Introduction: I Wanted to Build My Own Watch

About: I'm an actor/tech/IT/graphics/editor/writer kind of guy. I do a fair share of voice over work and have the full time gig at Bard College at Simon's Rock. While waiting for machines to do things, I hit the wo…

I have a lot of watches and I've fixed and modded a few. So the next step was to build one.

Step 1: The Dream...

So watches. That outdated idea of having a timepiece on your wrist. I know, I know, we have smart phones with very accurate clocks on them. Computers have the time right there in the corner. It's pretty easy to find out what time it is.

Yet. I like watches. I have over the past couple of years acquired several. Quartz and automatic movements.

I have a couple of Timex, a Swiss Army, an Orient, a couple of Seiko's and a slew of real cheap Chinese fashion watches from (I'm talking like 3 to 4 dollars cheap.)

The problem I have with the real cheap watches is that they use a teeny-tiny battery that seems to only last 6 months at best. Where my Timex and Swiss Army quartz watches last for a few years.

SO, anyway. When I got the Swiss Army watch, it was junk. Even a new battery wouldn't bring it back to life. (more on that later) I brought it to my local jeweler and he put a battery in, let it sit for a few days, hoping it magically would come back to life, but alas, no.

I figured, ok, it doesn't work anyway, what harm could I do?

I did some research, (very important) and found that the Swiss Army movement was available. I bought it from, figured out how to remove it from the watch, and transfer the dial and hands. Eventually. I broke the first second hand, and had to order another. At that point I changed the color of the second hand sweep from white to red. I was hooked. I can do this!

Step 2: Get Tools...

You can not fix a watch with your average hand tools. Ok, maybe you can, but the right tools for the job make it a LOT easier!

Back to and I ordered some items.

Magnifying headband with a light. Because that second hand, IS WICKED SMALL! and the little shaft it has to slide onto, IS EVEN SMALLER!!

I got some fancy hand pullers, some tweezers, G-S Hypo cement and a set of pusher things to put the hands back on.

Since then I've bought a small holder for a movement, some cleaning clay, and a better set of tweezers.

I discovered that the Harley Ronda movement in the Swiss Army has a little added piece of thin plastic that was supposed to sit between the bottom of the battery, and the movement itself. It's an insulator so that the battery doesn't short against the movement. Wouldn't you know, it was missing on the old movement. The jeweler missed it as well. Lesson learned.

Step 3: An Idea Popped Into My Head...

So, if I can replace a movement and a set of hands... then I should be able to build my own WATCH!

All I need are the parts. A case, a dial, a movement, some hands and a strap right?

Esslinger had some items, but I didn't find a full kit. I found some places online that would allow you to build it on their website, but that wasn't really what I wanted to do. I wanted to make it.

So let's get started.

As you may or may not know, there are a lot of watch parts out there to emulate a Rolex. They're not the same quality of a Rolex by any stretch of the imagination, but they know how to mimic the style. And when searching for watch cases, they keep popping up. has cases, Alibaba has cases, Helenarou, and a WHOLE bunch of places in Hong Kong have cases.

I ordered a 40mm stainless steel case with a green bezel. (In the style of a Rolex Submariner) from No where on the case does it say Rolex. There's no engraving, no fake serial numbers. It's just a case. Remember, I want to build a working watch, not a fakey Rolex thingy.

The particular case I was interested in held the ETA 2824-2 movement. This movement is of decent quality, it's an automatic, which I prefer, and you can find them for less than $150 bucks on eBay. (Also available at for a little more.)

I heard a rumor that ETA stopped selling their movements to the public, but ask around, you'll find one easy enough.

Ok, case. Check. Movement, gotcha.

Step 4: Oh the Tangled Webs We Weave...

The dial.

I have an ETA movement, I could of put a black or white dial on it, but I wanted a green dial! to go with the green ring.

I swear, the only dial I could find that I liked, was one that said Rolex. Sheesh. But it's beautiful! had a nice green dial with silver accents to go with the stainless case. These dials come with dial feet that match up with a couple different movements. The ETA 2824 being one of them.

Now, I've never done this before, so I did some research, ordered up some 'dial dots' to get the dial to stick to the movement and go from there. One of the cool things about the ETA movement is that it has little locks to lock in the dial feet. So the dial feet-sticky things are kind of a belt and suspender approach. I don't want it to rattle.

My movement also came with a spacer ring, to make sure the dial doesn't rub against the date wheel. Line that up with the holes for the dial feet, and put a couple of SMALL dots of G-S cement to hold it in place. I put one 'dial dot' on the movement, on a blank space, and mounted the dial.

Real quick, I had to remove two feet, that were meant for another movement, I cut them off with wire cutters, then filed down the remaining stub.

For this work I cut the fingers off some latex gloves, so I wouldn't get messy prints all over the place. The oil isn't good for the movement at all.

Never touch the counter weight, it's very fragile. In fact, think of EVERYTHING about this work as fragile. Go slow, don't force anything.

WORK CLEAN!! have a clean space, a clean surface and watch every little dust spec.

Once the dial is attached to the movement. it's time for some hands. Rafflesdials sells hands. They're sized for the ETA 2824-2. Every movement has different sized spindles for the hour, minute and second hands. Hand length is important too. Esslinger and Ofrei also have hands.

Step 5: The Hands of Time...

Here's a trick I learned. With the stem in the movement, and the movement on a movement holder, pull out to adjust the time. Not the position to move the date, just the time. Move forward in time until the date..just..clicks..over to the next day.

This may take some practice, but you want to move ever so slowly as you approach that rollover. Some movements are easy to watch this happen, you can see the date wheel about to advance. Once it clicks over to a new day. Put the hour and minute hand at the midnight position. Press them into place with a hand press. it looks like a pen eraser with a hole in it.

Then advance the time again till you get around midnight. Go slow and adjust the hands so that the date clicks, right at midnight. It's so satisfying.

Then we put on the second hand sweep. If you think you're going to do this with reading glasses, you're in for a surprise. It's hard to do.

The illuminated magnifying headband ain't quite a chick magnet, but you can see that tiny spindle and the tube the second hand has to fit over it. I use a combination of tweezers, and cleaning clay to move the hands into place. I also make sure the dial of the watch is protected by some cardstock with a thin notch cut out of it. In case I slip, I don't want to scar the dial. (the movement holder is very helpful for this.)

Step 6: Assemble!

Here's where things all go together.

The movement goes in the case. This case also came with a movement ring that centers the ETA movement in the case. I'm not sure you're supposed to, but I put a drop of G-S adhesive on the ring. Just one. I'm not gluing it into place, just making it sit still. If I ever want to move this movement to another case, I can.

Here's is step I had to dig to find out. The ETA has mounting screws and tabs! Who knew?

And why didn't my movement come with them?

Fine, fine. I order those on eBay, and a few days later they arrive. Again, wicked tiny. Think small.

But they work! Sort of. The tabs didn't work, and the movement ring was too tall. So I sanded it down almost a full millimeter. The case came with a #2 movement ring, and I needed a #1. But I wasn't about to wait another 20 days for it to deliver. So I sanded it down. And the movement is secure in the case. Some glue to keep the movement ring from rotating. (Mostly because the case mounting tabs didn't fit.)

From there I put the stem and crown in place. The stem was a little long, so I carefully cut a few threads off the end, screwed on the crown, test fit it, made some more minor adjustments until it finally fit perfectly. I put a drop of epoxy on the threads of the stem and tightened the crown onto the stem. Then inserted the stem back into the movement. This video from Esslinger can explain that part better if it's confusing.

The back screws down, and I use a squishy ball to tighten it.

For a strap, I ordered a leather NATO style from

Again, I just wanted a good looking watch. I don't need some Rolex clone strap or other things like that. If the dial had said MONK, in a nice font, that would be cool with me. But that green looks so good.

Step 7: Finished!

So there!

Let's tally this up.

Case $42

Dial $22

Hands $12

Movement $125

Movement retention screws $8.00

Band $23.90

Plus random shipping. I don't remember, let's say $40.00 bucks or so.

$272.90 in parts. I don't count the tools I bought, because I'll use them again for the NEXT watch. And this by far is the most expensive watch in my collection to date. And I learned A LOT. And I have to admit, it was fun plus I got a cool looking watch out of it.

Step 8: Summary

Would I do this again?

You know what... I just might!

I have lots of bits in the bin from the cheap Chinese watches I've bought, I could use one case, upgrade the movement, change the color of the hands...

It's a great hobby!

Will I ever buy a real Rolex? Boy that's a tough question. I mean come on, it's a WATCH. It tells time!

But that said, maybe. But I'm going to build a few more watches first.