Polishing watches always seems like quite a dangerous topic to mention when talking to watch collectors. Some will vehemently oppose the idea of polishing a watch or its bracelet, and some will be indifferent to it. Some will have negative experiences with shady watch dealers that nonchalantly sell a watch as 'unpolished' even though they can't confirm it as such, and others won't care what has happened to their watch as long as it looks its best. No matter what aisle you are on, the simple fact of the matter is that your watch will most likely have been polished in the past or will be polished in the future so that it can look its best.
While scratches and dings certainly can add character to your watch, having too many will sometimes take away from how your watch looks. So, polishing is undoubtedly something to consider if you want your watch to look pristine, but how do you polish a stainless steel watch and its bracelet? Let's dive in and see how it's done.
Things to Consider
First, there are some things you should consider before you polish a watch or its bracelet. Is your watch valuable, vintage, or unpolished? If it is any of those three things, stop and seek the help of a professional watch polisher that specializes in that exact watch brand. Do not let someone polish something complex like an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak if they are just a local jeweler. A watch with a complex construction like a Royal Oak needs a specialist - as do vintage watches that could see 50% of their value be wiped off by a bad polish, just like verifiably unpolished watches that will lose their highly coveted 'unpolished' status.
Always err on the side of caution when polishing a watch. It can't be undone, so always be careful - an over-polished or badly polished watch can't be repaired very easily, if at all. While you can polish a watch with a polishing motor, these are definitely best left to the professionals as they remove material very fast and require training. If you have one at home, skip the urge to put a buffing wheel on it and opt for something a bit more gentle like Cape Cod Polishing Cloths and Wet/Dry sandpaper of around 1500 to 2000 grit.
Clean your watch under warm soapy water while using a soft children's toothbrush to remove any debris on the surface of your watch. Dry it with a towel and let the watch sit for a few minutes, so it gets completely dry. Once it is dry, remove the bracelet from your watch if you want to make the polishing process easier for yourself - this isn't necessary, but it will make the watch case or bracelet easier to hold. If you are starting with the watch case, tape off the different surface finishes so that only one finish is exposed and polish it as such.
Satin and Brushed Surfaces
Starting with the satin or brushed finishes, these will require a wet/dry sandpaper. The company 3M offers a pack of wet/dry sandpaper pack with a variety of grits so that you can closely match the finish you achieve to the factory finish on your watch. The lower the grit, the rougher the surface it will leave behind, and the higher the grit, the more polished the finish will be. You should use the sandpaper as stated on the packaging, with light pressure. Additionally, polish in the direction of the metal's grain already on the surface of your watch. Once the surface has been polished to the required finish and condition, tape off the finished surfaces and remove the tape originally laid on the polished surfaces. If your watch is all the one finish, the tape is not required.
For polished surfaces, you should use Cape Cod Polishing Cloth for Fine Metals, and just like with brushed and satin finishes; you should use these or any similar products as the manufacturer states on the packaging. When polishing your watch or bracelet, apply light pressure and stroke back and forth on the polished surface. Continue to polish until the desired finish has been achieved and you are done!
Your watch should look pretty close to brand new and pristine! Do keep in mind that when you are polishing a watch, you are indeed removing material from your watch so, polishing is a permanent process. Like we stated at the beginning of the article, be careful and try to keep your lines and corners sharp, and your watch will look as good as it did the day it left the factory. Also, don't beat yourself up if you can't polish every tiny little micro-scratch out of your watch; they will reappear after a few hours of wear anyway, so long as you have removed the significant scratches, your watch will look a million dollars!