Scratch Built Watch Case Is A Work Of Art

The wristwatch was once an absolute necessity, as much fashion statement as it was a practical piece of equipment. Phones in our pockets (and more often than not, in our faces) replaced the necessity of the wristwatch for the majority of people, and the fashion half of the equation really only interests a relatively small  subset of the population. The end result is that, aside from the recent emergence of smartwatches and fitness trackers, walking down the street it’s fairly unlikely you’ll see many people wearing a traditional watch.

But we think the scratch built wristwatch case recently shown off by [Colin Merkel] adds a new justification for wearing a watch: pride. From a chunk of steel rod stock, [Colin] walks through every step of the process to creating a professional looking watch case. This is actually his second attempt at the project; while his first one certainly didn’t look bad, he felt that he learned enough from his earlier mistakes that it was worth starting over from scratch. A man after our own heart, to be sure.

As you might imagine, construction of the watch is largely done on a lathe. [Colin] turns down the steel stock to create the case and case back, and eventually moves on to using a mill and grinder to cut out the strap arms.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the build is the watch face itself. [Colin] uses a CNC to cut the marks into the dial, and after several iterations settled on a very classic looking layout. He then blues the dial by placing it in a bed of aluminum chips and heating it with a torch, creating a thin layer of iron oxide on the surface. This blued surface not only looks beautiful, but will protect the surface against corrosion. Finally, the marks themselves are brightened up by an application of white nail polish.

The watch purists (don’t worry, they are out there) will no doubt cry foul to see that [Colin] used an off-the-shelf Epson Y121E watch movement instead of trying to build his own. This if of course a bit like the classic Arduino argument; when there is already a perfected platform for you to build off of, why reinvent (literally) the wheel?

But if you insist, we’ve also covered somebody who took up the challenge of building his own movement. We also have no shortage of digital watch hacks, many of which even forgo those pesky little numbers.

33 thoughts on “Scratch Built Watch Case Is A Work Of Art

      1. I like the weight and look of steel, and I think aluminum would be too light for my taste. It’s not a bad suggestion though, seems like 7075 is actually harder than mild steel (supposedly Rockwell B90), so it might be worth looking into.

    1. What machines did you use specifically? Brands? CNC mill and a lathe I’m assuming? Software? Looking into doing something similar myself but don’t know what kind of machinery I would need to get started. Thanks.

  1. Cool, with a few major flaws:.
    It doesn’t look like it has any way to adjust the time.
    The back does not open.
    The front glass is glued on.

    Sure, this is by design which made the fabrication much easier, but it also made the watch much less useful.

    1. The watch of course opens, we see the two parts being fabricated and he even shows the wrench (which he also made) to unscrew the case back.

      You are however correct that there’s no external way to adjust the time, as there’s no hole for the crown. You need to take the case back off to set the time.

      But assuming a good movement and outside of dead batteries, you should only need to adjust the time twice a year, so it isn’t the worst of compromises to make the build considerably easier.

    2. Hey Fred, a couple comments:

      The back actually does come off, it’s threaded to unscrew. The original design was to have a crown, but I made a mistake while threading which meant I didn’t have clearance for the crown rod! I decided to go ahead with the build anyway, although you’re quite right, you need to open the back to adjust the time.

      On my next watch I won’t make the same mistake!

  2. Now we’re talking! Essentially everyone is familiar and envious of such tiny precision work. For those learning the history it encompasses a wide range of mathematics, metallurgy, physics, technique, and great stories of accomplishment. All become much more remarkable when you delve into the history of such handmade works and it’s importance to the world. A major subject in the history of hacking.

    Right on target HAD!

    1. Did a quick search and I think they use some other kind of nail stamping than what I got. Perhaps.

      Shouldn’t some kind of electrochemical machining work well for doing dial printing?

  3. Looks okay for a DIY project. I guess it might be good that it looks a bit like it’s homemade. Still, dios not beat a nice swiss automatic chrono-movement, skeletonzed in a case with front and back saphir glass…

    1. Why do people even leave comments like this? What’s to gain?

      This looks good enough that the average person would probably call BS if you told them you made it yourself at home. You’d actually have to convince them you didn’t buy it from some microbrand or something. That’s about as high praise as you can give in the world of custom watches.

    2. This isn’t ‘’, ‘’, or even ‘’. This is, which features DIY creations, clever hacks, and education in all forms of how to push electrons around.

      What you’re doing is like looking at a person who just built their own telescope and saying ‘Yeah, well Hubble is better’ or ‘For 10,000 dollars you could buy a nicer one’. Really, you don’t say? But this site isn’t about that.

      1. For every single project on HaD, the creator could have hired someone to do it. This would be exhorbantly expensive, and not being engineers themselves, the “purchasers” wouldn’t know what to make. There are some exceptions to the rule, IE Board fabrication to name one. For the most part, the point of hacking and making is the process and the entertainment, the success and failure.

    3. I think you may be looking for

      This watch is amazing, it’s obvious the builder put a lot of time and care into it. All you’re doing is arguing your aesthetic opinion as fact. That’s just silly.

  4. I don’t understand why so many people say they don’t wear a watch because they have a phone. There’s a reason people stopped carrying pocket watches. Why are so many content to return to that era?

    1. For me it’s cause I’m a mechanic, if my wrist grades a running pulley/belt/whatever I may get a fright or perhaps a light flesh wound. If I’m wearing a watch or a ring, well, I best be carefull with my remaining hand.

    1. Nobody is requiring you to be impressed.
      It is something far beyond my abilities and therefore I have immense respect and am impressed.
      Let’s see you do better and impress us.

      1. Listen if we should be impressed with all the things I can’t do.. well we need a few more sites, or better yet a separate internet.
        But what is I told you many of the things I can’t do are entirely unimpressive? Saved you a lot of work on that new internet methinks.

    2. I have been a machinist for the last 20 years and work on cmm and build specialized measuring equipment for micron level measurement and I’m thouroughly impressed. I’ve always wanted to build my own may just do that now.

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