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Myth Bust Confirmed

by J.Edwards

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Last week I mentioned that I would carry out some tests with a fellow watchmaker to confirm whether or not the rose-coloured plating on vintage Omega watches contained any gold, as a follow up to a discussion that sprouted off of this post on the Omega 321. Following are the results from the samples we tested.

J.Peter made a very good point in stating that the acid used to carry such a test is very strong and, if the plating did contain any gold, it would chew through any impurities very quickly to attack the base metal. To overcome this problem, we took rubbings from the samples in question on a mildly abbrasive, flat, black stone. We chose black because it would allow us to more easily distinguish any traces of gold that may be left from the sample deposits following the acid treatment. The acid we used to carry out the tests was nitric acid, which does not attack gold but quickly dissolves most other metals.

Using old stock parts for the samples we took from watches, we tested four samples from the following sources:

  • Oscillating mass of an Omega 565
  • Mainplate from an Omega 861
  • Mainplate from a generic ETA quartz movement
  • One sample of 18K gold

The 18K sample of gold was employed to serve as a reference to which the other samples could be compared. The reason we also chose to test a sample from a generic ETA quartz movement, was to either confirm or dispel the myth that these rather cheap and disposable watch movements are plated in gold. To our surprise, this particular sample led us to believe that they are, in fact, plated in a low karat gold to keep the base metal used in these movements from oxidizing.  

Below is an image of the four metal deposits that we tested.

Once the metal deposits had been collected, they were then subjected to nitric acid. The results were rapid and the samples taken from both Omega movements were dissolved almost instantly. Checking under strong magnifaction afterwards yielded no traces of metal left from either Omega sample, while a small amount of the sample taken from the ETA quartz movement remianed unharmed by the acid. The sample of 18K gold showed almost no visual difference prior to and following the acid treatment.

In the end, the myth bust has been confirmed. Vintage Omega movements are not plated in rose gold.

I will continue to hold my stance, however, that Omega’s movements are not plated in pure copper, but rather a form of beryllium-copper, or similar alloy, that keeps the copper content from turning green through oxidization.

7 Comments

  1. J.Peter
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    J. Edwards,

    Great post! I love this kind of exploratory research. I wish we could get somebody who had been at Omega for many years to tell us definitively what it is. I guess it is copper based whatever it is. I wonder why they plated it at all if there plates are supposedly made from a copper-beryllium alloy as well, what is the advantage to plating at all? Or maybe there is no plating? I’m certainly no expert. These tests just reveal more questions for me.

  2. Posted October 27, 2008 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Bravo on the detective work. What fun that must have been conducting the experiment. I am very curious of this talk regarding beryllium-copper alloy. As you may know, by adding just 2%-3% Be, Be-Cu has dramatically improved performance characteristics the only two of which I can think would relate to a watch movement would be antimagnetic and anti-corrosion properties. Sorry for the tangent, but I am quite intrigued and interested to see that Be-Cu is used in Omega movements.

  3. Posted October 28, 2008 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the comments. Be-Cu certainly does have a lot of beneficial qualities useful for horolgy. The use of Glucyder (a Be-Cu alloy) for balance wheels being a good example of this.

    The movements definitely are plated. As to whether or not the base metal used to make the plates and bridges is a beryllium-laced alloy is unknown to me. I’d be curious to know as well.

  4. rafael moros
    Posted November 4, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Congratulation, pure scientific method.

  5. Cole Petersburg
    Posted April 29, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Your procedure is admirable and more fun than what I’m about to suggest. The modern, nondestructive, dry technique would be to use an electron microscope or an XPS machine. If there’s a university in your area that does any geology or metallurgy they will certainly have an SEM with an EDS attachment. They would be able to run your sample as a class demonstration for free, or perhaps charge you less than $100 to test your sample. A microscopic image color-coded with different elements can be made, and the results are approximately quantitative. Unfortunately, beryllium won’t show up with this scan and XPS would be required.

  6. J.Peter
    Posted April 30, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    If this was my watch and not a customer’s I would consider this, but I won’t be sending a customer’s watch out to have it tested in an environment where it could be mistreated.

  7. Posted May 5, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the insight, Cole. If I ever come across someone with access to XPS equipment, it would be great to uncover whether the plating does contain any beryllium.

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  1. [...] which replaced the 861. Most noticeable is the substitution of rhodium plating in place of the rose gold plating that is employed on the 861 and 321. That, though, is of little consequence. In fact, I [...]

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