I recently had the urge to make some Steampunk jewellery using old and recycled watch and clock parts. Like anything that I make, I looked into any potential dangers with using the materials and came across a startling discovery.
The problem is with the phosphorescent compound coated on many old vintage watches. The compound contains Radium and was used to coat the watch faces and hands so that they would glow in the dark. The radiation from the Radium coated watch faces has the potential to cause serious health risks and the problem doesn't stop at the watch face and hands...Over time the paint breaks down and will become very dusty and it is important not to breathe any of this dust. This dust can in turn contaminate the work area and the watch mechanism itself.
If you are interested in reading more about the risks and history of working with luminous watch dials please the following website. The website also includes a link to an article about the Radium Girls who used to paint the watch hands and dials. They were instructed to point their brushes with their lips when their brushes lost their shape!
Hopefully I am not scaremongering but it is extremely important as crafters that we stay safe and any items that we sell to others are safe for them. We need to be aware when dealing with recycled and vintage objects that we understand what materials were originally used and any potential hazards with them. This can be anything from old watch parts used in jewellery to the paint used on old wooden items and fire risks associated with recycled fabric.
Let’s face it, at the time many vintage items were made without knowledge of the potential health and safety risks associated with them. We are more aware of these risks today and anything that we buy ‘new’ would have had to pass health and safety assessments.
Personally and as recently advised by a Steampunk forum, I am going to borrow or invest in a Geiger counter to eliminate any radiation risks and will certainly wear a dust mask when handling old watch parts in the future.