Why we don’t polish watch cases

Firstly, happy New Year from us at Watchguy.co.uk! We hope that you had a good party, and that you have recovered well 😉

We get a lot of requests for case polishing, and we know that most manufacturers and watchmakers polish the cases of the watches they service. We believe that that’s a very bad idea indeed…

If you polish a watch case, you have to sand the case down to the deepest scratch first. This can easily be 1/10mm or more… Once that is done, you polish the case, and remove more material.

This case has been polished more than once, and not only have all the original lines been destroyed, but the spring bar will break the lug the next time this watch gets caught on something. The case is ruined, and with that, the watch is ruined.

If you ever had your case polished, you know that after 6 weeks of wearing the watch, it looks exactly as it looked before, only with a thinner case. It’s not worth it, it’s a bad idea, and it destroys your watch. So please don’t ask 😉

32 thoughts on “Why we don’t polish watch cases

  1. Most people who collect vintage watches know that polishing reduces the resale value considerably. Personally I like nice sharp unpolished edges and it’s better to treat them with care than have them polished every few years.

  2. Honesty and Integrity always win. The advice from many others suggests that polishing is best but as you noted, eventually you’d ruin the watch and have to buy another. Maybe that’s why so many others encourage it, as they are looking to “force” another purchase somewhere down the line. Thanks for sharing correct information.

  3. Amazing seeing some of these comments hahaha, it’s basic physics;

    Case with scratches/dents – even by buffing and “moving” material from one section to fill said scratches/ dents, there will be an overall reduction in the total thickness of the case as that material doesn’t just magic out of thin air…

    Assuming no one’s taken you up on that offer yet, Christian? 😉

  4. Wow, there are some incredibly dense people commenting here. I am truly grateful that it’s Christian and Mitka, and not some of the others who are servicing my watches… If someone ever tells me that he or she has attended “Master Watchmaking School” in Germany I’ll just walk away. A course in basic mettalurgy would probably be a good idea.

  5. I have an idea… This is for Tom and Ernest.
    Come over to our workshop from wherever you are (I guess Germany and Lithuania respectively), and we will take a stainless steel watch case, measure the case thickness in various places with a micrometer, and inflict three 1/10mm punch marks on one of the lugs, one side and the top of the case.
    You can then take the case to the buffing wheel for as long as you want to (or tell me what other tools you might require, and I will get them for you beforehand). Then we will measure again, and see if there was any loss of material.
    If you can indeed magic the punch marks away without more than 1/100mm loss of material thickness, I will pay your flight, accommodation, and other travel expenses.
    If there is more than 1/100mm loss of thickness, you pay for the journey yourself.
    The challenge couldn’t be much fairer I think, and we will blog together about the outcome.
    A little hint: look at the ingredient list of your buffing compound… Yes, it’s an abrasive.
    If you feel you should be compensated for your loss of time whilst travelling and in our workshop, that’s no problem at all. I’m happy to add that to the wager, but that means you will have to pay me the same amount if you lose so that the risk is the same for both of us.
    I’ve put my money where my mouth is – please do the same and take me up on the challenge.

    • Hi Christian.
      With all respect.
      Nobody is talking about some loss of material it’s just nirmal.
      Most important in a good polishing is to do not loose the shape of the case and bracelet ant to take as less as possible.
      If you choice is not to polish the customers watches please don’t tell that polishing is a bad thing to do.
      WOSTEP Switzerland best watchmaking school in the world providing very intensive trainig of different polishing techniques as all hi-end watch manufacturys as well. To cut the long story good polishing is ART and you can learn it for years.
      Also I really would like to visit your new workshop. I don’t need to travel from abroad to do this. For the last 10 years I’m in UK.
      Also maybe you would like some time to visit my new worksop in Exeter too?
      Regards

      Ernest

      • The “respect” seem to be new found, and very welcome.

        I totally admire polisseurs, and I know that it takes years to get that right. These guys polish new parts, and apply a huge range of techniques to get this right.

        WOSTEP will of course teach polishing. I doubt they say that you can polish watch cases forever without any lasting damage. We are mainly dealing with vintage watches. If they would have been polished at every service, nothing would be left of the cases. WOSTEP training or not.

        That’s why we don’t polish, and I will stick to that.

        Mitka and I would love to visit your workshop in Exeter, and see what equipment you have, and how you do things. Maybe this would make up a good blog post?

        Please pop in anytime you are in the area. We are near Stroud.

        • Hi Christian,
          I think we should finish this conversation about polishing on a good note 🙂
          Your choice is do not polish customer watches it’s all good.
          My choice is to offer polishing option (no pressure, if the customer doesn’t want to polish his watch. I’m also very happy to do not polish:) ) for the customers watches and my customers are very happy with the polishing quality I’m providing. (including vintage watches 1970-80 etc. I’ve got some very good resolution pictures (before and after and I can prove that polishing is a good thing to do, even many times 5-7). Some watches has been polished (in a right way) many times and I can’t see nothing wrong with the cases of this watches.
          The main and true reason why some workshops don’t want to polish the customers watches is that the polishing is a time consuming process and instead let say 4 services (manual mechanical) a day with no polishing involved it’s possible to complete only 2 with the polishing per watchmaker. (and as I can see you are very busy 🙂 So I still completely disagree with the following:

          If you ever had your case polished, you know that after 6 weeks of wearing the watch, it looks exactly as it looked before, only with a thinner case. It’s not worth it, it’s a bad idea, and it destroys your watch. So please don’t ask 😉

          Also as I can see from your customers comments on your blog you do polished the watches for your customers in the past and suddenly realized that polishing is a very bad thing to do :).
          Sorry but all this story about not polishing sounds like a bad excuse.

          Regards

          Ernest

          • Good to see that you have found a nicer tone for your posts.

            You still can’t help being a bit offensive, though. How about you polish, and I don’t, and we leave it at that?

            We outsource polishing if customers insist, but discourage them from insisting 😉

            I note you didn’t take up my offer to come up here to see what damage polishing really does, and that you didn’t repeat your invite to your workshop that I would very much like to blog about.

            You are very welcome to post on this blog in the future, but maybe keep the tone to what your last post was, and not to the tone of the previous posts. We maintain a certain standard here.

            Best regards,

            Christian

  6. The Secret is buffing!
    With a felt wheel and buffing paste – with this method you don’t remove material, you “swap” material to another position and you smooth the surface!
    90% of professionel caseshaping is buffing, 10% is polishing….plus laserweld before of you have very deep scratches.
    Sanding a case is worst thing you can do…never, ever sand a case! 👍🏻😄
    We do this since years, and it’s the best way to restore even 50 years old 6538 cases. There are some good videos on youtube, just look for “buffing and polishing”.
    Cheers Tom

      • It does work to a certain degree… You do of course deform the case, and there are limits to enticing the material to change its position…
        If there are deep scratches, material will be removed.
        Proof is in the pudding. Look at all the watch cases that come into your workshop, and see how many have been damaged by polishing.

      • For all “polishing experts”, have a look: https://youtu.be/YMuWrI-sCj8

        Very good tutorial on how to buff a case correctly!
        No Material is added or removed, even with deep scratches!

        That’s the way you get teached in a german watchmaking school for Master Watchmakers! 😉

        • Hi Tom,

          Just wondering what the dirt is that starts building up around the buffing wheel? Pixie dust I guess 😉

          It’s a myth that buffing works without any removal of material, but I accept that it’s a lot gentler than polishing.

          Best regards,

          Christian

          • Hi. Chris!
            Natürlich wird ein ganz geringer Materialabtrag auch beim ‘buffing’ messbar sein, aber sicher nicht mehr als im Zehntel Promille Bereich, also fast nicht messbar am Gehäuse, daher aber die schwarzfärbung des buffingwheel.
            Du Must es ausprobieren, es ist der Hammer, nie wieder anders Gehäuse bearbeiten!
            Grüße aus Hamburg, Tom

        • I just don’t believe that no material is removed. I can see it’s gentler than sanding but some material must be removed to polish out a deep scratch.

          • Platinum is the metal that this applicable to. Steel would not be malleable enough although, I am sure as Christian said it would work to a small degree.

        • That totally rounded the case side and edges – it looks better than after he hit it with a hammer – but its a different case shape now! And if it is heat that’s required to ‘move the metal about’ then I doubt he’d still be holding it at the circa 1400 °C melt point of stainless steel – or he has asbestos hands 🙂

  7. completely disagree.
    of course it’s a very nice to have your watch polished during full service and this is why manufacturers thinking is a good idea(you think you know better?). it’s a many of polishing techniques to achieve a perfect results.
    this example of the watch above has nothing to do with the bad polishing this is just old bad construction case with the worn holes (from inside not outside)
    all idea of the good polishing is to keep the original shape/lines of the case and bracelet.
    so with the posters like this (and some others) you providing completely misleading information for the people/customers

    Ernest

      • yes polishing removes a little bit of material but shape/lines of the case and bracelet are remains the same and this is called good polishing. I’ve seem some bad polishing examples too. Not every polishing is the same. Rolex.uk for example doing amazing work on polishing, Omega.uk not too bad as well. Tag Heuer is a bit like you they are not providing any polishing 🙂 onny as a separate option for the customer. Cartier polishing is very good, they are really care about the shapes etc.
        ps. I’m second generation watchmaker with 21years of experience mainly on hi-end watches, use to work for Breitling.uk etc.

        • I believe Christians point is that multiple polishings (as you are suggesting Ernest) can slowly degrade the original lines of a case and eventually remove sufficient material that the spring bar may pull through as is the case with the watch in the pictures. That is unquestionably true.

          If you are suggesting a polish with each service (every 5-7 years) my vintage 60 year old omega would have been consigned to the scrap heap many years ago. There’d be nothing left of the case.

  8. I think this is all at the discretion and opinion of the owner. I have no problem with it but will save up my scratches for as long as I can (years and years) before I consider it.

    I was thinking about this post overnight and how a company like Rolex give no option but to have your watch polished if it goes in to service with them. They make millions of watches a year so maybe it is a long-term strategy to slowly take some watches out of commission through over-polishing and the real collectable gets stashed by careful non-polishing collectors. A bit like culling the population? I am sure they have other ways to do this as well.

    On the contrary, I believe it is a sin to do anything to a dial, this is another part of a watch that cannot be undone if restored. Personally, that’s where I draw the line.

  9. My own philosophy is that there is no point owning something and leaving it in a box in a drawer. Signs of wear to me are a good thing and show exactly that… that it’s been worn and used for the purpose it was intended.

  10. Yes, it’s sometimes very tempting to want to polish a scratched case/case-back but I guess it’s better left alone or VERY carefully polished without trying to remove all scratches!

  11. I agree. I may not be fanatical about patina, but I do think the nicks and scratches impart a bit of character on a vintage watch. Sad what has happened to the one in your picture though. I wonder if there is any solution other than a whole new case…

    • I have had an Omega service watch that had nothing but the hole of the lugs left. The workshop lazered on new metal and made it as good as new and it was cheap too.

      A lazer weld before polishing is preferable IMO. Fill in the gaps and then take it down.

  12. Strange, I was just considering this the other day when I noticed that the spring bar hole is quite close to the end of the lug on my vintage Omega. It’s never been polished but looking at it I realised that polishing it would be risky and the bar would pull through the lug after removing material. A few scratches is never a problem at the end of the day.

    You successfully polished one of your Rolex’s though didn’t you Christian? The one with the grey dial I think.

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