In most vintage collector circles the word "polished?is right up there with "re-dialed?on the list of big no-nos. This is not without reason. Indiscriminate polishing ruins the lines of cases, strips finishing, and turns a watchcase into a bizarre, over-shined, characterless blob of metal that never quite looks right (in fact it looks terrible). I cannot tell you how many examples of '70s replica watches I have seen that have been grossly over-polished. Apparently, it was standard practice a few decades ago that when a fake watch was serviced, the case would be carelessly buffed up on a polishing wheel to try to remove some scratches and make the fake watch look all nice and shiny. Fortunately, people have become more discriminating with how their replica watches are serviced, and how the particular character of their fake watch is maintained.
With this obsessive focus on "un-polished?however, the incredible art form of refinishing (or "detailing," as it's sometimes called) has become the baby that got thrown out with the bath water. With this recent restoration, I had a case that was so battered that I decided to use it to illustrate how interesting this process is, and show that even if it is not your thing, case refinishing is a skill within the watchmaking world that is worth appreciating, or at the very least, knowing more about.
There's been a resurgence of interest in vintage Doxa Subs in recent years. Claimed to be the first fake watch specifically designed for recreational SCUBA diving watch, the Doxa Sub is a staple of many vintage collections. Most often seen with their iconic orange dial, they also came in yellow, silver, and black. The orange dial was used based in various underwater tests, where they discovered that it was the best color for visibility. The bezel of the 300T demonstrates its orientation ?there are no decompression times, as it's designed for recreational, no-decompression diving. Introduced in 1966, when recreational diving was really starting to boom, it carries the famous Aqua Lung logo.
This Doxa 300T Searambler case was among the most damaged I have ever come across. It's anyone's guess how it came to be in such terrible condition; I usually can guess how replica watches obtain certain injuries, but this one stumped me. Inside and out it was a mess. It was ticking, but barely. Poor service and the roughest owner I have ever seen evidence of left me with a restoration that only a sadist could love. The result is a fake watch that both shows its scars and the new wonderful life it has been given at the hands of some incredible casework detailing talent.
Beyond the 99% useless (for a watchmaker, anyway) content on Instagram, there is a great collection of watchmakers who post about their work, and the things they come across. Opting to try someone within this community, I found someone whose casework I admired and who was up to the job. I sent the fake watch to Adam Lewis of Lewis fake watch Co. in Perth, Australia. What he returned was an amazing rescue, along with a great presentation of the work he did.
As can be seen in the pictures, the case was scratched, dented, gouged, and just about every other synonym for "damaged" I can come up with. The case back was particularly bad. It had a ton of small but very deep gouges that were so bad, it was actually irritating to wear. The crystal gasket was melted, and the dial and hands showed signs of oxidation. The paint in the bezel was almost gone. There was just about nothing good about the condition of the case.
Adam started with the bezel. Doxa bezels have two different finishes, so he had to cover one up with tape while working on the other. After completing the proper textures on each part, he used enamel paint and filled in the numerals.
When he got to the main case body, the intense work really began. Filling in huge dents and scratches requires the addition of metal through laser welding. Metal was also added to the lug tips to provide enough metal to restore an approximation of the original lines. The crown aperture was also damaged, which required the addition of metal to re-create the original shape.
Multiple welds were needed for the restoration.
After welding, the spots were filed down carefully to remove any traces of the weld marks and the damage underneath. The result was an unfinished but already much better looking case.
Next came the most intense and difficult step: finishing the case. This requires a very steady hand and an intense attention to detail. First the case is smoothed evenly to remove any discrepancies and to ensure all scratches have been removed. This is a hand-guided process requiring very careful, even pressure to be applied. Next the lugs are re-beveled to their proper shape and the case is given its final satin finish by hand. Consistent and even strokes are required here. Believe me when I tell you this is much harder than you might think. The result is a beautifully refinished case that barely resembles the terrible mess it was in before arrived at Adam's bench.
I will say that through this process that, yes, some of the original character was destroyed, but so much more in my opinion was brought back. Keep in mind I handed over one of the biggest challenges imaginable. While the majority of well refinished replica watches come back looking like new, this one was just too far gone to bring back to an "as new" state, but it still serves as a great example of just how far a fake watch case can come in skilled hands.
The case back was a bit of a different story. This thing was an unrecoverable disaster. The engraving on the back made it near impossible to remove the damage without entirely destroying it. Adam did not really want to work on it, but I asked him to anyway just to illustrate the work involved. As you can see a ton of welding and sanding was involved. The result is a case back that does actually look refinished. This is a testament to the scale of the damage and not at all a comment on Adam's skill. He was able to bring a case back from the dead and make it wearable. While it still shows several permanent scars, the case came a long way from where it was. With a new crystal, the fake watch looked great (at least until you looked at the back, and even that had been made cosmetically acceptable) and was ready to house its movement.
Original case condition
The movement wasn't nearly as much of a fixer-upper as the case. It was ticking, but not well. Most eBay sellers would call this "running but not tested.?This is why you should generally try to factor in the cost of a service in most vintage purchases. The major issue that it had was the automatic winding mechanism was not working. This was because of some worn teeth on the ratchet wheel, which was preventing contact between the ratchet wheel and the automatic works. A new wheel solved the problem and it was working properly again in no time. Other than that it had some issues ranging from excessive over-oiling to a scratched date wheel, but it was nothing a full overhaul and (proper) lubrication couldn't fix. Below is the sequence of assembly, from the bare movement plate up to the fully assembled movement, ready to install in the case.
Excess oil can clearly be seen on the right.
Movement, gear train.
Gear train bridge.
Mainspring and ratchet wheel.
Balance and balance cock.
Movement dial side.
Back together, this is still a fantastic vintage piece, scars and all. It is also a great illustration of the skill and results of good refinishing. Polishing is, and should remain, in general, a dirty word in the collecting world, but refinishing is an art. Like religious art, you don't have to agree with it to appreciate the skill and beauty. At the very least this restoration shows that there is a stark difference between polishing and skilled refinishing, and as with all things, the more you know the better off you are when making the decision to buy or restore a watch.Doxa Divers-watch