Painted Clock Dial Restoration

Painted dial clocks and clock dial restoration have been my family’s business since 1966. My father, Brian Loomes, was interested in the then neglected history of painted dial clock. His early research resulting in The White Dial Clock (and later White Dial Clocks and Painted Dial Clocks) has been the cornerstone for all later books on the subject.


At our workshops in Stamford we use a combination of traditional and modern techniques to achieve the highest quality painted dial restoration.


Customers include major European museums ( including the British Horological Institute, the Finnish Clock Museum, the German National Clock Museum)and horological collections worldwide.


In case you were wondering, yes we do also undertake lacquer case restoration. Lacquered furniture (or japanned furniture) is notoriously difficult to restore, and the results can be surprisingly bold for the uninitiated, as the years of darkening varnish tend to make most lacquered clock cases look black, when in fact the old varnish hides the most sumptuous colours.


It is a costly business – the last full longcase we did involved over two hundred hours’ work – but the results are truly impressive. Expect a separate web-page when we have the time!


Each dial is carefully cleaned and examined in different light sources (including ultra-violet) to get the maximum amount of detail before work begins.


The dial is then painstakingly worked back up to a crisp finish, using original and modern materials, adding nothing more than necessary.


Do we letter in ink or paint? The answer (sort of) is ink. If you’re not interested in the science of why, then skip to the next chunk of text.


The earlier painted dials (from the beginning to around 1840-50) generally use Indian inks. The colour base for Indian ink is Lamp black / soot (carbon particles). Lamp black is not soluble in water and therefore was traditionally bound with gum arabic or animal tannins/gelatins (often horse). Once bound and dried into cakes however, it does become soluble in water.


This gives the “painterley” quality of early dials, in that you can attain any degree of blackness by simply painting using a thicker constituency. Particle analysis has shown that some earlier inks used for clock dials also contained some bichromate of ammonia. After exposure to sunlight this water bound ink becomes in part an insoluble compound (does not smudge or wash, but must be polished off) which explains why sometimes when the ink is removed from a dial there is a definite “shadow” beneath.


Post 1840 there is a increasing tendency to use ammonia based aniline dye inks, which are much like the ink in your fountain pen (smell fountain pen ink and you will recognise the ammonia). A slight reddish hue, especially on worn dials, is imparted by over-concentration of the dye which results in it crystallising on the very smooth surface, rather than lying in a smooth block of black colour.


In the light of this, we usually use Windsor and Newton acrylic ink. Mindful of conservation concerns, this is easily removable by a conservator should that ever be necessary, and tends not to leave staining. It can also be applied slightly gloss or slightly matt. Those who undertake their own dial restoration will find that the “painterley” thickness they seek can be obtained by allowing the ink to dry out somewhat before use.


All these fall under the term ink by nature of their being in aqueous binders rather than in oil.


Likewise we do not lacquer or varnish the whole of the dial for no good reason. Some early dials were lacquered across the whole, as were some later ones. Many only used varnish on oil painted corners or arches. Each dial must be assessed according to how it was originally made. Again, we use Windsor and Newton artists re-touching varnish for its excellent quick drying nature, coupled with the ease with which it can be removed at a later date.


The original makers knew what they were doing and I trust our customers want authenticity. On the flip side, however, we now feel that a twenty-first century attitude to conservation pushes us towards reversible restoration techniques.



though transfers are available for these, the number of transfers is limited in size and design. They were for the most part transfers laid with gelatine sheets when new, but if this is lost then the best solution is clearly to repaint what was there, rather than use the wrong transfer.


We are possibly the most stylistically aware dial restorers in the country. My father quite literally wrote the books (The White Dial Clock, Painted Dial Clocks) which cover the history of dial manufacture and painting, and of dial makers.


Most of the dial photos and much of the dial restoration shown in Painted Dial Clocks is our own. We pride ourselves in offering the highest quality restoration work in the field and our reputation is truly second to none.


It is hard to give a guide to prices or to how long a job may take. We can give you a rough guess by telephone, a better guess from a photo, or a full quotation having seen the dial. Suffice to say we work in days and weeks here – not months and years, although please be aware that oil painting can take up to six weeks for large restoration projects or a complete repaint.


Below is a picture of a square painted period one dial. The image should give a good idea of the high standard of our work. In these you can see where the dial was chipped at the edges and has been sympathetically repaired – if anything the colour match is better in the flesh than on the photographs.


All the blackwork is replaced, following exactly the style taken both from what remained on the original, and from our library of thousands of clock dials. The coloured oil paint is entirely original, simply cleaned and re-varnished.


We are proud to be asked back to demonstrate our skills this year at the British Horological Institute Summer Show.


This year’s show promises to be the biggest in years, as the BHI celebrate their 151st anniversary BHI, Upton Hall, Newark NG23 5TE
tel 01636 813795
BHI 150th show


We always have a superb time there demonstrating dial restoration, and enjoyed the opportunity to put names to faces of customers from far afield.


For a few years we also had workshops in Hatton Garden which threw up one or two oddities. As painted dial specialists, we’re always interested in the subject. John Brest, clockmaker there is 1763, is listed as a maker of white “clock dials” – which would be interesting as we normally suppose the white dial to be a Birmingham invention of the 1770s. Also in Hatton Garden at the same time was a clockmaker called Christopher Finnymore. Could Christopher Finnymore be related to the Finnemores of Birmingham? It’s a fairly unusual surname. Could painted dials have started in London not Birmingham? Oh who knows!


To learn how to date painted dial clocks, follow this link.


To see further examples of our work, follow this link.