I hope you can understand my concern. Not all jobs coming into your shop are personal family heirlooms, but, like mine, many are, so it was more than just a bit disturbing to have it lost, then after all that stress of the possible loss, never finished before it was mailed back to me. Roll Eyes

Ok, that off my chest, your work is impressive, and I tip my fedora to everyone involved in this process. It's amazing what comes back when they leave looking like a train wreck, and come back looking like they were just made yesterday.

HIGHEST regards! Mark
Posts: 3832 | Location: Estill Springs, Tennessee, USA | Registered: December 02, 2002
Welcome, Rob! I, too, have a horror story to tell, but I.D. came to the rescue. I sent a dial to them last year for a normal refinishing. Several days later, I received a phone call from them informing me that the dial arrived very badly damaged (thank you U.S. Post Office) and that they would try to fix it but couldn't promise it would look right. I told them to give it a try. Several weeks later, I got it back along with the tin it was sent in. When I saw that tin, I could not believe the dial even survived because it looked like a Pringles potato chip, only with more radical bends. When I opened the new tin, I could not believe my eyes - the dial looked perfect - and not even an additional charge for the fantastic repair job! I saved the mangled tin and if I can find it, I'll post a pic. Needless to say, International Dial gets all of my business.
Posts: 113 | Location: Waukesha, Wisconsin USA | Registered: September 10, 2006
to everyone thanks for the warm welcome. as to the questions i think i have answers to them. Yes we do feet. All are silver soldered and the dial must be refinished. We have to strip to dial down to the bare metal because of the high temp. All are done in house as they have always been.
Hands are also done--but we do have limits. Badly rusted hands ofen fall apart when the old luminous is removed. Gilt hands will almost never be as polished as new ones.

As to lost dials Well the best solution from the customers point of veiw is to make sure your name and acct no. are on your job envelope. I presently have about 20 "lost dials" sitting on my desk waiting for the right customer to call wondering where thier dial is. This includes a Patek,a Rolex , and a Catier.

I did a little survey in my shop the other day and this is what I found in the last 100 dials that came thru
15 ladies dials.
10 pocket dials
70 gents
5 new dials for various emblems
Of the 100 dials 27 where for quarz watches
3 where to be converted to quartz movements
25 where from internet traders asking for the most outlandish colors possible.
less than 10 where from serious collectors!!
Most of our busines comes from material houses, watch repair centers, jewelry stores, internet traders etc. This is where dial refinishing started and although I see a shift towards the collector its slow in coming. The problem we have is that the demands of the customers are so different. The jewelry store just wants the dial back asap with as low a cost as possible. The collector wants perfection often time at any price. As our paths contue to move towards the future a new balance must be achieved. This is why I opened this "can of worms". I wanted to get to know the wants and needs of the collector, so that we may better serve them, as well as imparting some information to the collector so they would understand what we do, as well as have the proper expectations.

I would like to add that I am also a colector, although a very ignorant one. I see watches differently than almost everyone else i know. I cant get past the dial. I really can't.
I understand that every collector wants the perfect watch, the sigularity that defines his collection. When we find it we want to share it with the world. The Hamilton Ventura NIB thats been hidden in a jeweler's safe for almost 50 years because it was "to pretty to sell." The Accutron Space Veiw that was awarded to a man for 25 years of faithful service but he never wore it because he thought the company forced him into retirement--now his widow just wants to get rid of it. These are getting harder and harder to find. Most watches were worn with pride. They needed repair. The crystals were replaced when cracked, thier mainsprings were replaced when weak, the crown exchanged with new ones when worn thin, and yes thier dials where replaced or refinished when needed. Refinishing the dial on a watch was no different than replacing a crystal 50 years ago. It used to cost 1.00. I'm sure that most collections hold watches with refinished dials and the owner doesn't even know about. Remember their used to be a dial refinisher in every major city. New York had three! International Dial used to do 4000 dials a week!! This was just refinishing and does not included the 10,000 they manufactured for various companies around the world.

As we move on we must learn to service the watchmaker who is trying to get Aunt Millie's watch to work with a quartz movement because she can no longer wind it, as well an the collector trying to restore the most precious thing thing he owns-his Dad's WW2 wrist watch. Sorry Mark.

Posts: 8 | Location: Southwestern Ohio in the USA | Registered: May 02, 2007
Welcome Rob!!

I should add that Rob has refinished a few of my Illinois, Hamilton, and Elgin dials, and I have been very pleased with the work. The one time I wasn't, he made it right very quickly. (To me this is the sign of a true professional!!) One day I do want to stop in and see some of his great stuff in person. His addition here is a benefit to us all. (Though I must admit that some of those tasteless bar-sinister striped 2-tone red and gold dials I have seen some internet traders bragging about look positively silly on 75 year old wristwatches!! I guess I now know that at least a few of these crimes occurred in southern Ohio. LOL)


Posts: 141 | Location: Michigan in the USA | Registered: October 13, 2005
Picture of Joseph W. Robinson
Hi Rob and Welcome to 185!

I am both a watch and pocket watch collector, but with more emphasis on pocket watches. Personally, I do not do my own repair work and leave that to the masters. And as far as I know, I have not been a benefactor of your services, but can't say for sure.

My question... Do you provide search or custom services for rare movements without a dial to refurbish? Example, I own a open face Vacheron & Constantin Webb C. Ball movement that is in need of a "correct" dial. To be "correct" the dial has 2 internally threaded dial legs that pass through the pillar plate and attached with screws through the back side of pillar plate and into the legs.

Another option is a "snap on" dial as can be seen from this 185 link: https://ihc185.infopop.cc/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/5656047761/m/6181053691 Either way, I am looking for a solution to completing this watch. I have the 14K red gold J&S case and disparately want the dial.

Thanks! Joe
Posts: 150 | Location: Milan, Tennessee USA | Registered: December 20, 2005
IHC Life Member
Rob - welcome, and I have a question for you.

The most difficult style of wristwatch dial for anyone to correctly refinish appears to be those with a "pearled" minute track -- each minute position marked by a tiny convex gold dot.

The "pearls" always seem to end up as unpainted concave depressions, out of the exact line - why ?
See horror below (not one of yours !) ---

refinished pearls
Posts: 423 | Location: West Walton, United Kingdom | Registered: November 16, 2005
Dan-- In reply to your question you bring up a great example of how a dial is refinished differently than how it was manufactured When a dial is made first the feet are welded on to a dial blank. This can be done before or after the dial is trimmed to the final size. Once the feet are in place they are use to properly align the dial in various jigs used in other steps of the manufactureing process. A die will be used to curve the dial blank then the dial will be sent to the pearling machine. Imagine a small drill press whoes table is really an index head. Interchangeable jigs for different dials etc. Once the dial is in place perfectly centered and adjusted, the drill head is then adjusted as to diameter and aproach angel. and a pearling bit of the proper size is installed. Once everything is in place a dial in inserted in the jig, the drill head is depressed and one mark is made. The index head is rotated one click and another is made untill the dial is finished. If your doing a thousand of them its easy, if your doing one thats another story. In your case someone just drilled little indentations around the dial. We do not have the jigs that will allow us to set up our machine easily for just one dial. Although we do have the pearling machine and the pearling drills most are getting dull and we have not found a supplier for new ones. The swiss have become alost impossible to deal with, and most dial refinishers are not going to invest thousands of dollars in tooling for this one operation. We only have this machine because we used to manufacture dials and many had this type of dial. probably more info than you needed but its an answer.

Joseph-- Your dial is a problem. I do not know of anyone that can make a snap-on dial. A dial with feet could be made but i don't have the dies to thread them. Once the dial is made you have another problem. I probably won't have the printing die for the face. You see since porcelin dials were not refinished and very few dies have been made for them. A new print die could be made but that alone would cost around 200.00. This is one of those cases where close probably isn't good enough. Rob
Posts: 8 | Location: Southwestern Ohio in the USA | Registered: May 02, 2007
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