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A Simple Jig for Refinishing Rolex Yacht-Master Bezels

by J.Edwards

Rolex Yacht-Master I

When it comes to servicing fine timepieces, there is nothing that delights a client more than receiving their freshly serviced timepiece back looking and operating as new as the day they bought it. One of the multitude of characteristics that make Rolexes so desirable is the attention to detail that the company invests in making certain that this “like new” condition can be achieved in after sales service. I have only encountered a small handful of other brands with which this same quality holds true across their entire offering. Armed with a small arsenal of refinishing techniques, it is a fairly straightforward task to bring most of the watches in Rolex’s portfolio back to factory fresh condition. Many of their models can be refinished with little more than a variable speed polishing lathe, a few hand tools, and a selection of buffs and compound. A select few, however, require a little extra attention. One such model is the Rolex Yacht-Master. In particular, the bezel of the Rolex Yacht-Master.

The Rolex Yacht-Master is the only model in the company’s current line-up that features any sort of sandblasted finish, all of which occurs on the bezel. If your shop is equipped with a sandblaster and polishing equipment, for a relatively small investment it is possible to fabricate a simple jig that will make the task of refinishing these bezels on-site quick and worry-free.

If access to a sandblaster is not possible, the best course of action is to send the bezel away to a Rolex service center for refinishing.

The Objective

Before describing the jig, it is important to define what it needs to accomplish. We can dissect the top, most visible, side of the bezel into three distinct areas or zones, as pictured below.

Rolex Yatch-Master Bezel Breakdown

The first zone is the bezel rim, which is highly polished. The second zone makes up the bulk of the bezel’s surface area and is recessed down from the highly polished areas of the bezel; it features an even, sandblasted finish. The third zone is comprised of raised numerals and indices that protrude up from the sandblasted surface. Like the bezel rim, these numerals and indices are highly polished. In order to restore these surface finishes in after sales service, we need a way to quarantine each of these zones during refinishing, so as not to contaminate a polished area with a specular finish from sandblasting or vice versa. The objective of the jig described in this post is to protect the highly polished rim of the bezel during sandblasting. The numerals and indices will be dealt with after the sandblasting has been completed.

Making The Jig

A ready made version of the jig I am about to describe how to make is available from Rolex and comes in three sizes: 29, 35, & 40mm, which correspond to the case diameters that Rolex produces the Yacht-Master I in. These jigs can be ordered directly from Rolex, or you can make your own in a matter of minutes using standard ABS pipe fittings from your local hardware store. The 35 & 40mm bezels correspond conveniently well to 1 1/4” pipe adaptors. An insert for the jig can be fashioned to provide the necessary support for 29mm Yacht-Master bezels, and a full ABS cap can be used in lieu of the standard nut fitting where the opening is already too wide to adequately protect the bezel rim.

1 1/2

When selecting a pipe fitting for the 40mm bezel, I recommend bringing along a measuring caliper to ensure the opening in the nut is not too wide. The 1 1/4” fittings created by some companies fit perfectly, while others are too wide by vital fractions of a millimeter. If you cannot find a suitable nut, or simply want to play it safe, you can fabricate the protective cover of the jig from a full ABS cap, as suggested above.

The platinum bezel of the 44mm, white gold, Yacht-Master II is slightly too large for most standard household pipe fittings. There is little reason to be concerned about this, though. As this model was released in 2007, it will be several years before the Yacht-Master II begins coming in for routine service. Even when they do begin to come in for service, due to the advanced nature of the LiGa formed wheels that operate the countdown timer and the intricate nature of the bezel’s interaction with the movement to program the mechanical countdown timer, Rolex will want to ensure that the highest possible quality of service is performed. Unless you have been trained on servicing the Rolex 4160 caliber that is running under the hood of the Yacht-Master II, I highly recommend outsourcing the work to a Rolex service center – bezel and all.

Model Outer Diameter of Seating Diameter of Opening in Top
44mm
42.60mm
40.50mm
40mm
40.00mm
37.50mm
35mm
34.10mm
31.75mm
29mm
28.60mm
26.50mm

This article will focus on the 40mm Yacht-Master model. Jigs for other bezel sizes can be made by substituting the corresponding measurements from the table above into the steps below. To prepare the ABS fittings, follow these 7 simple steps:

  1. Start by chucking up the threaded, male segment of a 1 1/4” ABS pipe fitting in your lathe.
  2. Ensure that the fitting runs true and centered on the lathe, make any adjustments if necessary.
  3. Cut a flat recess, 40mm in diameter, in the fitting, about 1mm deep. This will provide a seating to maintain the bezel’s position in the jig when the top is screwed down on it, as pictured below.
  4. Checking the fit of the bezel in the seating of the jig

  5. Screw the female segment (nut or cap) of the 1 1/4” ABS pipe fitting onto the male segment that is already on the lathe, to ensure the opening we will cut into it remains concentric with the seating we just prepared.
  6. Cut a 45° recess into the fitting, the inner diameter of which should be 37.50mm. The 45° angle will help funnel the silica from the sandblaster onto the bezel.
  7. Unscrew the female fitting and set the bezel in the first fitting that was cut and then screw the fitting you just cut down, finger tight, on top of it. Inspect the fit of the jig under a loupe and make any adjustments if necessary. The inner diameter of the screw down top should completely cover the outer rim of the bezel, without any gaps.

The jig is now ready for use.

Steps to Refinish the Bezel

With the jig prepared, we can now move on to refinishing the bezel. If the bezel has any particularly deep scratches, these should be removed at the outset, before following the steps outlined below. Deep scratches on the polished surfaces should, ideally, be remedied with a lapping machine. When lapping the numerals, be cautious not to facet them. The surface that the numerals occupy is not perfectly flat, but rather slightly convex. It is also advisable not to turn the lap in one direction only. Instead, vary the direction that the lap turns, forwards or reverse, to keep the gold or platinum from splaying out in one direction or the other. Deep scratches in the sandblasted recesses can be filed or burnished out carefully by hand. If the bezel is free from any deep imperfections, you can proceed to refinish the bezel using the steps below:

  1. With any deep scratches already removed from the bezel, the first step to refinishing a Yacht-Master bezel is to polish the outer rim. Begin with several light touches around the perimeter of the bezel using the high-polish buff on your polishing machine to catch the recessed dimples.
  2. Once the dimples have had their former shine restored, follow up with several passes on a lapping machine to polish the bezel’s perimeter while helping to maintain its crisp, clean edges. Several horological tool suppliers sell a specialized tool from Horotec (tool #23.501 on page 26) to aid in holding watch bezels during lapping. An even more specialized version of this tool is also available from Rolex. If no lapping machine is available, you can also chuck the bezel up in your lathe and polish the two outer faces with a flat bar of nickel or lexan charged with diamond paste.
  3. To help bring out that extra level of shine, at this stage I like to give the polished surfaces a quick, light pass on a freshly dressed high polish cotton buff. Often, there is enough high polish compound left from lapping that I choose not to add any compound to the wheel. In the event that you need to add compound to the buffing wheel, add as little as necessary (if in doubt, err on adding next to nothing).
  4. Mount the bezel in a lathe with the backside facing out and carefully apply a circular, grained finish to the back of the bezel with sandpaper.
  5. Wash the bezel in an ultrasonic bath to remove any residue from the polishing compound. Any traces of polishing compound left on the bezel during sandblasting will yield an unsatisfactory finish by preventing the silica from coming into contact with the surface during sandblasting.
  6. Next, seat the bezel in the jig we prepared and screw the top down finger tight. The polished perimeter of the bezel should now be fully protected by the jig, as pictured below.
  7. A gold Yacht-Master bezel fitted in the jig

  8. Hold the jig, firmly, in your sandblasting cabinet, close the hatch and fire away. Direct the flow of sand onto the bezel, rotating and adjusting as necessary to get smooth, even coverage.
  9. Examine the sandblasted surface of the bezel under a loupe to ensure a consistent surface finish. Repeat step 7 if needed.
  10. Remove the bezel from the jig and wash it in an ultrasonic bath. If necessary, brush it lightly with a soft bristled brush to remove any debris from sandblasting.
  11. Inspect the surface finish, both on the sandblasted area and the polished perimeter. Repeat the necessary steps if either surface is blemished.
  12. The bezel after sandblasting, with the outer rim protected by the jig

  13. Cover the bezel in a single layer of masking tape, without leaving any gaps. Polymide tape, which is typically what is used to protect a surface during refinishing, is not suitable for the tasks that follow as it is too thick and has very high heat resistance.
  14. Using a piece of pegwood, sharpened like a flathead screwdriver, press the masking tape down around the numerals and indices, resulting in an embossed effect.
  15. The bezel covered with masking tape, with the numerals and indices embossed

  16. Using a small felt polishing buff in conjunction with a handheld micromotor, such as a Foredom, Dremel, or other variable speed micromotor, polish through the masking tape to reveal the numerals and indices, while paying careful attention not to come into contact with the sandblasted surface.
  17. Yacht-Master bezel with high polish applied to indices

  18. Once the numerals and indices have all been polished, remove the masking tape. Alternatively, before removing the masking tape, you can pass the bezel lightly through a high polish mop as in step 3.
  19. The high heat produced during the polishing of the bezel indices will have caused some of the masking tape to melt and adhere strongly to the bezel. You can remove any residue from the masking tape by soaking the bezel in acetone for several minutes. To help speed the process along, you can scrub the bezel gently with a natural hair brush, such as those made of horse or hog hair. The bristles of a synthetic brush will degrade and congeal in acetone.
  20. Wash the bezel in an ultrasonic bath, rinse, and finish with steam.
  21. Inspect the work to ensure excellence.

The refinished Rolex Yacht-Master bezel

The bezel is now ready to be re-installed on the refinished case.

10 Comments

  1. david
    Posted September 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Mr Edwards, always wondered how it was done :)

  2. Posted September 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Great technique J. I’d never would have thought of the peg wood and buff through the tape trick.

  3. david
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    Is it standard decoraters masking tape? And why wouldn’t a full size polishing mop work. Thanks, David

  4. William Thompson
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 4:01 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this simple fixture making tip. I will certainly find wide spread use..

  5. Posted September 19, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    @David Yes, it is standard masking tape. The same 3M masking tape that was linked to. A big mop isn’t suitable for the task because it doesn’t offer the same degree of control and will cut through the tape in areas that the tape is intended to protect. Furthermore, a large buffing wheel will either flatten or cave the convex surface of the numerals and indices. There is still a small danger of concaving the surface with the small buff, but this is a non-issue if you’re attentive to the threat and avoid inducing it.

    @Robert It is a handy technique and gets the job done. Compared to a more industrial solution, it’s not the most ideal way to get the job done, but it works. I’m still on the hunt for a more suitable tape that won’t melt but can still be polished through where desired.

  6. Peter
    Posted September 25, 2011 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    I would like to have my 16622 bezel refinished. To whom can i send it and what is the cost?

  7. Posted September 26, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Hi Peter,

    I would recommend getting in touch with your nearest Rolex dealer. They will be able to assist you.

  8. Charles
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Can you separate the insert from the bezel? Or is this jig required because the insert can’t be removed

  9. Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    The bezel is a solid piece of platinum (or gold for the Rolesor Yacht-Master).

  10. Eddie D.
    Posted August 25, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Edwards,
    Thank you, Just found the article.What type of sand/ grit, do you recommend?
    I have always hand painted numbers before sandblasting, Can not wait to try this method.

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