Spotlight on Bill & Sons – Watch Dial Restoration Specialists
“For watch dial restoration we use David R. Bill & Sons. We’ve never found a dial they can’t restore”. As a teenager working in my family’s North East London Jewellers in the early 90’s, I distinctly remember being told this. I was asked to send a watch to D.R. Bill. It was in very poor condition and I really couldn’t believe that much could be done with it. However, the restorers at Bill’s worked their magic and the dial looked incredible when it was returned to us. I remember how delighted the elderly owner of the watch was when she first saw it. The watch had been her wedding gift to her late husband and seeing it returned to its former glory meant everything to her.
At Watch Specialists we shine a light on Independent Watch Retailers, many of whom have family businesses going back over generations. However, we’re also interested in the artisans who support our industry and have themselves honed their skills over generations. In this article we take a look at the company now simply called Bill & Sons and catch up with Chris Bill, grandson of David R Bill and owner and lead artisan.
WS: Can you tell us a Brief History of Bill & Sons?
B&S: The company was founded in 1962 by my grandfather, David Roy Bill. At the age of 15, David pursued his keen interest in horology, first learning the restoration of luxury timepieces at Banda’s in Clerkenwell Road, London. By the time he was 18, he joined the army where he completed 2 years of service. Upon leaving the army, he joined Swiss Co working for Mr. Gerner. In 1956 David moved to Pittsburgh USA working for Kirk Dial, a very experienced dial artisan who taught him the foundations of dial restoration. In 1957 his progress did not go unnoticed and Kirk Dial offered David the chance to manage his own workshop in Texas. However, he politely declined, deciding instead to return to London to raise a family.
David started his own dial restoration company, David R Bill & Sons in London’s Clerkenwell Road. Finally, in 1972 the business was relocated to just outside of London, near Chelmsford in Essex.
Today, the company still uses many of the original techniques passed down through three generations whilst continually learning and growing with modern methods.
One thing that has remained constant is that all dials are restored by hand in house.
WS: Can you briefly explain what you do?
B&S: Our specialist area of expertise is Dial restoration, although we do offer all aspects of watch repair and servicing. We can restore any dial. Most of the dials that come to us are in a very sorry state, some would think beyond repair, but this simply is not the case.
If on the rare occasion we do not already hold the exact design of a dial, we can offer a “best match possible service”, using our existing designs. Alternatively, we can recreate the artwork of a dial to ensure an exact match, using our custom service.
WS: So you hold an archive of dial designs?
B&S: Yes. We have hundreds of thousands of designs. It is an extensive archive that spans the 6o year history of our company.
WS: What are the most common reasons dials are sent to you for restoration?
B&S: We have a such variety of dials sent to us. Sometimes, the damage is quite minor, caused by the slip of a watchmaker’s knife. At the other end of the scale, we are sent severely damaged, unusable dials in need of full restoration. We also work on new, custom pieces.
WS: Can you tell us a little more about your Dial Restoration Services?
B&S: Our Dial Clean and Reprint Service helps to keep the original finish and vintage feel of a dial. Also, watch hands can be hand polished, refinished and re-lumed and day and date wheels restored.
Our Full Dial Restoration includes a full clean, repair, reprint and refinish including markers and batons.
WS: What are the biggest challenges you face when restoring a dial?
B&S: Ironically, Time! It’s such an artistic process, each dial takes a long time to complete from start to finish. That, along with a large backlog of waiting orders. This can create wait times of up to 8 weeks for a dial restoration.
WS: Can you replace broken dial feet and other applied parts of the dial such as indexes?
B&S: Yes, we can repair and replace both. However, for some unusable dials there may be an exception.
WS: Can you tell us about your Full Dial Customisation Service?
B&S: Most of our custom dials are created for custom firms. However, we do have several clients who send us their custom projects directly. It could be as simple as changing the colour of a dial or just adding a personalised touch. Currently we are creating the “cookie monster” on a vintage Rolex dial!
WS: Are there any Dial Restoration Projects that you have carried out over the years that really stand out in your memory?
B&S: Goodness, so many to choose from! We have customised and restored dials for countless celebrities over the years. However, as these projects are created with other companies, we can’t go into detail. My grandfather did restore the Queen’s watch many moons ago! It was a ladies diamond Datejust and was presented to the Queen by an African dignitary.
WS: In the future, we understand that you will have a selection of restored vintage timepieces for sale. Can you tell us about that?
B&S: Yes, that is the plan but at the moment we are too busy with our main focus – the dial restoration. When we do, we will ensure that we are honest about which watches have original dials and which have been restored by us. So many companies are not as open about restored dials. We want to differ from that.
WS: How do you think the business has changed since David R Bill started the company in the 1960’s?
B&S: In the last 20 years, the company has gone from strength to strength and we now have more clients than ever. Our main aim is still to provide a high end, personal service as we are a family business after all.
WS: What does the future hold for Bill & Sons?
B&S: With the continued support of our wonderful clients, a great future. We hope!
To enquire about Watch Dial Restoration or other Watch Repair Services, contact Bill & Sons through their website:-
Author: Suzie Brooks, Co-Founder watchspecialists.com