Radium caution

I just found out that some watch faces and hands were painted with radium in the early 1900’s, to make them glow in the dark. According to a thread I found at the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, another on eBay, and an Australian government website, the radium is not a problem so long as it’s not ingested. The Radium Girls, who suffered radiation poisoning while painting watches in the early 1900s, handled thousands of watch parts, licked their brushes to keep them in shape, and painted their teeth, nails and faces with radium paint, for fun.

In my Steampunk pieces, I rarely use watch faces or hands, and when I do, they are often coated with resin, which would keep the paint from flaking off and being accidentally ingested. Most of the time, I use gears, bridges and other internal parts, combined with new materials, and these parts have no known association with radioactivity. I have never noticed any of my materials glowing in the dark, but just to be on the safe side, I will avoid using any watch faces and hands of unknown origin, in the future.

I do want to make it clear that, regardless of my precautions, I have no way to 100% guarantee the condition of any vintage, recycled or found parts, in regards to radioactivity, or to lead, nickel, aluminum or any other content. Steampunk, found art and jewelry items which contain vintage or recycled parts will be clearly described as such, in the item description. 

One Response to "Radium caution"

  • I wondered if you were going to post this or not! I went to the links you sent me, they WERE very informative, so thanks a lot!

    Personally, I have a jeweler that I’m going to talk to. He seems to be willing to give me watch parts at either an EXTREMELY discounted rate or free, I’m not sure which yet. I’m just going to tell him I’m paranoid about Radium paint and that I’d prefer watches that were made after 1968, since that seems to pretty much guarantee that there’s no Radium paint on them (not 100%, but close enough). Plus, I figure if he gives me the part versus me buying watches and taking them apart myself (which I was thinking of doing to save some money) that will also cut down on the chance of my exposure.

    I think it was a great idea for you to post this here, by the way. As you’ve said before, a lot of people have been copying your designs, so posting it here should get the word around pretty quickly. I’m not sure if most of the designers knew about this or not (I’m guessing not) but the biggest risk would be to the designers since they would be the ones who would (potentially) be taking watches apart to get at the insides, which would increase the risk of the paint crumbling into dust so that the Radium could be inhaled in the first place.

    Anyway, thanks again for the info! It definitely made me feel A LOT better!

    1 Melissa Pecor said this (January 30, 2009 at 7:53 pm)

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