Making a Watch by Hand

Donald W. Corson, 18.6.2006


Comment June 2010:

In the 5 years since I started making my first wrist watch much has happened.
As my abilities have increased so have my demands on my own work.
The machining has improved from close enough to CNC precision.
The movement finishing has gone from rustical brushing to glowing côtes de Genève and polished bevels.
But I have never tried to hide the fact that my watches are all hand made.
The cases are cast and finished by hand, meaning that the lugs may not be 100% perfectly symetrical.
The hands are roughly cut by CNC, but the final shape is given, the final rounded form and the final polishing
done by hand, making each one a unique piece.
I have arrived at a level of competence where I am comfortable with the possibility of selling my watches.
If my watchmaking style is to your liking and you prize personal work done by hand as opposed to
mass produced anonomity, please contact me about the possibility of having a watch made for you.
Don Corson

To contact me and see more about my watches ->
Now on to the making of my first watch.....   
which remains the watch that I wear almost every day :)

May 2017 See also my pendulum clocks at Ingenieur du Temps


In these days of “fast” and “convenient” I decided to commence a work of “painstaking” and “craftsmanship”, making my own wristwatch.  I have had the idea for a certain arrangement of the watch dial, as on the image at the right, for a while now.  My investigations into available movements showed that no production movement would give me this layout.  After a long period of indecision and wondering what I was really getting myself into I decided to make my own movement, followed by the case and dial.


That is a big jump, but we engineers are used to creating things that didn’t exist before so it was mostly the craftsmanship portion of the work that worried me.  Am I able to do this watchmakers work, work at such a small scale?  To put the chances on my side I decided to do two things:  1) take the watchmaking correspondence course of the BHI, which gave me a lot of the basic skills, but which I have to admit I haven’t even finished the first of three years, and 2) make a complete CAD model of the movement and watch before starting. 


My first attempt at making a movement was to make one with all the pinions in a straight line. A simplified movement with the largest possible expansion, to be able to see and work on everything as easily as possible.  Even so that first attempt at a movement was not crowned with success.  But one learns fastest through failure and the attempt to fathom why, despite ones best efforts, things did not go right.  And learn I did.


The following are posts I made to an Internet watchmaking forum describing the advancement of my work during the course of almost a year. From a few square pieces of cold brass to a working movement in a one-of-a-kind case. One of the joys of this work was the constant changes in skillset needed. From machinist to watchmaker to silversmith, etc.. As such the work is never boring, never repetitive, always new challenges and unknowns to be overcome.


The articles below describe the work to make this watch in approximately chronological order starting with cutting the first pieces of brass.  At that time I had already spent about 6 months making a complete 3D CAD model of the movement and case along with production drawings of each piece I was going to make.  Without such complete preparation such a project is doomed to failure from the beginning.  And in spite this preparation, there was still enough that got changed underway or that I discovered that I had forgotten.


I hope that you enjoy following this odyssey into the very esoteric world of watchmaking.

September 2007
Watch Nr.2 is finished and beyond my expectations, click here
to see its evolution from bare brass to a finished watch.

August 2008
Watch Nr.3 is finished, the Dresdener Regulator, inspired by a pocket watch made by Seyffert in 1807 in Dresden. Click here to see more.

NEW: April 2009
Watch Nr.4 is finished, another the Dresdener Regulator, this time in a rose gold case. Click here to see more.



From an Idea


to its Realization

More pictures below


1) Making the Plates



2) The Going Train



3) Installing the Balance



4) Keyless Works



5) Gear Cutting etc.



6) Making it Pretty



7) The Case and Dial


8) Lots of Details

9) Finishing Up


People and companies who helped
in the realization of this watch

Watchmaking Links

Technical Info: Metric Thread Drill Table


More photos below


Copyright © 2006 Donald W. Corson







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