Putting a Smile on Your Dial?

A dial is, arguably, the most important visual feature of a watch. Irrespective of the excellence of the movement or its timekeeping qualities, if the dial is badly discoloured or flaking it makes the watch look sub-standard, tired or worn out and certainly diminishes its value.

Often Collectors are put off by flaking and badly discoloured dials on otherwise quite original Omega Constellations. Many shy away from such watches because of the general assumption that moisture is the primary cause of dial disintegration. The theory goes, that badly discoloured dials provide a good outward clue of a possibly rusty movement and are best avoided.

Tim Mackrain, however, suggests that there is another possible cause of dial discolouration that behoves the canny buyer to look more closely at watches with discoloured dials. He says,

"Sun damage is another cause of paint failure. I have personally taken apart thousands of Omegas sent to me from every climate in the world and have found that the effects of sun can mimic water damage to the dial paint in many cases."

Tim goes on to say that, "A beautiful movement with no water damage can lay below, and this type of paint failure, while not good for collectors of original watches, is a wonderful candidate for restoration" He believes that even a seasoned buyer needs to be cautious. "There can be a risk when purchasing a watch for restoration - water or sun damage?"

So, the first thing that needs to be done when chancing upon a Constellation with a badly discoloured dial is look under the bonnet with a jewellers loup. A clean, rust free movement is easily identified, and if the seals on the case have held up well, there will be no tell-tale rust spotting on the non-copperised parts of the movement and no corrosion of the case, particularly at the caseback seam.

If the movement has stood up well to the elements and around 40 years of history, you have a choice: Buy and restore (or have restored) or continue on your journey to find a Constellation with an original dial. If you take the restoration route, you could have the watch sent to Omega in Bienne, wait for quite a while, and ultimately receive the watch back with a new factory dial.

In the case of Pie Pan Constellations, however, it's believed that Omega has run out of factory dials and will replace old Pie Pan dials with convex Constellation dials from the same period. Given the increasing likelihood of not being able to source an original Pie Pan dial, you may choose to opt for a re-dial.

So if you choose to re-dial, what are you letting yourself in for? If you can source an excellent re-dialler - they are few and far between - then a dial refinished to look exactly like an original will indeed make a watch look much more attractive. But, from the standpoint of collecting original Constellations it may not improve the value of the watch - there is an exception and we'll review that later. From a vintage collectors point of view, a refinished dial diminishes the value of a watch when compared with a watch with an original intact dial that may have a nice patina.

Why is this? Well, generally, refinished dials are not of the same quality as the factory originals. Many refinished dials don't last as long and are not as durable as original dials. Factory dials may have baked-on, anodised and other manufacturing finishes such as clear coatings covering both the dial and markers to inhibit the ageing process.

Refinished dials are often painted, have ink stamped script and are finished to a lower level of quality and durability. They may mark more easily and often do not contain the level of detail of the originals. Also many original dials have the markers soldered to the dial, whereas in quite a number of refinished dials I have seen, the markers have been glued back rather than soldered (for the obvious reason that the soldering process could damage the paint on a re-dial) On occasions the glue is so thick on the back of the dial that it interferes with the running of the watch, particularly with date models.

A bad re-dial with inaccurate detailing can have the value of your watch dropping quicker than a souffle put in a refridgerator! It's fair to say that there are many more slap-dash, incompetent and inferior refinishing houses than there are high quality re-dialers. So, if you chance upon one, treat him like royalty.

Now, to the exception mentioned earlier. Because of the globalisation of the vintage watch market and accessibility of stock, many more people have the opportunity to buy Omega Constellations. A new niche has emerged in the vintage watch market for vintage watches that look almost showroom new. This market is driven, largely, by newcomers. I can attest to that from a continuous flow of emails from such individuals, and, to them, 'look' is very important and 'patina' and originality is often overlooked. These buyers will pay big money for look and wearability, so you will see on occasions quite high prices being paid for watches with refinished dials.

I imagine though that quite a number of newcomers to collecting, if they're serious, will ultimately develop a greater level of collecting sophistication and become interested in the finer points of detail, originality, richness of patina and other collectibility factors.

Because of the diminsihing supply of new-old-stock Omega Constellation dials, particularly Pie Pans, re-dialing will increasingly become a fact of life. Never-the-less, from a long-term collectibility standpoint, re-dialling should be an option when you have no other options.

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