Does the radioactive radium content vintage bulovas bother anyone else?

Submitted by JustinMonti on March 15, 2010 - 2:11pm

After recently being informed that older watches used radium and testing my watches with a freinds gamma scout meter it is safe to say I will never be wearing some of my older watches again and will in fact be disposing of them!

Is anyone else aware/concerned by this. I was surprised how many watch collectors/watchmakers did not know or thought that these watches were safe because they are 80-100 years old. In fact radium has a half life of 1600 years so they are as radioactive today as the day they were when manufactured

Please post any of your thoughts on this


Stephen Ollman
Posted March 18, 2010 - 7:49am

Interesting post. I doubt many vintage watch owners have ever considered putting the watch to the test. I know I haven't.

Here is an interesting article about the 'Radium Girls' and the effect the radium paint had on them back in the early part of the 19th century.

I usually remove the old radium off the dial and hands and replace with a modern (non radioactive) luminous paint.

Still....makes you think.....

Wayne Hanley
Posted July 11, 2010 - 7:15pm

I sat behind a Fliight Engineers' Panel in a C-97 aircraft for over 5000 hours back in the 60s. I'm glad I didn't lick the gauges.  I'm 69 years old now, with slight defects barely noticeable. lol


Posted July 11, 2010 - 11:14pm

Very interesting point.  I hope Justin has not watched an older model black & white or colour TV - sitting in front of that single or 3 beam electron gun.   Or had an Xray - or a Baruim meal or God forbid  Walked in the sun .  Gamma radiation abounds!!!

Sorry everyone - only getting on my High Horse, but it does make you wonder how much radiation does come from an old radium coated watch face!

I worked as a field assistant on a drilling rig in Arkaroola - where all the tracks are naturally radio active.   No problems yet!!!!

Stephen - do you repaint the hands and numerals yourself or do you get someone else to do it?  I need several watch faces redone and am interested.


Stephen Ollman
Posted July 12, 2010 - 5:05am

In reply to by Janet

Janet, I do it's far from having them done professionally, but it works.

Mind you I only have one colour....white (glows green)'s modern stuff (non radio-active).

Applying it to the hands is dead's the dial/numbers that can be tricky. The good thing is about the paint I use it that if I mess up, I just let it dry, peel it off and try again. A very fine paint brush is the key.

Happy to help if want a basic job done...and I won't even charge you :-)

Mind you I'm in Australia so postage is your only cost.

See for a sample of how I did my lone Eagle.

Posted July 12, 2010 - 8:41am

Hi Stephen

 Have had a look at the Lone Eagle and I think you have done a marvellous job - it looks great.

I will (in time) take you up on your kind offer.   I have what I think is a Sky King coming and it looks like it could do with the numerals refurbishing.  

I am also in Australia.

Posted July 23, 2010 - 7:35am

International dial company in Ohio will relum your hands and dial for you.  I'm not sure what they would charge just to remove the old paint and repaint just the numbers on the dial, but they charge only $7 for a set of hands.  Just be sure the hands are in the condition you want them to be- they don't clean them (remove rust, etc) up before reluming.

Stephen Ollman
Posted July 25, 2010 - 3:41am

In reply to by watchguy

I have often wanted to use these guys but am unsure of the process for non US residents. I have in the past found an email and asked them for a quote on a redial, but they never responded.

I've seen plenty of examples of their work and they are first rate, but they are hard to contact and get additional information from. They need a descent website.

Posted August 6, 2010 - 12:40am


Unless you're licking, grinding and snorting the radium off your watch you'll be fine. The crystal will block the alpha decay as well as dead skin. The Radium Girls ingested large amounts of radium over years and "some" fell ill with mouth cancer and/or anemia. If you plan on eating vintage watches you may have a problem, or two. :)

Posted October 19, 2010 - 7:52pm

Stephen, they're failry easy to work with but they are a little confusing with the first job. For a one colour butler dial it cost me $35.00 and that included shipping. I sent my dial in wrapped in paper in an altoid tin and they sent it back in a proper material tin along with a couple envelopes, which make the second order a lot easier.

Internaional Dial job envelope