We rarely get this question, because most people who have experience with us are aware of the remarkable work that is done with their treasured timepieces. However, every so often we run into expectations that are beyond what even we (or anyone else) can realistically do.
This post is meant to address these issues and set standards around them.
Movements. With movements, you can be assured that we will return your movement as close to “as new” as is feasible. With normal maintenance, it is realistic to expect that we will stand well beyond our 2 year warranty. We see our restored clocks 10 years later that customers are returning which have not been maintained or oiled (we don’t recommend this). The movements need very little work but perhaps some pivot cleaning and re-oiling. Our movement work more than stands the test of time.
With cases and dials, things can get very subjective. First, we don’t believe in restoring cases like new. There will always be a few minor imperfections which cannot–or should not–be removed. Westclox cases, for example, were stamped out of .012-015″ thick brass. There are certain dents, nicks, etc. that will never come out. There is no equivalent of body filler for materials this thin. Most importantly, we have to use our experience and judgment. Attempting to remove certain imperfections in compromising locations could result in permanent damage to the case.
Wood Cases. Unless the customer asks us not to touch a wood clock case, every case will receive some touch up work so that you are proud of not just how the clock functions, but how it looks again. We are very conservative with wood case restorations in this regard. To avoid steps which will result in more work (and cost to you), we generally limit our efforts at most to cleaning, scratch touch up, selective shellac padding, followed by rubbing out and polishing. In fact, most of our case touch up is limited to cleaning, rubbing out and polishing. We believe (as we are sure you will) that it is best to retain the original finish both because it is what the customer has come to love, and because it allows retention of the piece’s original value. Our conservative approach does just that.
But sometimes, a wood clock case has been so badly abused, painted over, or otherwise defaced that there is no option but to fully refinish. We do offer case restoration and refinishing for these “basket cases” but we do not do this without customer request and approval. When a case restoration is selected, the material used for the restoration is period-accurate. In other words, we do not use modern finishes such as polyurethane or other oil-based curing varnish, so-called 2K epoxies and urethanes, etc. These finishes did not exist in the 1800’s and early 1900’s and so we don’t use them. Instead we use “reversible” finishes just like the original finishes–either solvent-based shellac or lacquer. These give the deepest, richest look and are easy to maintain down the road. We color only if the customer desires, or if needed to equalize appearance due to wood absorbency and quality.
We never, ever use Tung Oil or Linseed Oil as a final finish material. These materials present major problems in maintenance. They were not original finishes and are not reversible. They tend to give the piece a “glorified” or modern look that was never intended by the original makers. Be aware of others that claim these materials were used originally. They simply were not.
Metal Clock Cases. With metal case clocks such as “Western Union” clocks, once again we take a conservative approach when possible first. But if a case is coated in rust because it was stored in a leaky garage, banged up and unsightly, or corroded through from battery leakage, it will likely continue to deteriorate unless something is done. Here, we will chemically strip and then lightly sandblast (using environmentally friendly materials), followed by multiple coats of traditional lacquer primer and a 2K autobody paint (acrylic plus hardener)–very much like what was done originally. We can offer a selection between a few key colors used in that era, but we do not offer custom color mixes. We could, but not as standard practice, and in these cases the customer must sign off on the color and be willing to pay for all of the unused materials. Our material is either DuPont, PPG, or Omni applied with professional spray equipment. We do NOT finish Western Union clock cases with spray cans!
Rusted metal cases will sometimes be deeply pitted or full of pin holes. These pits and holes will be filled best possible with a special filler at the metal stage, surfaced, and then lacquer primer applied. The primer itself acts as a bit of a filler, and the result is a very nice finished piece. There will be imperfections remaining–just as there were in the original, new finishes. But it will take a trained eye to find them!
Dials. With dials, we have a general rule around the shop. Many dials look better now than they will after any attempt to improve them. One specific example is the alarm clock dial. If an alarm clock dial is extensively damaged, we can do a digital dial reconstruction. The result is impressive, but the original dial is generally lost in the process. If an alarm clock dial is generally in good shape but perhaps has some smudges or minor marks, we recommend you LEAVE IT ALONE. Once you look around a bit, you will realize that there are very few perfect or “mint” alarm clock dials left out there (and again with rare exceptions there are no replacements). If the damage is minor, it is best left as is because you may very likely have a rare gem.
So with very few exceptions, we will not touch dials. If a customer requests dings and damage touched up, we will assess it and can do some minor touch up only. There are others in the business that specialize in restoring and repainting dials but can be expensive. We do not offer this service out of our shop. For missing self winding clock dials (yes this does happen quite a bit), we offer a complete selection of beautiful replacement dials. We offer these at a price much lower than it would cost to restore an original. Thus many folks will replace their self winding clock dials with ours (perhaps keeping the original attached behind the replacement for authenticity purposes). This is the best of both worlds!
We strive to return clocks to their owners looking much improved from the way they arrive here, always enhancing value. But no one can remove all of the age marks and defects that many years has brought to a clock. And, we wouldn’t want to even if we could, since some of these very minor issues contribute to the clock’s character, originality, and charm.