Fabricating A Mechanical Wristwatch At Home


Our mouth is still agape after digging through [Tom’s] watchmaking blog. This gentleman spent several years designing and machining his own mechanical wristwatch. A dozen years ago or so [Tom] answered an ad for an apprentice watchmaker. He worked on watches and came across a book that detailed how timepieces are made. He was told that no-one does it like that anymore, which only fed his curiosity. What he came up with is, to his knowledge, the first timepiece every made in Australia.

It’s no secret that we have a thing for clocks. But we feature digital timepieces almost exclusively. We’ve love mechanical watches too but don’t see them as hobby projects very frequently. After looking at what goes into the mechanism it’s not hard to see why.

[Tom] was faced with a variety of challenges along the way. One of the biggest was having to come up with tools that would let him perform the precise milling work necessary to achieve success. You’ll want to read through his movement design and manufacture posts. He laid out the plan in CAD, but ended up using some hacked together milling tools to get the job done.

[Thanks Amit]

38 thoughts on “Fabricating A Mechanical Wristwatch At Home

    1. He designed and built machines that mill material at a huge level of detail. Even if the watch is craftsmanship (I agree that it is), the tools are hacks, as mentioned in the article.

  1. There were pocket watch makers in Australia 100 yrs ago so this certainly isn’t the first watch to be made there, but as the article says he just must not be aware of this. Excellent craftsmanship, well done.

  2. What a nice job!

    I have recently had an old watch completely rebuilt(!) by a gentleman in Canada. I’m in awe of the guy. When the original movement had unrepairable wear, he took parts from it and a second movement I purchased off ebay to reassemble a single working movement.

    I guess it’s easy if you do it all the time, but even though I work with SMD parts on circuit boards, these little mechanical marvels are more than I would dare tackle.

  3. Now that he perfected it and has all the patterns, he should make one out of Gold Platinum and Silver. Then he will have a watch that even an Arab Prince can not own.

  4. Full disclaimer, I am a watchmaking student.

    I don’t mean to take anything away from the guy, but after looking at all his posts, I realized the watch he has cased in these pictures is not one that is “handmade”.

    This particular watch is called an ETA 6497-1. It is a very common watch caliber, and can be bought for ~150$ for just the movement, the part inside the case. He has done a cool job applying a circular line finish to the watch bridges on a watch he bought- if you follow his posts, he shows this watch as bought, and then he shows applying the finish.

    While some other posts show him CNC machining what looks like custom shaped bridges for this watch, neither those nor this are handmade, and this is just a decorated bought watch movement he made a dial for and cased in a bought case. It is relatively simple to do this, many have. It still looks classy for sure!

    I don’t mean to rain on the parade, just point out the truth of the matter, as I have seen this many times from many people, and have worked with this watch since I began school, where we do make the bridges for the watch on watchmaker’s lathes, by hand, without CNC. We hand set jewels, and even modify the mechanisms of the watch, or add new ones. Some have created and added complications like mechanical chronographs to their watch. We call them our school watch project.

    He has gotten a rather nice circular line finish on his watch though, that’s not easy to do. I encourage him to keep up his work, and finish even more by hand. It’s a nice looking watch.

    1. I give him more props- his documentation is a bit confusing, but it looks like he machined the case for this watch. A nice touch, he didn’t buy the case. My mistake.

  5. On second thought- it still looks like the cased watch he has has all the factory
    stampings- the “17 jewels” part on the barrel bridge indicates this, but it looks like he may have cnc machined the bottom plate on this watch, and used factory bridges hand decorated on the upper half.

    I can’t really follow if this is purely a factory watch decorated, or he used half and half parts. It’s difficult to follow even reading his posts, when I see the exact factory shapes of the watch bridges. So I can’t really tell well what he has cased. The pictures are saying opposite things to me when I’m so familiar with the factory watch and all its shapes, but the text is either vauge in places or not matching what I’m reading.

    Just ignore my 1st comment, I don’t fully understand what he’s done here, and I mean no rudeness at all. I’m just trying to figure out what exactly he has cased.

      1. No need to be rude man, I certainly wasn’t trying to be. Just confused.

        I followed to the linked post, and read it in whole. I read all his posts in chronological order and followed what he’s done, only this cased post wasn’t clear. But seeing he had difficulties, and seeing the watch I’ve worked with for the past 2 years daily, in reverse engineering as well, I saw what looked like to me a factory watch, modded by refinishing. I am so familiar with the factory lines of the plates and all the details of that watch caliber, I had to second guess what I was seeing and reading. I only became confused because I’m very familiar with the watch because of what I do daily, most people wouldn’t run into the problem I did as they are likely seeing that caliber for the first time.

        I’m with Makomk’s diagnosis, and have since learned from higher sources that the ETA 6497-1 he shows cased here is indeed sold in a bare brass version as well, it was an older version. I think that is the version he used for the baseplate, and I’m certain the upper swirled bridges are factory, as they carry the factory geometry as well as the factory stamping marks for text of jewel count- a cnc could not replicate that. So, my judgement is he is indeed working on custom plates using CNC for stock bought gears, but had run into problems, and the particular post linked shows what I just described, temporarily he doesn’t have one of his custom plates done yet, so this is his temporary solution. I have no doubt the final version will be custom.

        People call attention here to stuff like that all the time in all the posts about electronics, but I say nothing, because I don’t have knowledge to comment. I just say awesome job! I know mechanical stuff like this, so I wanted to bring my 2 cents, because hand watchmaking is something I’m incredibly passionate about and involved in. I’m not here to cut anyone down, but bring attention to factual inaccuracies of how this was posted, as I work with this exact item daily as a watchmaker. He is fabricating stuff for sure- he made a really classy dial from scratch, with a sort of tremblage technique on gold. It’s nice! He’s using CNC to do a lot of work, but he’s doing more than most. He designed his own case too, that ain’t easy even with CNC.

        Last item- for those interested, the book that inspired him is the same one that inspired me- it’s called Watchmaking by George Daniels, a man who handmade all his watches with no CNC. And the remaining watch schools in the us don’t teach you how to make an entire watch, but you do pick up the skills neccessary to do it if you’re really dedicated.

        1. Thanks for mentioning George Daniels. I have a copy of his book & have thoroughly enjoyed it. I am a gemologist, jeweler, cut colored gemstones, and also rebuild old timepieces as a business. Continue to build your skill set, it will be a rewarding experience.

    1. If I’m following his series of blog posts right, he got most of the way through rebuilding the movement with a new plate and bridges but ran into some issues and ran out of time. So he actually ended up decorating and casing a standard ETA 6498 movement.

  6. Why are there so many comments telling the page owner what and what not to publish these days? ‘That hack makes money so it’s not really a hack! You can’t post that! That’s not a hack, it’s a craft!’ How boring.

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