If you want to “make” your own watch can buy a case/movement/hands then over time put them together. This is not a trivial task and has a lot of geek cred associated with it (and at the end of it you have a mechanical watch).
However, what would it mean to *make* a watch from scratch with no off the shelf components? Just think about it for a minute. You would have to buy tools and machinery, learn the techniques to use them, understand in a deep and significant way the workings of a mechanical watch, design a movement, build each individual movement component by hand, machine the case by hand , design and turn the dial, machine the hands then assemble and test the watch. What would that actually involve? What skills would you have to develop and how long would it take you to get to the point you could build something that actually worked, let alone something someone would be willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for?
An Englishman called George Daniels did just this, and in a series of videos on the brilliant Web Of Stories he talks about his life and his work. If like me you enjoy octogenarian horologists in cardigans talking at great lengths about lathes this is right up your street!
Details after the break….
Daniels decided he wanted to make watches for a living at an early age and after leaving the Army bought the tools and taught himself the techniques to become one of the few individuals in the world capable of making an entire watch (in a phrase he would almost certainly hate) “soup to nuts”.
Not content with doing this he then beavered away figuring out a better way to regulate the beating heart of a watch via its escapement, eventually coming up with the “co-axial” over the traditional “level” method. Bear in mind he chose to do all this when the mechanical watch industry was manning it’s gates against the barbarian quartz hoards.
Eventually he sold his method to Omega, which given its Swatch/ETA linage needed a technical differentiator to allow it to compete with “in house” movement brands. By adding this escapement, which I am sure gives some technical advantage it allows Omega to pitch their movements to the general, non horologically inclined public as excusive as opposed to the “Ébauche ” ETA options for non Swatch companies.
Daniels has personally made on average one watch per year during his life. Heavily influenced by vintage Breguet they are simple, classical and heroically rare (i.e even if you want to buy one you probably can’t). However if you do want to get “that Daniels look” on a budget you could drop £142,000 (plus sales tax!) on an anniversary celebration watch by Roger Smith: http://www.danielslondon.com/anniversary/
Mr Daniels is a generally fascinating character with an astonishing life story and embodies the grumpy spirit of one of my favourite English words; curmudgeon. For instance despite his obvious love of Breguet and spending untold hours restoring racing Bentleys he takes a dim view of the “vintage” watch industry:
“It seems not to matter to some people that they can go to a Sotheby’s auction and buy a second-hand Rolex for £15,000 when up the road there’s a shop that sells new Rolexes for a fraction of the one they have just paid a fortune for.”
It may be best no one has told George what a nicely worn 5510 with good provenance is going for nowadays.
In a world where AP release 15 new versions of the Royal Oak every month, each slightly bigger than the last and in increasingly demented colours (to better match VJ Singh’s latest sweatshirt) I cannot imagine anyone will have the time, inclination or market to do what George Daniels did with his life. So in tribute settle down with a nice cup of tea and listen to a gravelly voiced horologist talk about escapements for an hour and a half. Bliss….
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