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How to remove scratches from stainless steel watches
Removing minor scratches from SS finishes

DO-IT-YOURSELF TIPS: Removing minor scratches from SS finishes.

Like wrinkles on your face, scratches on your watch give it character. But not everybody is philosophical about such things. I dont mind scratches that I put on a watch myself but feel a compulsion to remove scratches that I inherit from others on a second-hand watch. It makes little sense, but thats how it is. So if suddenly you feel an irresistible urge to remove scratches from your stainless-steel (SS) watches yourself, here are some tips.

There is no universal way to repair, clean, or polish all SS surfaces: you must use different methods for different finishes. They are not without risk, the only safe way being to send the watch to a jeweler. But if you are adventurous and persistent, the results can be very rewarding.

POLISHED SS

1. For fine scratches, Ive found that nothing beats a jewelers cloth, like the Pioneer/Shino Polishing Cloth available from most watch suppliers for $3.60. It is a double cloth. The inner cloth is impregnated with a red polishing powder (ferric oxide or rouge, i.e., your common rust). The outer cloth protects your hand from the nasty red stain and is also used to give the final polish. This jewelers polishing cloth works even better on gold. You may also use Sylvet washable (S. LaRose & Co. in Greensboro, NC; www.slarose.com) or the double sided jewelers cloth typically sold in drug stores. The only other tools you need are elbow grease and common sense.

2. For deep scratches, use Never-Dull--great name, isnt it?--usually sold in drug stores and hardware stores. Never-Dull is cotton impregnated with a strong cleaner/polisher. It has an unpleasant smell (like the polishing compound for cars) but works fast, leaving behind only faint scratches that can be removed with a jewelers cloth. And presto, youve got a mirror finish! Well, not quite.

CAVEAT: You will always leave microscopic scratches on a highly polished SS (or gold) surface. These ultra-fine scratches are visible only in bright light and from a certain angle. The only perfect finish Ive seen is a factory finish. Even jobs done by jewelers are still inferior to the factory mirror finish. I don't know why.

BRUSHED SS

1. To remove fine scratches, use a jewelers cloth. Be GENTLE or you will put a shine on the finish, which will not quite match the brushed look. If that happens, you can put the brushed finish back on by following Step 3 below.

2. For scratches over a small area, use a fiber-glass brush (e.g. the German-made Eurotool sold by watch-tool suppliers). It looks like a mechanical pencil with a bundle of glass fibers instead of lead that can be dispensed from the tip. You brush this glass-fiber tip on the SS surface to remove the scratches and to create a new brush finish. I would not recommend using this tool over a large area because the brush strokes tend to be uneven, especially around curves, though you can get better with practice. WARNING: The broken fiber glass on your skin can cause unpleasant itches. Wear a thin latex glove and use a brush to remove fiber-glass debris from your watch after repair.

3. For scratches over a large area, use a Styrofoam block made for polishing finger nails (sold in beauty supply store). Each block is about an inch thick and 3 inches long. Its surface is impregnated with a very fine abrasive material. Brush gently with the grain to remove the scratches and to blend the new brush strokes with the original ones. I prefer this Styrofoam block to sand paper or steel wool as it is easy to grip and to maneuver. The soft Styrofoam also conforms to curved surfaces and is very forgiving. With patience, you can even remove deep dents and reshape small parts safely with this Styrofoam polisher.

SAND-BLAST SS

Leave it alone! Even fine jewelers cloth will still put a slight shine on the finish, which ruins it in my opinion. Get this finish re-done by professionals.

FINAL COMMENTS

Above tips are for repairing minor scratches which are annoying to you but not worth a trip to your local watchmaker/jeweler, or shipping out the watch. If you are careful and patient, the results can be very satisfying. I invariably found that my appreciation of a watch increases after such a repair work. But to restore the whole watch, often a necessity when you dabble in vintage watches, I found it best to send the watch out to professionals with the right tools and skills for the job.