Making my First Watch

I have talked before about some watch designs that I’ve been thinking about for my first watch. See the article here.

Originally I was going to make an ambitous regulator layout with retrograde hands, although once I calculated how much work was involved I decided to scale things down a little. Now I am satisfied to just start with a regulator layout, and once that is ready I can start thinking about grander designs.

This article will be a work in progress as I build my first watch. There won’t be a great deal I’ll be doing to the movement, just the modification of one wheel and the addition of two new ones. This will move the hour hand from the centre up to its position in the top sub dial.

I was going to pay to get someone to make the dial for me, but once I sat down and designed it out, I realised that actually I may be able to do it all myself. I’d certainly like to give it a shot anyway.

So here’s the design (for the moment at least):


The design of the first watch I will make

So for the moment my to do list will be to make:

  • Two new wheels
  • Modify existing hour wheel
  • A dial plate
  • Two dial feet
  • A chapter ring
  • Two smaller chapter rings for the sub dials
  • 3 hands
  • 6 screws for chapter rings

The screws and hands will be made from steel and hand blued. The chapter rings will be made from brass, given a circular grain and then gold plated. The dial plate will be made from steel, given a straight grain and then either silver or rhodium plated (I’ll have to look into which finish will look better first before I finally decide). I’m thinking at the moment to rhodium plate the case and crown too.

Once I get this finished, I can start to think about other parts that I can make. I’m particularly keen on re-making the whole back plate, and also the crown, but we’ll see how this first part goes to start with. There’s no point trying to run before I can walk at this point, and so breaking it up into stages will make it easier to finish, and hopefully more satisfying to work on.

I do have a full-time job and am also doing the final year of the BHI exams at the same time so it’s not going to appear overnight, but I’ll update this as I progress…


Update Sept 2014:

It’s been a year since I last updated this, but there has been some progress inbetween. As I have now taken my 3rd year BHI exams (and passed them), I have decided to incorporate the making of my watch into my 4th year portfolio. Completing the BHI’s 4th year exams will grant me the FBHI title (Fellow of BHI), and from what I can gather this will give you the closest to a doctorate in watchmaking that you can get.

For this I have to restore a number of watches, make parts and perform complex repairs. I have already picked out the watches I am going to work on and will include some of the parts that need to be made in my own watch.

I have already made a balance staff and stem for the 6498 calibre, but as I feel as if I’m a bit out of touch of using my lathe I decided to try my hand at maufacturing and finishing some of the wheels; specifically the crown wheel and ratchet wheel, along with the click and the corresponding 3 screws that hold them in place.


Here is the base 6498 model, as made by ETA. Note the dull finish to the top wheels and the circular machine marks on the screw heads


And here we are after about 56 hours of work and practice!


I’d never manufactured or finished a wheel before and so I had to firstly learn how to do it. George Daniels’ book Watchmaking, goes into great detail exaplaining the method. I didn’t take any photographs of the process, and so the next time that I manufacture a wheel I’ll write a seperate article on the process. After the wheels were finished I decided on the type of finish I wanted. I liked the look of the sunburst grain with a polished edge and so I decided to add this onto the crown and ratchet wheels. For the screws and click; I flattened them and then polished them as close to a black polish as I could


Here is the same angle but with a filter added. This shows off the polish on the screw heads and click more clearly


I didn’t know how to make a sunburst grain. So I decided to create the effect by creating a snailing pattern. This is made by spinning the wheel in the lathe and then pushing another grinding abrasive post (which is also turning) into it. By using an unusually large diameter on my abrasive post the lines appear to be almost straight. By looking close-up, you can see the lines are not perfectly straight but have a slight curve to them


From another angle. For the click and the screw heads I flattened them first by holding them in my lathe and pushing a milling cutter gently onto them. Once flat, I then worked through the emery papers, progressively getting finer, before finishing with diamond paste. The same polishing method was used on the teeth on the wheels, but with the wheel spinning in the lathe as I polished it


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