How to build your own mechanical watch
How to build your own mechanical watch
Have you ever wanted to make your own watch? Something that is unique and specific to your tastes? Maybe you’ve seen watches that had a great dial and case, but the hands weren’t quite right? Well with a little bit of searching around on the internet, some mechanical know-how and a fair bit of patience you can build your very own bespoke watch. For this watch I decided I wanted to try a B-Uhr style Flieger and the end result was better than I could have imagined. These are the steps I took to make it happen.
Step 1: Finding the Parts
The first step to building your custom Flieger is sourcing the parts. You’ll need to find the following:
You’re going to want to figure out your movement first since this will determine the layout of the dial and the second hand position. The movement I used for my watch is an ETA 6497, which has its second hand located at the 9 o’clock position. If you would rather have your second hand at the 6 o’clock position you can get the ETA 6498 instead.
ETA movements are getting harder to find these days since ETA has decided to stop supplying their movements to third parties. Despite the shortage you can still buy them through Otto Frei and sometimes find them on ebay. The price depends on the level of decoration you want. I ordered the a gold toned movement with a hammered finish for 169.00.
For the case you need to find something that is compatible with your ETA 6497/6498 movement. I went with a Solid Steel B-Uhr style case from HelenaRou. This case is available with mineral crystal glass for 49.95 or sapphire for an additional 40.
DIAL & HANDS
For the strap I went with the 22mm Black Calf Flieger Strap from Crown & Buckle. I paid 30.00 for mine, but it’s currently on sale for $17.50. That’s an amazing price for a calfskin leather strap.
You’ll also want to get 22mm spring bars and Mounting Tabs for the movement.
Once all of my parts were in I laid everything out to inspect for damages or imperfections. I should probably mention at this point that I actually built this watch about a year ago and have been wearing it quite frequently since. I took it apart again for the purposes of this tutorial, so any scratches or scuffs you might notice on the case or strap are the result of lots of use. Your parts should be in pristine condition when you receive them.
Step 2: Remove the stem from the movement
The first step you’ll want to take is to remove the stem from the movement. ETA uses a set screw to hold the stem in, so to remove it you’ll need to rotate that set screw about 180 degrees. Don’t completely unscrew it, just turn it slightly and pull on the stem. If it doesn’t pop out, turn the screw another quarter turn and try again.
Step 3: Install the hour wheel and dial washer
Once the stem is out you can put the hour wheel and dial washer in place. Simply drop the hour wheel over the canon pinion and make sure the gears on the outside engage with the gears of the minute wheel.
Once the hour wheel is in place you can put the dial washer on top of it. When the dial is installed it will press against the washer and keep the hour wheel in place.
Step 4: Install the dial
Next you’ll want to loosen the set screws that hold the dial feet in place. These will be tightened down when you receive your movement, so give them a few counter-clockwise turns to clear the space that the dial feet will sit in.
Now we’re ready to put the dial in place. You want to avoid scratching the dial or getting any fingerprints it. I used a stick with some Rodico on the end to put it in place, but if you like you can just grip it from the sides. Once the dial is in position and sitting flush with the movement you can tighten the set screws you just loosened. This should hold the dial firmly in place.
Step 5: Attaching the hands
Now it’s time to set the hands. You want to start with the hour hand, so drop it into place and use something to press it over the shaft of the hour wheel. Once you have it in place check it from the sides to make sure it is parallel with the surface of the dial.
Next is the minute hand. I used Rodico on a stick to put in place before pressing it down onto the canon pinon. Again you’ll want to check to verify that the hands are parallel with the dial and each other.
The last, and most difficult hand is the second hand. The pinion for the second hand is very, very small. So small you won’t likely be able to see it without magnification, so if you have a loupe or a magnifying glass now is the time to use it. The pinion is also fragile, so it is best to get the second hand in possition, then verify that is is on the pinion and not next to it before pressing down.
Step 6: Casing the movement
Once you have the dial and hands firmly in place its time to add the movement adaptor. Slip it around the movement making sure to align the hole in the adaptor with the stem hole in the movement. The bevel should be facing away from the dial.
We’re almost ready to put the watch in the case, so set the movement aside (dial side up) and start to clean the inside of the case with a microfiber cloth. You want to make sure there are no fingerprints or dust specs inside the case. Once it’s sealed up we want it to stay that way, so take your time to make sure everything is nice and clean.
Once the case is clean you can drop the movement in, again making sure to line up where the watch stem will go.
Once the movement is in place I like to put the stem in to keep it from shifting around while we screw the movement holder tabs in place. Please note that the tab is upside down in this photo. You want it to slope downward and follow the countour of the adaptor ring before you screw it in place.
Step 7: Cutting the stem
Once the movement tabs are in place it’s time to measure the stem and cut it down to fit your crown. I usually just eyeball this part. If you put the crown next to the stem you can get an idea of how much length you’ll need to cut off. If you like you can mark the stem with a sharpie so you know where to cut.
Once the extra length is cut off the stem you can screw the crown on. If the cut wasn’t clean you might have to file the end of the stem before the crown will screw on. I like to add a little bit of lock-tite to the stem so the crown doesn’t come off in the future.
Once the crown is screwed in place and you are happy with the length of the stem you can secure it by tightening the locking screw. Once you have the screw tightened check to make sure you can pull the crown and set the time properly.
Step 8: Attaching the case-back and straps
Now all that’s left to do is screw on the case-back and attach the watch straps. I found that my JAXA wrench couldn’t open wide enough to fit this case-back so had to use a friction ball case opener instead. Once the case-back is securely tightened all that’s left is attaching the straps.
Use your spring bar tool to attach the strap with the buckle to the top (12 o’clock) position. Then attach the second strap and you’re done!
Congratulations. You are now the proud owner of a high quality bespoke Flieger style watch for a fraction of what you would pay retail. I added up all of my costs and this build came out to about 300.00 bucks. Not bad considering the closest Flieger style watch with an ETA 6498/97 movement was the Stowa Klassic which starts at around 1200.00 bucks. Sure, Stowa has a rich history, but that isn’t worth another 900 dollars to me.