Polishing Vs. Brushing On Watch Cases

Polishing Vs. Brushing On Watch Cases

Watch journalists like myself love to talk about the quality of the finishing on a watch and the difference between brushed surfaces and polished ones. Moreover, we love talking about where brands typically apply each type of finish, why, and how. While I cannot discuss in detail the how, I can certainly start a discussion regarding case finishing as over the years I’ve come to realize that certain types of watches receive a certain type of finish. For example, tool watches tend to have more brushed surfaces than polished ones, which is the opposite for dressier and everyday watches. It also seems that the quality of the finish on a watch is important for watch enthusiasts and collectors. 

Everest Journal Polishing vs. Brushing on Watch Cases Source: www.mikaeldan.com

Why Case Finishing is Important to Watch Enthusiasts 

Globally, and based on the many discussions I’ve had with watch enthusiasts over the past few years, it seems that people tend to rate the quality of a brand based on the quality of the finishing they endow their watches with. The better the finishing—meaning the softer it looks and the better the transitions between the two types are—the better the watch is. I didn’t understand this obsession before I started getting my hands on higher quality watches (which are not necessarily more expensive.) I did notice that the wearing experience is more pleasant when the watch comes with satin brushed surfaces and mirror-like polished ones over those that don’t. 

Everest Journal Polishing vs. Brushing on Watch Cases Source: www.swisswatches-magazine.com

Maybe this might sound silly to you but it seems that there is a real concern for comfort here too. Poorly finished cases, especially on the sides and bottom corners, can equal a poor wearing experience as the edges could be sharp and dig into the skin or pull arm hair. I have handled inexpensive watches that came with average finishing and it is true that the wearing experience was a bit disappointing. (However, I never hurt myself.) This is perhaps a question of personal preference too as we all privilege different aspects in watches and you may or may not agree with me here. 

Everest Journal Polishing vs. Brushing on Watch Cases Source: www.monochrome-watches.com

Where Brushed Surfaces are the Most Common 

Brushed surfaces are the most common on sports watches and in areas of the case that are the most prone to scratches. Although untreated stainless steel does scratch, scratches are less apparent on fully-brushed surfaces while they show much more on polished ones. Unless the case is fully-polished, in general the case flanks and the top of the lugs are brushed, as well as the case-back, bracelets, and strap buckles. This makes sense since these areas are the most prone to receiving shocks and that they rub against surfaces in our daily lives. Brushed surfaces are also more common on sports watches and it is easy to tell whether or not a watch is meant to be manhandled if it has received a full brushed treatment.

Everest Journal Polishing vs. Brushing on Watch Cases Source: www.wornandwound.com

The Importance of Polished Surfaces 

Polished surfaces, on the other end, make the case more interesting to look at as they reflect light easily as we move our wrist around. This is why dressier watches come with a predominance of polished surfaces and sometimes the entire case is polished. This is due to the fact that people are not expected to go on hikes or dive with dress watches, therefore limiting the possibility for scratches and bumps. This doesn’t mean, of course, that a sports watch doesn’t have polished surfaces, quite the contrary. It is trendy now to add polished chamfers and bezels on tool watches to make them look versatile. There are many people who don’t like the utilitarian look of tool watches as fully-brushed cases look a bit dull. 

Everest Journal Polishing vs. Brushing on Watch Cases Source: www.gearpatrol.com

Final Thoughts 

I would be curious to know what brought watchmakers to polish cases in the first place—although I could easily imagine it was to make watches look more like pieces of jewelry—and how they feel about the two types of finishing. When speaking about brushed surfaces I mentioned “satin” finish as being superior because it is softer and more subtle, indicating the use of better tools and being made by expert artisans. But there are other types of brushed treatments, for example radial (circular) which can also be used on dials. Same goes for polished treatments where one can hear the words “Black Polishing” and “Zaratsu” as indicating superior quality. 

Whichever way your heart goes, there are good reasons for preferring one type of finishing over another. Which do you prefer and why?

Featured image: www.grand-seiko.com

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