Restoring Antique Clock Dials

Antique clock dials were made in a variety of types and styles, the country of origin can also greatly influence the type of dial and the materials employed. Antique clocks may have brass dials often with some parts silvered and others either painted or gilded. Older dials, particularly those with attached chapter rings, subsidiary dials or date dials will usually have their numbers, either Roman or Arabic, first engraved into the brass base, and then the engraving is filled with black wax (shellac).

Many later dials are painted. This is a process that first began in the early 1770’s. An iron plate was coated with a whitish base then the numbers and signature would be inked as appropriate for the dial. Painted dials, usually called white dials, often had decoratively painted scenes to the corners, and where included, to the arch at the top as well. Some dials had a moon phase dial where the moon disc would be decoratively painted with two moons and two scenes. Nineteenth century longcase, bracket, mantle and shelf clocks often had painted dials.


Some dials, usually but not exclusively of French origin, employ white enamel dials, some with painted scenes. The enamel is fired onto a copper base. As with painted dials, the numbers and signature are then inked in. Unfortunately enamel dials, if not carefully handled, have a tendency to crack or chip. Chipping will often be seen by the winding holes or on the outer perimeters of the dial. Cracking may be just a very faint hairline, or more substantial.

Dials may be finely engraved or decoratively cast, chased and gilded, or silvered, some with applied enamel numerals or painted numerals. Other dials can be of paper attached to an iron base; still others are made of wood, some with applied numbers.

Some dials, usually but not exclusively of French origin, employ white enamel dials, some with painted scenes. The enamel is fired onto a copper base. As with painted dials, the numbers and signature are then inked in. Unfortunately enamel dials, if not carefully handled, have a tendency to crack or chip. Chipping will often be seen by the winding holes or on the outer perimeters of the dial. Cracking may be just a very faint hairline, or more substantial.

Dials may be finely engraved or decoratively cast, chased and gilded, or silvered, some with applied enamel numerals or painted numerals. Other dials can be of paper attached to an iron base; still others are made of wood, some with applied numbers.