Of all the different categories of everyday carry, there’s one that stands out to us as the most precious: watches. And we figure that makes a lot of sense. Typically, when done well, wristwatches tend to be on the more expensive side of the spectrum. They’re also marvels of human ingenuity – offering a wide array of features that vary from maker to maker and style to style. Whereas some watches simply tell the time, others can gauge altitude, keep a log of lap times, or even track the phases of the moon.
But, for all of those things to function properly, you need to be able to look at your watch. And nothing makes that a more disheartening task like being constantly reminded of a mistake you make or misstep you took. We’re talking, of course, about scratches on your watch crystal. But don’t worry – if you dropped your favorite diver or accidentally scuffed your survival watch during use, there’s still hope. Many of those scratches can be dealt with fairly simply. Even the deeper ones can often be taken care of in the comfort of your own home and without great cost. So if you’ve got a wearable timepiece with some unfortunate cosmetic damage, our following guide on how to remove scratches from watch crystals is for you.
Types Of Watch Crystals
A Window Through Time
There are three common materials used as watch crystals. They vary in price, toughness, repairability, and even clarity – so it’s worth looking into their benefits and drawbacks before ever purchasing a watch to begin with. To clarify and offer insight as to how to care for each, we’ve defined them in the following section.
Though it is at the bottom of the totem pole as far as watches are concerned, acrylic was used even in high-end timepieces up through the ’80s. It’s seen far less today, but that doesn’t mean its entirely gone. As far as durability is concerned, acrylic doesn’t hold up that well. It’s very susceptible to scratching. However, it’s also extremely affordable and relatively simple to fix, provided that the damage isn’t too severe.
Probably the most common crystal type amongst worthwhile mid-range watches, mineral crystals are used throughout the industry. Brands from Timex even to Omega use them. They’re quite durable and resistant to scratches, but they are rather difficult to fix. In fact, their hardness generally means that once a scratch is visible, it’s likely a crack that can’t be repaired. Superficial scratches, however, can be fixed in essentially the same manner as sapphire.
The most high-end and expensive of the bunch, sapphire is the holy grail when it comes to wearable timepiece crystals. It’s incredibly tough – meaning you’d have to be extremely careless or in an unfortunate accident to really do any damage – but repairs are a little harder to come by. Thankfully, they’re still easier to repair than mineral crystals, but not by a massive margin.
Traditional Hand Polishing
A Simple Solution
Whether your watch is equipped with an acrylic, mineral, or sapphire crystal, the first method by which you can attempt to fix the scratches on your treasured timepiece is by hand-polishing it. Though the materials used vary slightly – a different polishing paste is to be used for the higher-end sapphire crystals – the process is relatively the same for each. We’ve outlined it step-by-step below – including a list of necessary supplies.
First, take your painter’s tape and mask off the case of your watch – meaning everything near the crystal that isn’t the crystal itself, with special attention paid to the bezel (as it’s closest to the crystal). This will keep the rest of the watch from being damaged in any way and keep the remaining polish from gunking up any of the moving parts. You don’t have to tape up the band or strap, but you might want to take it off entirely to make the process a little simpler.
Apply a small amount of polish to the surface of the watch crystal. Truly, it really doesn’t take much to get the job done. Avoid squeezing too much out of the tube, especially if you have a large watch collection – because you might want to use it again. This will also help prevent the risk of excess polish getting on your hands, all over your work station, or on the watch case itself.
Take your microfiber cloth and buff the polish in small circles around the surface of the crystal. Make sure to keep a light pressure and consistent circular motion. After just a couple of minutes, you should see the scratches begin to disappear. Once finished, simply clean the excess polish off the crystal and you should be done.
Examine your work carefully. Take the watch into different light, look at it from every angle, scrutinize it entirely. If you still see scratches, you can repeat steps 1-3 again until you are satisfied with the result. Alternatively, you can actually purchase a secondary even finer grade of polish for another run-through (in similar fashion to knife sharpening) if you want to be absolutely thorough – though you may find that it isn’t entirely necessary.
A simple scratch remover for acrylic watches, this polish can easily remove any superficial scratches from the crystal of your watch in about 2-3 minutes time. All you have to do is apply it to the crystal, buff it in carefully and diligently, clean up the excess, and you’re done.
MagicFiber Cleaning Cloth
Because watch crystals are so delicate, we recommend using a microfiber cloth as a means to buff the polish into the scratches. This will ensure that the polish takes properly without causing any further damage to your timekeeping accessory.
ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape
While you might consider this a non-necessity – as it isn’t technically used in the polishing process – we believe it’s important nonetheless. Painter’s tape will protect the rest of your watch (meaning everything other than the crystal) during the polishing process.
Safe for Sapphire
While PolyWatch is fine for acrylic crystals, sapphire ones require a little more attention and care. We suggest purchasing some of this USA-made 1-micron DMT DP1 Dia-Paste to get the job done properly. ($15)
The Toothpaste Method
A Popular Divergence
If you scour the various watch forums across the web, you’ll quickly discover that there are a number of timepiece fanatics who swear by using toothpaste, rather than a traditional polish, to repair minor scratches to their crystals. If you’re going to try this DIY solution, There are a few things you should know ahead of time – both to keep your watch from acquiring additional damage and to save yourself a little time and money.there are a few things you should know ahead of time – both to keep your watch from acquiring additional damage and to save yourself a little time and money.
For starters, you want to avoid using anything abrasive or grainy. Similarly, not only are toothpastes with whitening enhancements expensive, but they’re not going to do you any good in this case. You’ll also want to avoid anything with colored dyes added to it, as you could end up imbuing the colors into your watch’s crystal. Similarly, stay away from the now-popular charcoal pastes – as they won’t work for our purposes and will almost certainly cause more harm than good.
Your best bet is to go as basic as possible – plain, flavorless, white toothpaste. The more smooth the consistency, the better. This also means you’ll want to avoid gel-type toothpaste, as it simply won’t get the job done at all. Once you’ve found your simple paste, you can follow the same steps outlined above for the traditional polishing method.
The Buffing Method
Effective But Risky
With the right attachments, a bench grinder can be turned into a buffing machine. If you don’t have one, however, we recommend a bench buffer – like the Powertec BF600 Heavy Duty Bench Buffer pictured above – for this method. We’d also like to suggest that, if you’ve never used a bench grinder or buffer before, you don’t start by trying to buff the scratches out of a delicate piece of timekeeping everyday carry gear. Learn on something a little less precious. Then, when you’ve garnered an understanding of how one of these devices functions, return to the method described below.
Follow the same first step as with traditional hand-polishing: mask off your watch’s bezel and case with painter’s tape. It’s also more important that you remove the watch strap or band in this case, as it could get in the way or accidentally be pushed against the machine. And for this method, you want to eliminate as much risk as possible.
Put on your safety goggles. You won’t be able to enjoy your newly scratch-free watch if you can no longer see it. While this is not what we might call a particularly dangerous process, there’s still the possibility that something could slip and/or be flung into your eyes. And the rouge polishing compound could also be harmful to your vision. It’s just not worth the risk. You may also want to get a dust mask and/or latex gloves, but this is less vital.
Attach a hard felt buffer wheel to your machine. Make absolutely certain it is secure. Then, turn it on and, with the wheel spinning, apply a small amount of all-purpose polishing rouge to the wheel. This will prepare the device to properly buff the scratches from your watch crystal.
Take your watch in your hand, taped up and ready to go, and press the crystal with light-to-medium pressure against the buffing wheel. Gently move it opposite the buff, remove it from the wheel, then adjust to a new spot and repeat that process. Keeping the watch in motion will ensure that you don’t over-buff any one spot. As you buff it, make sure to adjust the watch in your hands so as to evenly buff all portions of the crystal.
Take breaks in-between buffing to take a look at your work. If you are doing it correctly and the scratches aren’t too deep, you should see them begin to disappear. Don’t rush the process and take as many inspection breaks as you deem necessary. Patience is key, as being too ambitious could result in creating unsightly flat points in the curve of your crystal.
All Purpose Jeweler’s Polishing Compound
There are a few different types of polish you could use to clean scratches off your watch crystal – and arguments to be made for each – but we prefer this all-purpose variety, as it works wonders when used properly and wont be too harsh on your delicate timepiece. It doesn’t hurt, too, that it was made in the USA.
Organic Wool Felt Buffing Wheel
Soft yet sturdy, this organic wool buffing and polishing wheel is perfect for putting a sheen on all your delicate gear, metals, watches, and more. All you have to do is attach it to your bench buffer and get to work.
Uvex Stealth Safety Goggles
You should never use heavy machinery or allow yourself to be exposed to dangerous particles without a solid pair of safety goggles. These ones have a clear anti-fog lens for excellent visibility and the wrap-around style is also good for both comfort and breathability.
Powertec BF600 Heavy Duty Bench Buffer
Designed specifically for polishing small items like watches and jewelry, this dual buffer system features a cast iron base for excellent stability and reduced vibrations. If you have gear to polish, this is the device for you.
A Last Resort
When worst comes to worst and if your attempts to solve the problem fail – or even make the problem greater – there’s always one last option: sending in your watch for a replacement crystal. There are some caveats to this end, however. For starters, the watch company that made your watch needs to still be in business. Secondly, There’s always one last option: sending in your watch for a replacement crystal.they likely still need to be making that very watch or at least have a stockpile of crystals at their disposal.
There are some other possibilities, however. Most watch brands make standard sized watches, so it’s possible to get a new crystal for an out-of-production watch, so long as the brand hasn’t abandoned that size and shape entirely. You can also have a third-party repair shop do the work. And, last but not least, you can have a custom crystal made – though this will cost you quite a bit, so you’ll need a flexible bank balance to make it happen. Whatever the case, just remember that scratching your watch isn’t necessarily the end of the world.
Best Watches For Any Budget
Whether you’re well-to-do or just trying to buy a worthwhile timepiece without breaking the bank, you can find one on our list of the best watches for any budget.