Luminous compound

After the auto winder discussion, I would like to offer my opinion on another subject that has almost religious dimensions (e.g. the discussion has become as entrenched as trying to find out which god is better). This subject is luminous compound.

The fundamentalists adore and admire the flakiest and brownest compound, and it’s even better when bits have fallen off that can be found in the movement. Gorgeous. Or not.

Proof is in the pudding, and if you look at any watch that Mitka and I have in our collection, the rule for us is simple. If the original compound is stable and has a decent colour, we will leave it in place. But if it has badly discoloured (brown), or is starting to break up, we will replace it. We mix our own colours, and try to find a sympathetic tone that fits the age of the watch. Usually, that tends to be a slightly yellow tone.omega_before

Let’s have a look at some original lume. Here is a Speedy dial and hands. The markers have lost most of their compound, and what is left doesn’t look original. The hands have luminous compound on them, which might well be original, and it has the colour of a dog turd. Would I want this on my wrist? No. Especially not compared to what I could wear …

Which is this lovely watch. It’s the same dial and hands that we have seen, but with new luminous compound, mixed in a slightly yellow tone. No comparison.

It’s not original, I give you that, but it looks a lot closer to what the watch looked like when it was new, so in my book, it’s more original than the dog poo lume that the watch had before.

The most hard core defenders of old luminous compound come from the Rolex side of things, so let’s have a look at what we can do there!

Here is a Rolex 3272 calibre 630. I’m sure most Rolex collectors would want to leave that exactly as it is. rolex_after
For me, it’s also a question of what I want to wear on my wrist. Doing what I do for a living, I can’t walk around with a watch that looks like something chewed it and spat it out. It’s got to look good. Not new, but good. So for me, the “after” photo watch is the one that I would want to wear. Not only does it look a mile better, it also has the advantage of having stable luminous compound that won’t break off and get into the movement. Because if that happens, you’re in for another service, and they don’t come cheap, as it takes quite a bit of time to take the whole movement apart again and to clean everything.

For me, it’s a bit like having a vintage car, and leaving the rusted reflectors in the headlights, as they are original. You can’t see diddly-squat at night, the headlights look terrible, but it’s original. Surely, you would either get new reflectors, or have the old ones re-chromed, wouldn’t you? Because you want your vintage car not only to look good, but you also want to see something when you drive it at night.

Next thing, we’ll be welding broken mainsprings, and admiring oval worn jewel holes for their originality…

12 thoughts on “Luminous compound

  1. When my Father passed away, he had a 1938 Wyler with a broken mainspring in his dresser drawer. I’ve known of it all my life and it’s never run as far as I can remember. I had it repaired and it now runs great. In between the 7 and 6 there is a blotch on the face where both hands sat for 70+ years. It’s a radium burn! I have a photo of it, but don’t know how to post it here.

  2. I have an all original Omega Speedmaster 2915-1 (similar to the one in the photo above) that I do not wear and have as a keepsake and “investment”. The lume is beginning to look pretty bad, but is not flaking (that I can tell) yet. Should I keep it original or have it relumed?

  3. Totally agree. I buy watches to wear, so a proper and sympathetic job, such as what you’ve done here, looks way better. I hate non-matching lume; or, when it’s an uneven tone like where the lume darkens near the inner corners of the cutouts in the hands. I’m glad you posted this. I feel like the importance placed on keeping watches 100% original at all costs is a little overblown.

  4. Be careful with that old flaky radium lume. Dial painters died from being in contact with it in the 1920’s and 30’s. But I agree a tasteful reapplication in a similar shade to the original is better than seeing moldy brown when you check the time.

    • Good warning Mark. I would only add that the dial painters (mostly women) got cancer of the tongue, jaw, and throat because they were licking the paint all day. Modern watchmakers of course don’t do that, but they have another serious risk: inhaling the dust.

      You can minimize the risk by first by wearing a mask and blowing off surface dust into a large sealable bag, then storing the dial in an envelope until remounting.

      Also, if there is dust on the dial it will also have gotten into the movement. Before disassembly run the movement through the cleaning machine *before* disassembly, then proceed with the usual service.

  5. Recently had re-lume hands and very small new lume dots next to indicies on an Omega Dynamic all applied with great care and precision by the Watch Guys. Looks great and way better than before. However I’ve seen some very poor attempts to re-lume dials so have the right materials, tools and a very steady hand – or leave it to the professionals!

  6. Definitely agree with this.
    It’s beneficial to the movement not to have flakes of compound fall into it…and it looks better!
    Fair enough for those who want something 100% original but as you say, the watches looks closer to the original condition with the new compound applied!

  7. I couldn’t agree more. Everybody wants “original” but when the watches were new they certainly didn’t have yellow-brown-green flaky lume! I like a watch to look like it did back in its day.

  8. I agree with all that you say here. Only if a watch were literally a museum piece would I want to hold on to flaky old lume. I wouldn’t want to hold on to the original lubricant either!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.