Since few personal accessories tend to be cherished like a good watch, it's great to know how to remove scratches from a watch. Whether it's a luxury smartwatch on which you splurged or a cherished family heirloom, it can be devastating to discover a scratch on your watch face. While deep scratches will need professional intervention from a watchmaker or repair shop, there are some DIY home remedies for how to remove scratches from a watch face that might do the trick for you. Polishing scratches off a watch face comes down to using the right polishing compound and polishing cloths as well as a little elbow grease and a whole lot of patience.
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Common Types of Watch Faces
Until the 1980s, acrylic was commonly used, even on high-end watch faces. These days, mineral crystals are more often used. However, if you have a top-shelf watch, like a Rolex, it might be a sapphire crystal, which is the hardest glass there is — a 9 out of 10 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale.
The harder the watch face is to scratch, the deeper the scratch might be. Acrylic is more forgiving, but if you've managed to just superficially scratch a mineral or sapphire face, it might be possible to save it. Deep scratches, however, may necessitate repair or replacement.
If you've ever seen a cloudy, hazy watch crystal, the odds are good that the owner tried to rescue a scratched watch face with some buffing compound, and it all went sideways. Unfortunately, that's a potential outcome with any attempt to remove scratches, so be sure you proceed cautiously if it's a cherished heirloom. Since sapphire crystals can cost between $75 and $250 to repair, using some elbow grease might save you a bundle.
Buff Out Watch Crystal Scratches
The process is essentially the same whether it's an acrylic crystal or sapphire watch crystal. You'll be buffing out minor scratches with your choice of watch crystal polishing compound and a polishing cloth.
Step 1: Get Started by Removing Dust
You can remove the strap, but it's your call. Wipe the face and case of the watch with a lightly damp, lint-free cloth to remove any debris that may add new scratches during buffing.
Step 2: Protect the Watch's Bezel
Buffing can remove sheen or finish from your watch's bezel but applying low-tack painter's tape over the case and bevel will prevent that travesty. Use extra care taping the bezel, which is closest to the crystal and most susceptible to damage.
Step 3: Apply Polishing Compound
Less is more with polishing compound, especially if you fear the "hazy glass" look of polishing gone awry. Use a firm, circular motion to slowly buff out the scratches of the watch crystal with a microfiber cloth. Depending on the grit of the compound you use, it may get worse before it gets better. Be patient. It will take a couple minutes of polishing before scratches begin to fade.
Step 4: Remove the Excess Paste
Wipe away the excess paste and examine your results. It's not uncommon to repeat step three, especially if you're continuing with a finer-grit polishing compound to get the mirror-finish crystal you once had. Simply apply the polish of choice and repeat the polishing process until you're pleased.
For watch polishing compounds, like diamond paste, professionals advise using a 3-micron paste for buffing out the initial scratches and then wiping that and applying a 0.25-micron diamond paste to get the mirror finish.
Step 5: Assess the Results
After all that, if deeper scratches remain, it may be the best you can achieve without repair or replacement. At least the rest of the glass will have a clearer finish and an improved look until you're ready to replace the crystal.
Step 6: Remove the Tape
Remove the tape from the watch case. Buff the watch case with your polishing cloth. Put it on your wrist and admire your work.
Choose the Right Polishing Compound
Some watch lovers swear that toothpaste does a better job of polishing than a product like PolyWatch or Dia-Paste (a brand of diamond paste), but many toothpastes will do more damage. Try it at your own risk, as professionals recommend using diamond paste for polishing. One reason is so you know the polish abrasiveness, which is rated by grit level just like sandpaper.
Just like sanding wood or metal, you want a coarser grit for starting the job but a fine grit to bring home the flawless finish. To do that, use a 3-micron diamond paste for starting the buffing and then a 0.25-micron diamond paste for getting the clear finish. Diamond paste can be bought as fine as 0.1 micron if you'd like to go even further with the polish.
It's diamond paste you'll want to use on any mineral crystal or sapphire crystal watches, but PolyWatch is said to do a decent job on acrylic for slightly less money, though user reviews seem divided. Opinion is divided on products like Brasso (popular for polishing metal bands) and Displex, which some swear by for removing scratches on watch faces, but results are more consistent for those using diamond pastes.
Removing Scratches on Apple Watches
Everything said about the incredibly hard sapphire watch crystals applies to Apple watches too. Apple uses sapphire crystal, the hardest glass in existence, rated a 9 out of 10 on the Mohs mineral hardness scale, and it is incredibly scratch-resistant material. While scratching it is extremely hard to do, cracking it is even more of an accomplishment, but both happen more often than you'd think.
If the scratches look superficial, then you could proceed with the crystal-buffing process using diamond paste to resolve some scratching if not all. Some Apple watch owners report success in removing scratches with fine-grit 0.5-micron and 0.25-micron polishing compound. Caution is advised because unlike normal watches, polishing the watch face can potentially damage the watch's functionality.
If you do proceed, however, the same caveats apply: Deep scratches may require replacement or repair. Given the cost involved, it's worth looking into whether AppleCare offers affordable replacement for owner's-fault damage on watches. Other smartwatches may use mineral glass or acrylic, but the same polishing process can help.
Scratches on Cases and Bands
Whether it's a smartwatch or a classic stainless steel watch band, scratches can happen. Brasso is a popular British metal polishing compound that can be surprisingly effective in removing tarnish and minor scratches on brass, copper, chrome and stainless steel. Leaving Brasso to sit for a while can improve your polishing results. Some users prefer two applications.
Other polishes, even low-abrasion toothpaste, may achieve similar scratch-buffing results. Antique restorers and even some Rolex owners swear by Cape Cod polishing cloths for fine metals. Just be careful because gold- or silver-plated watch cases and bands may be susceptible to being stripped if the metal polish is too good at its job.
When in Doubt, Visit an Appraiser
Before you go polishing that Rolex willed to you by your great-uncle Teddy, know that a slightly scratched watch crystal may hold more collector value than your amateur buffing attempts might have. It's a complicated subject, and many factors influence value, which is important to know for insurance purposes.
Professional appraisers will be able to tell you what to do or what not to do to protect your watch and keep it at its highest value. Plus, an appraiser will tell you its resale value in case you're in need of some cash and would like to sell or if you'd like to insure the watch for posterity's sake.