Meet the One-Man Shop Restoring Vintage Seiko Cases, One Zaratsu Polish at a Time

Kamil Dunkowski, an expert watch refinisher and restorer based in Poland, is obsessed with zaratsu polishing. “For me, zaratsu is all about reflection of the light,” he told me. “I believe zaratsu polishing is the identity of Grand Seiko.”

I stumbled onto Dunkowski’s work by accident. He has a small but growing following on Instagram (@lapinist_watchrestoration) where he showcases dramatic before and after photos of watches that have been sent to him from all corners of the world. It’s striking to see photos of beat up, seemingly-beyond-repair Seiko sports watches with close-ups of dings and scratches that might go a step or two beyond a desirable patina, alongside images of the same watch restored to catalog photography standards. There are videos, too, that showcase the unique characteristics of how a zaratsu polished lug, for instance, reflects light in motion. It’s something to behold, and a great Instagram follow if you’re a watch lover who appreciates excellent metalwork.

Dunkowski’s watch story is typical and will be familiar to many: at 18 he obtained his first mechanical timepiece, an inexpensive Seiko 5, and the rabbit hole was officially open. It wasn’t long before he graduated to more serious collector’s pieces in the Seiko range, and he gradually developed an interest in the unique Seiko style of case finishing. It was during the renovation of his personal watch, a Seiko 6139 chronograph, that everything clicked.


He had determined to source a new-old-stock case for his project, and when he finally obtained one, he was blown away by the level of finishing. The flat facets, perfectly even brushing, and mirror polish blew him away. “That was the moment I started wondering, ‘How is that possible?’ To keep all those edges so sharp but also polished at the same time.”

As a Grand Seiko owner, I have to admit, I’ve wondered the same thing. The finishing on these watches, and many classic Seikos, defies logic if you’re not intimately familiar with the artisanal process that goes into creating the unique look. The sharp bevels, crisp lines, and perfect mirror effect are intoxicating. As Ilya pointed out in his recent hands-on review of the SBGM221, the way that Grand Seiko artisans are able to create super clear definitions between elements of the case that don’t involve mixed finishing techniques is truly impressive.

That was the moment I started wondering, ‘How is that possible?’ To keep all those edges so sharp but also polished at the same time.

The zaratsu polishing that Grand Seiko is known for, and that Dunkowski was so transfixed by and now excels at, is as misunderstood as it is beautiful. While it has become a signature of sorts for Grand Seiko as a brand, zaratsu is not a centuries-old Japanese technique (like, say, the tsuiki or “hammer tone” decorative process used on some recent high end G-Shocks, or for that matter many types of porcelain production that are offered in the Seiko Presage line). The word “zaratsu” is derived from engravings on the German machines used to create the polishing effect. “Gebr-Sallaz” becomes, phonetically, “zaratsu” on the Japanese tongue. The distinguishing aspect of these machines is that unlike on a traditional polishing wheel, where the front of the wheel is used to create a polished surface, the zaratsu machine uses the side. This allows the craftsperson to create those impossibly flat surfaces that meet at unexpected angles. It’s a skill that takes years to learn, and one that has almost zero margin for error.

Dunkowski sees parallels between the end result of a zaratsu finish and the principles behind cutting and polishing diamonds. Both are designed to reflect as much light as possible through a difficult to achieve flatness. “They are like tiny mirrors playing with the light on your wrist,” Dunkowski tells me. The complex cases associated with Grand Seiko and many vintage Seiko references have a way of highlighting the quality of the finish and the way the surface angles play with one another.

There’s an inherent complexity in zaratsu polishing and this type of case restoration that is evident to a lay person just from looking at the end result. When I asked Dunkowski to tell me about some of the unique challenges that he has to deal with in this kind of work, he identified three areas that he has to pay particularly close attention to. First, the three dimensional qualities of the case itself. “They are faceted like a precious stone,” he told me. “If I make one facet too big or at a different angle, then it affects the geometry of the whole case.”

Secondly, each facet needs to be perfectly flat with sharp and crisp edges. “You can achieve a sharp edge with a brushed finish pretty easily, but when it comes to a [zaratsu] finish it is a great challenge not to blur the edge.” This is evident to anyone who has handled a modern Grand Seiko: the uniformity of the highly polished finish across the entire surface of the facet is striking, and if any one facet was off, it just wouldn’t look right.

The most challenging technical aspect, Dunkowski tells me, is the reproduction of the original case shape in a total overhaul or restoration. “Most cases are badly worn or damaged,” he says, to the point that the case needs to be reproduced using micro-welding, followed by a grinding to the factory shape, and then it’s time for the high polishing of zaratsu. This combination of multiple extremely technical processes is almost head-spinningly complex when you consider that one small mistake can ruin an entire vintage case.

Over the last year, Dunkowski has been steadily increasing his profile on social media through his dramatic Instragram photography showcasing his restoration efforts of classic Seiko and Grand Seiko cases. Some of them appear so damaged that it seems impossible that the original lines could be saved through a thorough restoration. But Dunkowski is drawn to the challenge. “There are so many different designs of vintage Grand Seiko and King Seiko,” he tells me, “and all are complex and demanding.” But there are few watches that Dunkowski won’t touch. “Most watch cases can be restored,” he says. “Normal wear, scratches, dings can be restored to the factory standards.”

Dunkowski also uses the aforementioned micro-welding process regularly in his restoration work. A somewhat controversial process in the watch restoration world, this type of welding introduces new material to a case, and it is then subsequently ground down at a microscopic level to match the original finishing. Dings and dents that would normally be impossible to fix without removing excess material from the case are put back in play with the introduction of this technology. The drawback, according to some, is that the heat levels used can cause cases to warp under pressure. And then there’s the whole “originality” argument that vintage watch collectors obsess over. For Dunkowski, it’s a simple matter of customer satisfaction. “Most rewarding,” he says, “is my customer’s reaction to the work I performed on their watches.”

The idea that restoration destroys the value of the watch in question doesn’t ring true to Dunkowski, although he concedes that many collectors have legitimate concerns. “But,” he says, “after seeing the end result they have no doubts that the value has just increased drastically.”

There are so many different designs of vintage Grand Seiko and King Seiko, and all are complex and demanding.

One of the reasons Dunkowski is able to make a statement so bold is his strict adherence to the original factory polishing lines. Dunkowski keeps an extensive photographic archive of reference cases to work from, and through many years of experience in handling these watches on a daily basis, he has come to know their lines intimately. But Dunkowski also takes the approach of an historian. “I have a lot of scans of vintage catalogs and advertisements that are very helpful,” he told me. And the internet, of course, is indispensable, with auction archives, collector profiles, and all the other watch media we all consume on such a regular basis.


When Dunkowski examines a case, he does so under magnification to search for any trace of the original factory polishing lines. Determining the proper path to restoration can become complicated. The famous Seiko 6139 chronograph (the Pogue, a verified space watch) might have come from the factory with one of two distinct finishing patterns which are similar but not identical. It’s only under a microscope that Dunkowski can determine the appropriate pattern.

The Pogues are among Dunkowski’s favorite watches to work on. “They usually were treated as tool watches, so after many years of hard wearing they don’t look very pleasant,” he says. These cases have a great, intricate design, that were often not well cared for, and Dunkowski seems to enjoy the transportive act of bringing them back to factory spec. It’s gives the owner, likely not the original owner, a view to what the watch really looked like when it was first purchased, with shimmering and flashing polished sides that bely the watch’s age.

The impression I get from my correspondence with Kamil is that he has a true love not just for watches, but for the craft. He spent years building his own machines and creating his own tooling that would enable him to reproduce the zaratsu look. He’s figured out a way, completely independently, thousands of miles from the Grand Seiko studios in Japan, to reproduce one of the most challenging effects in case making. When I asked him what, if anything, it means to him as a European to have mastered something that is so closely associated with Japanese watchmaking, Dunkowski demurred. “I just pay homage to [Japan’s] great achievement,” he said. He sees his work as a small part in saving these traditions for the next generation, irrespective of geography.

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Zach is a native of New Hampshire, and he has been interested in watches since the age of 13, when he walked into Macy’s and bought a gaudy, quartz, two-tone Citizen chronograph with his hard earned Bar Mitzvah money. It was lost in a move years ago, but he continues to hunt for a similar piece on eBay. Zach loves a wide variety of watches, but leans toward classic designs and proportions that have stood the test of time. He is currently obsessed with Grand Seiko.