When I choose watches to purchase, I usually have at least some idea of what I am getting into. When I do repairs for others it is always a guessing game. My most recent “restore” truly lived up to its name. It was a full on restore. I took a watch from scratched, rusted out, and not running to beautiful working order (If I may say so myself.) While work this extensive can be expensive it is really worth it if you are attached to the piece, and want more than a rusted lump sitting in the drawer. That being said this watch owner was relatively lucky. The rust did not penetrate into the more delicate (and expensive) bits, and as a result the replacements were mostly confined to the keyless works (the setting and winding bits of the watch.)
I was contacted about this Bulova Sea King from a person who had purchased it in knowingly bad cosmetic shape with a missing the crown. They had the belief that underneath the dirt and all back together, this watch would be a great vintage gem. They were right. The case was dirty but in fantastic condition, and underneath the scratched crystal was a near perfect movement. The real unknown was what the movement looked like.
I received it without having seen the movement, so when I opened it up I was sad, but not shocked to see a lot of rust in the movement. When I see damage like this I feel it is important to contact the person and give them an honest assessment before proceeding. I believe that there is nothing worse than not knowing what costs to expect when dealing with restorations or services in general. It also provides an out should the person decide that the potential cost exceeds their expectations. Fortunately, this collector, while not entirely happy, chose to proceed.
My first step was to entirely disassemble and pre-inspect the parts. As I had said earlier, the rust was fortunately not on the balance, gears, or mainspring barrel. I replaced all the rusted out parts and then cleaned everything and reassembled.
Once the movement was done I got to the case. As can be seen in the original pictures sent to me the case tube had been crushed. It often does not look like it but the case and the case tube are often separate pieces. I did not know this until I had an unfortunate accident with my crystal press a few years ago. I accidentally crushed the tube on the case I was working on while I was fitting the crystal. After fitting a new tube, I cleaned the case thoroughly. This required several trips through the ultrasonic cleaner and the removal of a melted (and hardened) gasket and rust from the inside of the case. Additionally, there was some caked dirt that the cleaner just wasn’t getting rid of on its own. Once this was done I used a very fine abrasive and gently stayed with the grain of the case and brought the shine back without ruining or obscuring the finish. While the result is not as deep and precise as sand blasting (which is how that grain is put there in the first place) it is preserved and reflects light in the way the design intended. Underneath the dirt there were a few case scratches, but nothing major. Once I finally got the casework done I fit the crystal (obviously being mindful of the crown tube.)
After I tracked down the crown I was able to complete this watch. Fortunately this was one of the rare instances where a repair comes in well under estimate. Back together this watch is an instance where its owner took a risk and was right. Beneath the dirt, scratches, and rust, it is a great vintage Bulova gem.