I’m considering making some silver watchbands, and I’m contemplating
getting some decent watches (eg citizen, etc) and repainting the
faces to accompany the bands. I have no watch experience at all, I
have never even removed a watch back. This is still in the
contemplation stages and I’m looking for feedback - would I be in
for a long education, or can I play around and teach myself to
remove/replace faces with little likelihood of destroying the works?
Should I try to get a lesson from a local jeweler? I’m trying to get
a feel for whether this is something I should steer away from due to
the time and skill that would be required, or if it might be easily
or quickly mastered. Any input from knowledgeable face-removers
would be appreciated! Lisa
I’m considering making some silver watchbands, and I’m contemplating
I have no watch experience at all, I have never even removed a watch back. This is still in the contemplation stages and I'm looking for feedback - would I be in for a long education, or can I play around and teach myself to remove/replace faces with little likelihood of destroying the works?
I do not like to discourage people from trying new things, but
replacing watch face is not trivial. But, it is a very worthwhile
skill to have. How quickly depends on a person. What I can suggest is
the following. Otto Frei has online watch school. Take a first course
and see if it is your cup of tea. Tuition is $75 and tools another
$400. You could do a bit better if you already have some tools that
are needed for first course. Even if you decide not to pursue it, you
would still have tools, and more understanding of watchmaking. From
my point of view it is money well spent.
Get yourself off to some car boot sales, there usually lots of broken
watches to be had for pennies. Have a play, youll learn a lot. Go to
a jeweller? no, go to a watch and clock mender. Most electronic
quartz watches come out of the case once you have the back off and
the winder knob,(now used for setting the time) out.
Get yourself off to some car boot sales, there usually lots of broken watches to be had for pennies. Have a play, youll learn a lot.
Sounds very reasonable. But also very wrong. Working on old, rusty
movements destroys your tools and contaminates your bench. A flake of
rust invisible without magnification can stop movement dead in it’s
tracks weeks after it was deposited on the bench or tools. Besides one
learns absolutely nothing from mindless disassembly. Every type of
movement has it’s own sequence of been taken apart. Every type of
movement has vulnerable points when severe damage can be done to a
movement without even been aware of it. There are no shortcuts in
learning to work with watches.
Point taken, although I am actually hoping to avoid dealing with the
watch movements in any way. Watchmaking and repair is a huge study
that I’m not prepared to enter at this time. What I’m really looking
for is is purely aesthetic; I would love to simply repaint the face
of the watch as a decorative counterpart to the watch bands I would
like to make. I don’t want to invest time in exploring that direction
if I will ruin the watches as soon as I open them up.
Point taken, although I am actually hoping to avoid dealing with the watch movements in any way.
If you open a water resistant watch it will need to be pressure
tested by a watchmaker before you can honestly resell it. Of course
far too many jewelry stores change batteries on these types of
watches and never mention to their customers that swimming or
showering, or even sweating will now likely ruin their watch.
Watchmaking and repair is a huge study that I'm not prepared to enter at this time. What I'm really looking for is is purely aesthetic; I would love to simply repaint the face of the watch as a decorative counterpart to the watch bands I would like to make.
Problem in working with functioning watch movement is that it is
completely enclosed system, where each and every part depends on
every other part. Just by opening a case, movement is intruded upon
in a destructive way and must be completely restored before
re-closing. I understand that your interests are purely aesthetic,
but they cannot be accomplished without technical knowledge. Consider
cooperating with a watchmaker to take care of the technical side.
Point taken, although I am actually hoping to avoid dealing with the watch movements in any way. [snip] I would love to simply repaint the face
I agree-- that is something I have been wanting to do, too, just
haven’t gotten to it.
I think Leonid is thinking of “watches” as the magnificent,
mechanical, complex pieces of engineering that go with traditional
watchmaking. I, and I suspect you, are thinking of the modern, fairly
modular, self-contained movements that are in inexpensive everyday
watches. I have taken these apart, and while it is important to pay
close attention (there are tiny springs and the like that can pop out
of position, and it can be very challenging to get them back,
especially if you don’t know WHERE) they are not SO fragile, nor
ruinous to replace if you wreck them.
It’s possible to buy watch faces which could be decorated as suited
and then work with a watchmaker to install them before you put on the
watchband you made. Good partnership that results in a working watch.
Barbara on an icy night on the island (the driveway was a sheet of
glare ice when I arrived home)
Sounds very reasonable. But also very wrong. Working on old, rusty movements destroys your tools and contaminates your bench.
No, it isnt wrong, dont be so discouraging!!
a beginner has to start somewhere, May I remind you that if man was
meant to fly he would have been given wings, what better than some
cheap asian quartz watches for pennies? The backs are sprung in
sometimes without any O ring for sealing. Google for removing the
winder shaft, you dont need to do it on your normal work bench. A
kitchen table will do. also most quartz watches are dead due to flat
batteries. Otherwise perfect. then have a go at painting the dials.
Replacing the dial is a different matter.
At our local car boot, every Sunday, theres always lots of dead
watches , one stall holder has a box of them! all new just dead
batteries, for 50 cents each complete with strap. Abviously dont start
with a Rolex perpetual, you wouldnt get it open if you tried. A
special tool is needed.
Getting back to where to start?
my first apprentice was 2 when he started with his own small anvil
any hammer he could lift, and lots of ali, copper and lead scrap. I
told him to beat the hell out of that!!,
He had outgrown Leggo by the time he was 8, I bought him his first
farm tractor when he was 10, a 1956 Ferguson TEF 20 4 cyl diesel.
his1st 386 computer when he was 12. He was arc welding at 14,
building from scratch a trailer for his motor bike.
He built a 10 ft high Darrius vertical axis wind turbine when he was
16 and won the Siemens medal for that.
He went on to do computer science at college.
He is now 29, works as a partner in side scan sonar development
company. AND is far brighter than the so called old hand!. Me. So DONT
discourage anyone from having a go.
Whne youve opened it up the movements inc dial and hands comeout vin
OK, real life answers time -
1 - You are VERY likely to scratch the back, at least slightly, on
nearly every watch you open for at least the first few hundred
watches, unless they are attached with screws through the back
corners. Backs requiring a knife or case wrench are easily damaged
unless you are quite experienced.
2 - Removing the stem & crown is usually easy, ONCE YOU UNDERSTAND
THE PROCESS. However, some require a trained watchmaker to remove,
and there are many different types of movement, each with a different
3 - So, you have the stem out, you turn the watch over, and the
movement falls into your hand. Do you see those little sticks
attached in the middle? Those hands are friction-fit to the movement
of the watch, and they must be removed to get unobstructed access to
the face. DO NOT TAKE THEM OFF! You will probably bend them, and
never be able to re-install them properly without specialized tools.
A watchmaker needs to do this.
4 - You need to remove the face to paint it, right? Well, modern
watches have three or more “dial feet” attached to the back of the
face, which are in turn cemented to the movement. If this sounds like
a problem, it is. This is the point in the instructions where the
watchmaker looks at you like you have lost your mind. To remove the
face requires either the adhesive bond to be broken or the dial feet
to be broken off. Unfortunately, you don’t get to choose which
happens when the watchmaker is prying it off. Broken dial feet =
5 - Sit back and re-think the whole process, be thankful that you
decided against the whole thing!
He built a 10 ft high Darrius vertical axis wind turbine when he was 16 and won the Siemens medal for that.
Sounds like a very cool kid, and you are rightly proud. There’s a
Yiddish word for it-- kvelling.
5 - Sit back and re-think the whole process, be thankful that you decided against the whole thing!
Geez, you guys are such Gloomy Grinches! I know everyone appreciates
the useful info such as in this post-- I surely do. But it cannot be
an overwhelmingly difficult task to alter or replace a watch face.
It sounds like good advice to find a watchmaker willing to get
involved-- I had not thought of that. Once I find him/her, likely
he/she can also tell me what kinds of watches will be relatively easy
Thanks for the help, no thanks for the discouragement!
After 3 lovely daughters also practical, he was a complete surprise,
born when I was 50. So do I let him into the workshops, and not get
much work done?answering endless questions? or boot him out and make
money, Well, a boy after all those yrs, !! I thought Id run an
interesting experiment. Soft old fool am I Teach him all I know, let
him in due time use all the equipment with supervision, and see what
the outcome would be. I made him struggle with solving enginering
problems, ie get him to think them through. so IF your also blessed
with children, their formative yrs come only once. They learn
without trying, and its the best use of your time you can make.
Thanks Noel for your supportat this time of the year.
I’m with you Noel,
We all have to start some place and if we had used the best tools
when we began we might have ruined some of them. A lot of clock
shops have old watches hanging around perhaps it’s possible to find
some to play with.
I have been working with enamels to create faces for watches and I’m
looking for someone to work with also.
I can’t remember where you are now, I remember you got a new job and
moved. Perhaps we could work on this problem together?
Geez, you guys are such Gloomy Grinches! I know everyone appreciates the useful info such as in this post-- I surely do. But it cannot be an overwhelmingly difficult task to alter or replace a watch face.
Agreed, a thousand times over.
Saying that watches are ‘enclosed systems’ and making out that watch
feet on the dial
have to be broken off or are glued is just so much fear mongering.
Granted, experimenting on a $10,000 watch is not wise and you will
run into trouble.
But the cheaper watches?
Go buy broken ones, they are cheap. and then take them apart. Ruin
them, see how they come apart.
Learn how they fit together.
Making a watch dial and soldering the feet on is not rocket science.
just a bit of experimentation.
Altering or changing the face is not difficult, once the methodology
Making a movements from scratch, working on a Rolex, for instance,
yes, you definitely have to have formal training.
But under $500 watches? Plenty cheap and broken ones to play with.
I buy my new movements separately from watch suppliers, and then
fabricate the case, face and strap separately.
I made myself a titanium watch a few years ago
Just go for it, don’t listen to the naysayers.
But it cannot be an overwhelmingly difficult task to alter or replace a watch face.
Personally, I think that everybody should get experience of working
with watches. It definitely gives different perspective on hand
working skills. That said, one should know what to expect. I had a
situation when I had to acquire watch skills and it took 4 months and
$6000 in tools and books. My tool set is far from complete. One
probably does not have to spend that much, but I have an attraction
to bergeon tools.
I tried this idea of buying old movements to play with and had to
spend a week re-sharpening my screwdrivers. My next step was new
Chinese movements. Without documentation (I do not read Chinese) is
was a waste of time. I took them apart, reassembled them, and they
did not worked. And I had no idea what did I do wrong. Then I started
all over in the right way. I took online courses with Otto Frei and
started reading books. I still killed couple of movements in the
process, primarily because I did not read with proper attention.
There are no trivial steps in handling a movement. It is recommended
if case is open for any reason, except strictly visual inspection in
controlled environment, the movement must be completely disassembled
for cleaning and lubrication. Lubrication in watches is a hair
raising subject. I know it sounds so simple and innocent. But
compared to let’s say lubrication in cars is like taking integrals
in your head as opposed to doing addition on oversized calculator.
This does not mean to discourage anybody. Quite the opposite. You
would have a much better chance of success if you know what to expect
and be ready for it.
Thanks everyone, for your answers and opinions. As I suspected, it
may be a more involved process than it first appears to remove the
face of a water-resistant watch and replace it without damage. There
is a local jeweler near me who may be able to recommend a particular
brand or model that I can successfully navigate if I get the correct
tools and do the background learnin’. Alternatively, I can either use
an un-altered watch and replace only the band, or just keep my hands
off the watches and stick to bracelets. I may well start by playing
with some cheaper/flea market watches to get a feel for the process
anyway, Thanks! Oh, and definately a cool son story, Ted! Lisa Weber
I made myself a titanium watch a few years ago http://www.ganoksin.com/gnkurl/ep7ztm
I love the fold-over catch. How did you attach the gold hinge
knuckles to the titanium?
Sorry to be late to the party. I love your idea Lisa. I think a
method you might try that wouldn’t involve disassembly is to remove
the whole movement / dial assembly and paint the dials while they are
still mounted on the movement. Cut a hole roughly the size and shape
of the movement in the top of a pizza box or something similar and
set the movement in the hole, leaving the dial flush with the
cardboard, then do your stuff. You will probably still have to learn
how to remove the stem so you can remove and re-install the movement
in the case, but that’s usually pretty easy once you see how they
This is obviously experimental and I wouldn’t try it with a watch of
significant value. But for a five dollar pawn shop or yard sale
watch, what the heck? I also wouldn’t sell the first few to anyone
you don’t know quite well and who will understand and enjoy their
Best of luck, and don’t pay attention to the “you can’t do it that
way” crowd. They do creativity no favors.