Jewelry Made from Radium Dial Watches (ca. 1985-1988)


As a result of an investigation in early 1988 by the Los Angeles County Health Department, various state radiation control programs in the U.S. issued warnings concerning the manufacture and use of jewelry made from old watch parts. These parts often included radioluminescent watch faces and hands. The jewelry, which included, broaches, bracelets, earrings, etc. had become quite popular and because it was easy to produce, the typical manufacturer was a small business operating out of someone’s home or apartment. Production is known to have occurred in California, Oregon, Texas and Pennsylvania. The radiation control programs in Tennessee, Texas and possibly some other states invited the public to bring suspect jewelry to their offices to be monitored for radioactivity.

The usual mode of manufacture was to dismantle old watches, clean the parts with some sort of abrasive, polish the pieces, assemble the jewelry, and possibly coat it with an acrylic spray. It seems that there was no awareness on the part of the manufacturers of the potential hazards. 

Even though some of the jewelry was worn in direct contact with the skin, and a number of premises were found to be contaminated (e.g., up to 50,000 cpm), there were no reports of injuries to individuals who wore or manufactured the jewelry. Nevertheless, one individual, who had been making such jewelry for six years, was found to have “1/30 of a body burden of radium-226.”


  • Dibblee, M.G., Edmonds, E.E. Manufacture of Jewelry from Radium Dial Watches. CRCPD Newsletter, Winter 1988.
  • Herald-Citizen. Luminous jewelry a hazard? March 22, 1988.