Omega Watches – Do Refinished Dials Reduce the Value of Your Investment?


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.

There is another possible cause of dial discolouration that behoves the canny buyer to look more closely at watches with discoloured dials.

Sun damage is another cause of paint failure and sun can mimic water damage to the dial paint in many cases.

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. However, even seasoned buyers need to be careful when buying watches with badly deteriorated dials – you need to determine very carefully whether the watch dial is damaged from sun or moisture.

So, the first thing that needs to be done when chancing upon an Omega 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 history or use, you have a choice: Buy and restore (or have restored) or continue on your journey to find a vintage Omega 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 Omegas 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 placed in a refrigerator! 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 watches. 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 dials, particularly Pie Pan Constellations and other early models, 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.

(c) desmond Guilfoyle 2006