How To Tell If a Watch Has Radium


chronograph and pen on a white background

Back within the early 1900s, radium was combined with paint (producing radio-luminescent paint) to make the weather within the watch dial, similar to arms and hour markers, glow in the dead of night. Mostly, younger ladies had been portray the radium dials. They are extra generally generally known as the Radium Girls. The time period has turn out to be fairly common as a result of these younger ladies used to level their brushes utilizing their tongues, which afterward resulted within the recognition of radium-induced osteonecrosis as an occupational illness. Hence, by 1930, dial painters stopped utilizing their mouths to form their brushes. However, this doesn’t take away all of the well being dangers prompted by way of radium.

The greatest luminous watches now use secure supplies similar to Seiko’s Lumibrite,  Luminox’s Light Technology (LLT), or Rolex’s in-house Chromalight expertise. However, if you’re shopping for classic watches, these made previous to the early Nineteen Sixties you possibly can nonetheless find yourself with a watch that has Radium. Below we’ll summarize how to determine in case your watch has Radium or different radioactive supplies similar to Tritium. 

Health Risks of Radium Dials

Radioluminescence. A 50's Radium Dial, previously exposed tu UV-A light
Image Credit: Arma95 through Creative Commons

Radio-Luminescent paint consists of zinc sulfide and radium salts. Radium is a radioactive component first found by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898. It was first used as a most cancers therapy. Yet, due to its glow that many discovered fascinating at the moment, radium was additionally utilized in many on a regular basis objects similar to dinnerware, paints, and even in ingesting water. Unfortunately, it took years and many years earlier than folks realized that it has dangerous, deadly even, results on the physique.

Radium emits alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, which is why it’s labeled as extremely radioactive. Once ingested and even solely inhaled, the emitted radiation could work together with the human cells after which harm them. In the case of Radium Girls, they’ve swallowed little quantities of radioactive paint as they licked their paintbrushes. After a couple of years, lots of them developed bone most cancers. In addition, radium can also trigger lung most cancers when it decays to radon fuel (a robust carcinogen). Because of the grave dangers posed by radium, watchmakers stopped utilizing it on watch and clock dials by the Nineteen Seventies.

How to Tell If a Watch Has Radium

1928 Movado chronometer, silver case covered in lizard skin.
Image Credit: Jafd88 through Creative Commons

The most dependable approach to know if a watch has radium (or different radioactive materials) is thru the usage of a Geiger counter. If you don’t have one, there could also be some indications on the watch dial.

If your watch is kind of classic and is Swiss (produced earlier than the Nineteen Sixties in Switzerland), then it’s extremely possible that it comes with radio-luminescent paint.

If it’s Swiss however is made after 1998, then it most likely used LumiNova already on its dial. “R” or “Ra” on the dial can also point out that it has radium.

For Rolex and Tudor watches, Radium was the usual luminous materials till 1963.  After that time, Rolex began utilizing Tritium as a substitute of Radium. Although safer than Radium, it’s nonetheless radioactive. Most Rolex watches that used tritium could have the symbols “SWISS T<25”  or “T Swiss T” underneath the 6 o’clock marker. Some extra symbols on the dial as they point out the extent of radium current within the watch.

Low radiation ranges (complying with the Atomic Energy Commission rules) are indicated with an exclamation level with the dot beneath the marker at 6 o’clock, or with an underline on the dial if the watch was produced in 1963 onwards. Another fast approach to decide if the watch has radium is that if it has a faint glow in the dead of night and doesn’t cost up in daylight. After a couple of years or many years, radium dials could lose their glow nevertheless it doesn’t imply that they’re now not radioactive. It takes hundreds of years earlier than the radium will fully decay.

What Should to Do If Your Watch Has Radium Dial

If you discovered that your watch has a radium dial, you don’t need to panic and eliminate it instantly. Remember, radium will solely be dangerous whether it is inhaled or ingested. So one factor that you need to keep in mind is to by no means disassemble or take the watch aside. Keep it intact in a secure and well-ventilated place. Why does it need to be well-ventilated? Because, as talked about above, radium decays into carcinogenic radon fuel, and it may well seep by way of the watch even whether it is watertight. Hence, a watch with a radium dial shouldn’t be saved in a small, poorly ventilated room to keep away from excessive and dangerous concentrations of radon fuel.

Your best choice is to take it to an expert watch restore store that makes a speciality of classic watches and expertise with Radium. They’ll have correctly vented work areas and experience to alter out the painted components to a safer trendy luminous materials.

However, for those who simply don’t wish to cope with radioactivity and radon it is likely to be greatest to half with the watch. There are loads of watch collectors that aren’t deterred by watches with Radium and chances are you’ll even revenue from it.



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