How to build a watch.... Sort of
Much like many great entrepreneurs and inventors, I like building things... When I was 13, I built a mechanical bionic hand using Kinex. When I was 15, I built a death trap of a skateboard ramp. When I was 17 I built a motorbike using a lawnmower engine and an old bicycle. When I was 22 I built a manual wind Pilot watch. But this article isn't really about why; it is about how. So how did I do it?
(The Young Horologist Flieger Type A prototype)
First of all I needed to decide what kind of watch I wanted to build. Easy. I wanted to build a big pilot. A proper utilitarian, historically accurate Pilot watch. Therefore, I wanted a blank Military "Type A" dial, manual wind movement, 44mm case, large onion crown and, although not historically correct, a clear case back. You know, because its cool. The next stage was to find all these parts.
(An example of a military Type A dial. Made famous by Laco, Stowa, Wempe, IWC and A lange and Sohne during the second world war. This is a Laco Type A)
Now when looking online you have to be careful to find parts that fit together. This is easiest if you choose the movement first. Once you've selected the movement you can find cases, dials and hands that are made specifically for that movement. This is vital as hands made for an ETA 2864 wont fit on an ETA 6497. In the description of cases, dials and hands etc it will say what movement they will fit. The description of the dials will also contain information about the diameter of the dial and what sized case it'll fit. Again this is important as certain dials will fit certain cases even if they are for the same movement. The second thing to consider is that Seagul makes cheaper but still more than adequate clones of ETA movements. The difference in price is about £100 but, even according to my favourite east London watchmaker, the difference in quality isn't that vast anymore. Moreover, the parts are perfectly interchangeable. Therefore, if you have problems later down the line you can replace the seagull parts with ETA parts which are far easier to source individually than seagull movements.
Because I wanted to make a large dial pilot watch, I needed a large movement to make life far easier. Therefore I chose a Seagul ST 36000. This is a clone of the ETA 6497. This is a clone of the large manual wind movement found in the likes of Laco and Stowa pilot watches with the sub second hand at 9 o'clock. Next I found a Military "type A" dial and IWC style hands. Lucky they came together. This wasn't easy to find from suppliers not based in China. (I eventually found everything I needed in France.) I started finding that Chinese suppliers were selling parts stating their location as Essex but with a 2 week delivery, suggesting they were still being sent from China. There isn't necessarily any issue with this. However, the language and location barrier can make the whole process of receiving your items and returning them, if there are problems, that bit longer and more complicated. I am not being political, that's just my experience in the past. I had very good communication with my supplier and received my items within a week - during the xmas break.
(The exhibition case back allows you to show off the Seagul ST3600 movement with blued Steel screens)
The movement comes almost fully assembled. The hour cog, dial washer and crown stem come separately. Not a complicated process assembling provided you have the right tools.
Firstly, I checked the movement had everything. The untrimmed stem came inserted into the movement so I tested to see if everything was working correctly and smoothly. Then I greased the hour cog and placed it on the movement. It fit over the hands stem easily. Next I placed the washer on top of this. This is bent in order to prevent the dial rubbing against the hour cog.
Once the dial is in place I could screw in the dial stabalisers. These are two screws that you will find on the side of the movement. These tighten up on the the pegs on the back of the dial that slide into the movement.
Now I could add the hands. This is the fiddley bit. The hour hand goes on first. This is fairly easy. I gently put it in place on the central stem and pushed down until you hear a click. The minute hand is the same. I placed it over the stem and pressed evenly until it clicked. At this point, I checked the hands were straight and flat, not pointing up or down. If they aren't straight they will catch on each other or the second hand when they pass. Also be careful to calibrate the hands properly. I set my hands showing 3 o'clock. If it shows 3 o'clock correctly then the hands will be calibrated accurately when the watch starts running. A suggestion would be to set it at either 3, 6 or 9 o'clock. This allows you to set it as accurately as possible. As there is no date function with this watch, you don't have to be worried about the date calibration. Finally, to add the second hand you will need some patience and a hand setting tool for sure. I placed the second hand on its side and lined up the second hand stem in the second hand tube. I then very gently pushed it on top. If the movement is running the second hand will start spinning now. Once it was lined up, I pressed down with my hand setting tool. A small click told me it was in. Again make sure the second hand flat and straight.
Next was time to put the movement into the watch case. To do this you have to remove the crown stem. NOW, with this particular manual wind movement (both ETA and seagull editions) the stem release is a screw instead of a small button. You only have to turn this screw a MAXIMUM of 180 degrees. Any more and you will serious fuck up the crown mechanism. I did this and required support from John at Antique Watches UK. What a bloke. To rectify this is a whole other video/article. Once the crown stem is out, I dropped the movement into the watchcase, making sure there was no dust on the dial or the inside of the case. There will be a brass movement ring that you should put in place before dropping the movement in. This will secure it. Obviously the hole for the stem needs to be lined up with the hole in the movement and case.
Next, I trimmed the crown stem down. To do this, I screwed the crown that came with the case on loosely. I then inserted the crown stem into the watch and pushed it to default position to see how much stem I needed to remove. This is a trial and error exercise. After a few times I had it close enough. At this point, I screwed the crown on tightly and inserted the stem into the movement. I then screwed the release screw in tightly to secure the stem.
(It is important to observe and ensure the hands are set correctly calibration wise and that they are flat and straight)
Now that the hands, dial, movement ring and movement are secured in the case and the crown and stem are fixed correctly into the movement, all that is left to do is screw the case-back in. Once again, use the blowing-thing to make sure there is no dust or dirt in the movement before sealing the case. Screw the case back on as tight as possible. The watch is now ready to go. I am in the process of getting an IWC big pilot style watch strap made for my watch. In the mean time I am using either a khaki Nato or a distressed brown leather Nato. Both really help emulate the military utilitarian vibe I am after.
4. Next steps and next projects
Conversing with my esteemed colleagues, we agreed that there is scope for us to look at producing the "Fleiger Type A" on a made to order basis with build and shipping within the UK taking around 2-3 weeks. We need to secure some agreements with suppliers of parts and straps and sort out embellishing the dial with our logo. Once we are happy with the prototype, we could launch the made to order pieces for around £300-400. We believe this is very reasonable considering the quality of the parts and movement with other brands using the exact same movement and charging over £1000.The only thing we aim to achieve out of making our own pieces is to make nerdy pieces for fellow nerds without taking the piss on prices whilst maintaining quality. We believe the Flieger Type A prototype is a proper homage to the original Pilots watch but with a cool exhibition case back. Furthermore, we aren't a faceless Chinese homage watch company. We are some nerds who got carried away and now want to design and produce our own watches.
We are fully transparent with our goals and aspirations here at The Young Horologist. Next, my aspiration is to create a Paul Newman homage however in a proper 38mm case size and on a nice rivet oyster bracelet opposed to those terrible Alpha Paul Newman bracelets! However in the mean time we are going to concentrate on our Fleiger Type A. Keep your eyes on the site and our Instagram for updates.
44mm 316L steel case
Seagul ST3600 Manual Wind Movement
22mm Lug Width
Exhibition case back
48 hour power reserve
Co-Founder and Director