We went all-in with our guide to cleaning and doing minor watch repair at home but we forgot to mention one thing. How do you polish a watch better, besides cleaning and repairing them?
This is a touchy subject for two reasons:
Polishing your watch makes it look better, newer, and finer – but some watch enthusiasts will ask that you never polish your watch.
We have answered the question on why you might not want to polish your watch below. If you are still going forward with it, which isn’t bad, we have also developed a guide to making the watch shine better.
Polishing the Watch Face
Scratches on the watch face are what makes most people look for tips on how to polish a watch better.
Whether a traditional or smartwatch, most of the watches that we recommend feature a sapphire or acrylic glass crystal face.
While sapphire glass is as difficult to scratch as they come, it is not impossible.
When that happens, do the following.
- Soft cloth
- Painter’s tape
- 3-micron paste (for initial scratches)
- 0.25-micron paste (for mirror finish)
- Microfiber cloth
- Polishing compound
Step #1 Get the Watch Clean
The idea is to polish your watch but you want to make sure it is clean first. Otherwise, you will just be rubbing in grime and grease instead of getting them all out.
Some people prefer to remove the watch straps for this step.
If you can do so safely, go for it. That would make cleaning your watch straps (discussed below) much easier.
Take the soft cloth and get it slightly damp. Wipe the face of the watch all around till it is clean. Make sure the cloth is lint-free so that it doesn’t scratch the watch face more or leave fabric debris on the face of the watch.
Step #2 Use Polishing Compound
More application of the polishing compounds won’t give you a better finish. You might just end up with a foggy watch face.
Spread a small amount of your preferred polishing compound on the watch face and slowly buff out the scratches with a microfiber cloth.
Don’t apply too much pressure to the watch face so that you don’t break it, or press in the compound too much.
It is not uncommon to go over this step more than once. That allows you to progress slowly into the best watch face clarity level that you prefer without making a mistake from applying too much at once.
PS The watch glass situation can look bad before it starts getting better. This happens in the space of a few minutes, so always wait a while before going in with the next batch of paste.
Step #3 Wipe the watch face
With a new, lint-free soft cloth (or the other side of the one you used in Step #1 above), remove the extra paste from the watch face.
Examine the work you have done to see where more work needs to be done – or to see if you are good with the current buff levels.
Once you have all the scratches out, it is time to get the mirror finish.
Step #4 Apply finer-grit polish
If you are using a diamond paste, an 0.25-micron polish will get you a finer, mirror finish.
Apply to the watch face and repeat the cleaning motion in Step #3 above.
This gives the watch a better, smoother appearance to look like new again.
Polishing the Watch Case/ Band
For metal watches, the case is most likely made of the same material as the straps. With non-metal watches, the metal case will be the only thing that needs polishing here.
The guide below explains how to get the watch face/ band like new again.
- Sandpaper (1500-grit)
- Polishing cloth
- Soft cloth
Step #1 Clean the Bracelet/ Case
Like we did with the watch face above, you have to get dirt/ dust, grime, and other foreign objects off the surface of the watch case/ bracelet.
Otherwise, they could interact with the cleaning process and prevent getting the desired results.
Clean the watch by wiping it down with a soft, damp cloth.
Don’t dampen all of the cloth so that you can use the dry part to wipe down the watch when you are done cleaning.
PS For a water-resistant watch, a small amount of dish soap in lukewarm water does a better cleaning job.
Step #2 Clean with Sandpaper
Wet the surface of the sandpaper with some water.
Take the wet surface to the watch case/ bracelet and rub it around. For bracelets, we recommend sticking with each link for about 30 seconds. This ensures consistency of finish when you are done polishing.
Furthermore, don’t vary the pressure across different bracelets so that one does not look more polished than the other.
Step #3 Finish with Polishing Cloth
The sandpaper from above will have buffed out scratches, cleaned off locked-in dirt, and chipped off some metal in powdery form.
This is where the polishing cloth comes in.
They can be bought online or from a local jewelry store.
Take the polishing cloth to the watch case/ bracelet that you have sandpapered and wipe it down. When you are done, you should bring out the watch’s shine better.
Step #4 Assess your Work
Were you able to get out the scratches, achieve a smoother tone, get your watch shiny again – or perhaps all?
If you have not gotten the desired results yet, you can repeat the entire steps from above.
Note that polishing this way removes layers of metal from the watch so be careful to not overdo things.
Why You Might Not Want to Polish Your Watch
‘Polishing’ might just be a fancy term for chipping away at your watch metal – especially when it comes to the watch case and bracelet.
With every polishing, you get a slightly less heavy watch as some metal has been scraped off the entire weight. That could make the watch feel flimsy around the wrists after some time.
If you have a vintage watch or family heirloom, we recommend holding off on polishing it at all.
Vintage watches tell a story with every scratch/ scar – so buffing them out brings down their value immensely. Likewise, family heirlooms look more dated and are better appreciated when they carry some age with them.
Finally, some polishing operations can leave your watches worse than it was.
For context, we have put together a list of common mistakes to avoid when polishing your watch. Read on below.
Mistakes to Avoid When Polishing Your Watch
Certain mistakes, which happen more commonly than you might know, could ruin your watch instead of getting it better.
Make sure to avoid the following.
Some people have used toothpaste on their watches – and it worked.
That does not mean you can do the same for your watch.
For one, the constituents of the toothpaste that they used might be different from the one you are about to spread on the watch. Likewise, your watch material might not be the same as theirs. Not all stainless steel, for example, is the same.
There are just too many moving parts here to leave anything to chance.
If you must clean/ polish your watch at home, always go for the professional recommendation: diamond paste.
Overuse of Polishing Compounds
Emptying one tube of polishing compounds on your watch face will not make it better.
In fact, that is a recipe for ruining the watch.
Note that it takes anywhere from $50 – $75 (lower range) to fix most acrylic and sapphire glass crystals on watches today. If you don’t want to spend more on the watch than you should, you should proceed with caution.
Follow the instructions above to the letter and you will see better results.
Neglecting the Bezel
Polishing chemicals are strong enough to remove scratches from your watch face. Unfortunately, they are also strong enough to remove the shine from your watch bezel.
Whether an elevated bezel (like we have on dive watches) or normal watch bezels around the glass, protect it.
The best way to keep bezels safe when polishing the watch is with painter’s tape. Anywhere you don’t want the chemical to touch should be covered with the tape.
Forgetting the Warranty
Check with the watch manufacturer to ensure that you are not voiding your warranty by polishing that watch.
You don’t want to be left with a watch that doesn’t carry the manufacturer’s warranty anymore. Anything can happen during the warranty period and we would rather you didn’t have to pay extra for a service that should have been free/ subsidized.
Special Tip: if the manufacturer’s warranty is voided on polishing, ask the manufacturer for any professional polishing service that they can recommend to you. You would most likely be sent to a licensed watch shop to get the job done for you professionally.
Polishing too Often
We believe in having a watch that lasts long – or one that you stick with for a long time.
What we don’t believe in, however, is abusing your watch so much that you have to buff/ polish it too often.
Even with the best usage, the most high-quality watches will get scratches and cuts. It is much better when such scars are manageable for about a year or two before they need polishing, though, rather than every couple of months.
To prevent having to polish your watch every time, do these:
- Buy an outdoor watch for more intensive activities. They take on abuse better
- Take better care of your watches
- Choose a watch made from quality materials. They repel scratches better
- Store your watches better.
- Don’t put your watches in the same pocket/ bag as sharp objects (such as nail clips, pocket knives, etc)
- Keep your watch away from other metallic items (like coins) when in your pocket/ storage too.
The question now is not only how do you polish a watch better, but if you should polish it at all.
If you know you need to, then, by all means, go ahead.
The steps above are well curated to get you a shiny watch face, bracelet, and case in no time. Enjoy!