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Restore antique gun metal finish that was mistakenly "cleaned" off


Q. Hello, I am not even a hobbyist, I'm afraid, and I am really stumped! Any help that someone could offer would be much appreciated!

I purchased a beautiful antique gun metal pocket watch for my husband and took it to a watch-maker for a basic cleaning and servicing (I thought he would just handle the works). The case of the watch I bought was irregularly blackened, whether by age/tarnish or on purpose, I don't know. Inset in the rear cover is the likeness of a stag in yellow and rose gold--very striking against the dark gunmetal.

anique gunmetal watch

When I picked it up from the watchmaker, he had painstakingly cleaned all of the patina from the gunmetal so that it now has a pewter look.

I was too stunned to discuss it with him.

I have looked into cold bluing and professional hot bluing, but I do not know if either is possible to do without damaging the intricate gold design. Also, I do not want a perfect, shiny finish. I would like to restore it to an uneven, aged-looking finish.
Is this possible?

Lynn M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
consumer - St. Louis, Missouri

A. Lynn, I'm no jeweler and have no experience in this, and I'm only looking at a picture, not the actual article. But cold bluing and hot bluing are for steel; I doubt that watches are steel since it's not anti-magnetic.

This looks to me like an article that was silver plated in some areas and gold plated in others. It looks like there were two colors of gold -- the buck is a pink gold whereas what he is standing on looks like yellow gold leaves.

I suspect it was originally done by painting a precision masking material onto the different areas for selective electroplating. I don't think there's anything wrong with the jeweler having restored a pewter look to it, if it was silver, as long as the gold remains, since that looks like what the original probably was (that's assuming you want your husband to use it rather than preserving it with the patina in a showcase). If it is silver, it will re-blacken itself reasonably quickly.

A jeweler is in a far better position in terms of experience, facilities, and knowledge of metal behavior than we are. I'd suggest taking it to the same or a different jeweler and telling them what you want.

Again, I'm guessing what it is, not offering advice on preserving the value of antiques.

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

thumbs up sign Thank you for your recommendation--I will take it to a professional. I really appreciate you taking the time to respond!

Lynn M [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- St. Louis, Missouri

Q. I have a pocket watch exactly like this one. It's a Hampden vintage 1893 with the identical inlay on the back as the one you are displaying. What did you discover regarding finishing or restoring as I'm about to go through that process now.

Mike Wilson
- Bloomington, Illinois
January 29, 2010

thumbs up sign I'm afraid I have not done anything to follow up. The watch (which the jeweler said was gunmetal) still has the soft cleaned-up finish--no patina. I wish you luck with yours. This one has run beautifully since its cleaning.

Lynn McNeil [returning]
- St. Louis, Missouri
February 1, 2010

A. I appreciate this is a very old post, but will reply in case anyone else stumbled across it as I have done, and may find it helpful. Gunmetal cased watches were very common in the 19th century particularly. As to what they are made of, the clue is in the name, gunmetal. This is steel, and was chemically blackened. Anyone purporting to be a vintage watch repairer should know this. Equally no competent jeweler is ever going to mistake gunmetal for tarnished silver. Refinishing is quite easy. Firstly you need to make sure the part to be treated is Spotlessly clean. It needs scrubbing with a toothbrush and alcohol, ideally pure alcohol, but Methylated Spirits will do. There is no need to remove the original finish. Obtain some blueing paste from you local gunsmith or gun shop. Use rubber gloves, the paste isn't really dangerous, but it will dye your fingers black! Now place the part in a plastic tray and use a small paintbrush, or a cotton bud to liberally cover it in the paste. Leave for whatever time is recommended by the instructions with the paste, usually a few minutes. Now remove the part and wipe down with kitchen roll, and assess the finish. If it is very blotchy then you probably haven't cleaned it well enough to start with. You can repeat the procedure as often as necessary to get the depth of finish you are looking for. Once you are happy with the colour then clean it thoroughly again with alcohol to remove all traces of the paste, then apply either oil or wax furniture polish and buff off. This will protect it from rust, or acid in your fingerprints. You should find that the paste will not affect any gold inlay, or the pendant which is usually bright metal. If in doubt test a small area first. If there is any rust on the surface then this can be removed prior to cleaning using very fine wire wool, this can also be used to dull the finish if it is too shiny. The finish would originally have been satin, rather than highly polished.

Rupert Farbridge
Vintage watch collector - Sandy Bedfordshire England
September 11, 2021

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