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"Making black watch dials"

Current question and answers:

April 15, 2021

Q. Hello

I am looking to replicate an old way of making a watch dial for my dad that was done back in the 50s. The process is this:
1) polish a brass disc
2) mask off the design on the brass dial
2) apply a 'galvanic'coating
3) remove mask
4) lacquer dial

making a black watch dial

What is my best option for a galvanic coating on brass? I am guessing it's plating it with zinc then applying a post plating conversion chemical to turn the zinc black or plate the brass in nickel then do a conversion on the nickel to turn it black but unsure of what would provide a quality result. I have tried brass blackening agents but not exactly getting the results I want.

Tommy Erwin
- Houston Texas

April 2021

A. Hi Tommy. I watched a number of youtube videos to try to get up to speed on the many ways to make watch dials. It appears that black paint is widely used, which would probably be the easiest, but if you want to do it by electroplating I think you should avoid zinc and start with nickel plating. After the nickel plating you still have a few choices: black rhodium, ruthenium, and black nickel. In your particular case I'd avoid black chrome.

You can get black nickel plating solutions from hobby plating suppliers. The black rhodium or ruthenium plating solutions are available from jewelry industry suppliers, but read their instructions as some of the solutions may require a layer of gold or bright rhodium first. Best of luck.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

April 17, 2021

Q. Would any of these options have the ability to change over time to a chocolate brown or light brown color? There is a term for dials that do this called 'tropical dials'. They faded due to UV light exposure over many many years.



Tommy erwin [returning]
- Houston Texas

April 2021

A. Hi. I read up a bit on those 'tropical dials'. Very interesting that when someone else makes a mistake the defective parts are less valuable, but that Rolex errors are so rare that they're worth more :-)


Paint can be UV sensitive. With the exception of black zinc I doubt that plated coatings are subject to fading from UV. The black chromate conversion coatings are often silver-based and in that case very subject to discoloration, although green is probably more common than brown.

Luck & Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Previous closely related Q&A's, oldest first:


Q. Hi,

I'm building a watch to my own specs (for those interested: an ETA/Valjoux 7750 automatic chronograph). I would like to create a watch dial as dark as possible, giving the impression of inner space. Watch dials are aluminium or metal. I can put a silver or gold finish on it to start. Does anyone have a tip on how to proceed?

Best regards, F

F. Rincker
watch design - Rotterdam, Holland, Netherlands


A. Hi, Mr. Rincker. Aluminum dials can be anodized and dyed black, but for "metal" dials it will depend on what the metal is -- for example darkening processes for brass, steel, and stainless steel can be very different. I'm not fully clear on your "silver or gold finish on it to start", but maybe you're saying the numerals, etc. will be gold or silver and will be masked while you apply the topcoat? Topcoat choices might depend on what that underlying finish is though.

Paint, black nickel, black rhodium, or ruthenium sound like possibilities, but I have seen some black chrome that looked like lampblack used on the inside of tubing in microscope/telescope type optical applications.

If you're a watchmaker talking about making this design in volume, a PVD service would be worth talking to, but they're unlikely to fire up their multi-million dollar piece of equipment for one dial for a consumer. We'll need more details please. Thanks!

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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