Vintage Watch Blog

Over the years we have published a number of articles to assist collectors and enthusiasts to get the best out of vintage watch ownership.

Does my watch contain radioactive materials?
Vintage Watch FAQs / Dec 9th, 2017 9:31 am     A+ | a-
Avoiding radioactive materials is always going to be a problem with vintage watches as any vintage piece with lume, used to make the hands and dial glow in the dark, will be radioactive in some way.  There is very little published data from the manufacturers of the time for obvious reasons but we know now that Radium (the most dangerous offender) was used exclusively almost up to 1961.   A typical 1959 Seamaster will have lume in the hands and certainly as a sports watch, with a link to Sea use,originally would have had lume spots at the markers that would have some level of radioactivity.  Some of that is lost over the years and sometimes a dial could have been restored losing the original lume completely.  You would need specialist equipment to say for sure.
 
Tritium was used from around 1962 onwards and is far less harmful.  The good news here is that the radiation from a tritum lumed dial would't even be strong enough to get past the crystal.  Even with Radium the risk of coming to harm long term is pretty small and to be honest if you are over 40, you certainly wouldn't have been able to avoid exposure to a whole host of other vintage devices that used radioactive lume, basically anywhere where the ability to glow in the dark was required.  Car dashboards, clocks, radios will all have radium in the displays.
 
You can avoid most lume by going for dress watch styles with solid hands but these don't tend to be waterproof.
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