How to Make Your Porcelain Pocket Watch Dial Minty Clean

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The dial is what you see when you carry a pocket watch. No matter how precisely you’ve adjusted a watch, a dirty dial will deter most buyers.

But cleaning watch dials is a dicey business. Here’s a method that works well for porcelain dials, the sort you often see on old pocket watches.

For example, here’s our current patient: a double-sunk Illinois dial. It has issues:

  • It is greasy and oily
  • It has several rust spots
  • There’s a hairline crack under the 4
  • It is coated in dust and congealed oil particles

Dave Coatsworth describes a quirky but eerily effective method. Polident, a fizzy denture cleaner, is intended to clean porcelain dentures. And as I’ve always said, what’s good for artificial teeth is good for century-old watch dials.

Find a container, fill it with water, drop in a tablet, and insert the dial. The dial should be face-down so the gunk and grime can settle on the bottom below. You can suspend the dial face-down using toothpicks, brass wire, or fishing line, or you can simply place the dial face-down on the tablet.

Behold! It’s alive!

After a day of soaking, the dial looks and smells minty fresh.

Notice the improvement. The grease, particles, and rust spots are gone.

But the most striking difference is the hairline crack. The Polident obviously doesn’t fill and repair cracks, but it conceals them. The dark line is the gunk that has filled the crack. By scrubbing out the gunk, the denture cleaner makes small cracks nearly invisible.

Only use this method on porcelain dials. If the dial is silver or copper—common in vintage wristwatches—don’t even think about it. Such dials usually have painted text covered with a layer of lacquer, so they are hard to clean without removing the writing. But, as always, the Internet offers some intriguing methods that the bold can try with some scrap dials.