To Restore or Not to Restore?
Should a vintage watch dial remain unrestored, untouched and left to age naturally? This is often a contentious question among watch collectors.
Firstly, it is not often appreciated that Rolex, Omega, JLC and most other brands would often replace the dial when servicing a watch. This happened when for example, the luminous markers began to fade or when a dial became faded, stained, pitted or otherwise damaged through ageing. Early dials were often more prone to this due to poorer manufacturing techniques. Also, smoking was much more trendy in the 1950s and 1960s, and this would not only damage the owner’s lungs, but also their watch. So, many vintage watches with supposedly clean, original and unrestored dials have in fact been replaced years ago when the watch was serviced – brands often restore dials during service, even today.
Keep it original and unrestored
Some collectors often prefer vintage watches with unrestored dials, preferring some signs of ageing to retain the original character of the watch. And some seem amazingly tolerant of dial staining, pitting, scratches and fading. They will often state an original unrestored dial forms a large part of the value of a vintage watch. But while this may remain true for one section of the market, primarily old school collectors, it is certainly not true of the main market today. This has evolved considerably in the past 25 years, particularly as restoration techniques have improved. Restoration has become so good it is often very difficult, even for an expert, to tell a restored dial from a good original. The main telltale being the restored dial will be the one without any damage!
Niche areas such as the military watch collector market will usually prefer unrestored dials. However many ‘main market’ vintage watch dealers today, including ourselves, confirm that the majority of the main market prefer fully restored watches, which naturally includes the dial. Therefore, stronger market demand for fully restored watches usually means these command a higher, or equally high prices across the main market. This is often the case even over watches with ‘very good’ unrestored dials.
At the end of the day, it’s very much down to one’s personal taste and preferences.