Andreas Strehler on How to Make a Watch from Scratch

Andreas Strehler on How to Make a Watch from Scratch

ver. 1
by Andreas Strehler - Member, AHCI

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To make a Watch from scratch

There are several ways to make a “new watch.” The best known way is to take a movement, a dial, a pair of hands and to put all together in a nice case with a strap and call it: “my watch.” All of these parts exist somewhere in stock and in a variety of colors and sizes.

Another way to make watches is to do it like the first one, but you transform the movement so it is no longer interchangeable. These transformations can be just an eye catcher or more like changing the regulating system. To work like this you need the original parts from the factory to modify it and, the most important point, the results are the caliber is not the same, but now your own.

Many watch specialists’ make their own movement or complication by the “add on” technique. Most of these watches use so called modules. To prevent the final watch from being too large, the watch-builder most often uses a small and flat movement. Instead using the space to make a construction that will last for decades, the small parts of the original movement are overloaded by the module and will last only a couple of years. And that is only the beginning of the troubles for movements transformed in this way, as it will be difficult to find the necessary parts for eventual overhauls. Personally I don’t use this technique for the reasons mentioned above, but also because it limits the possibilities to make something really adapted for its purpose.

In front: the first idea of the perpetual calendar
In the background: the first sketch from Enrico Santoni, the jeweller who created the case.

My way to make a watch is to build it up from scratch. To build from scratch means there are no parts used from existing movements. And since there are nearly no standard parts in the watch industries, like nuts and bolds for building machines, every part is to be made by myself. Sure there are exceptions like jewel bearings, escapements, hairsprings or mainsprings. I have made some mainsprings or jewels myself for real rare antique watches or industrial prototypes, but wherever possible I use existing ones. If I’m making a watch with a lever escapement, I use an existing one. But often I have to tune it up for technical and aesthetic reasons. For the hairsprings I start with a blank. The blank is just a wound hairspring wire with a given specification. There is no “collet” or “stud,” and the wire is much to long.

Perhaps you are asking now why I make a watch from scratch?

There are a several of reasons:

There are a lot more reasons, but I think the list would be too long.

more then two years later, The Perpetual Calendar is finished.

 The process is not only to make the parts; first you have to make a sketch of what you want. I note all of the ideas on a piece of paper. Then I begin with the design of the watch. Sometimes I’ve started with the watchcase, sometimes with the movement, but mostly I’m doing all together. To make the design of a movement is a fulltime job. It takes several months from the first line to the last drawing of every part. Yes, I draw every part before making it. I leave no doubt to the size or how to make the part. Each part of the watch is calculated, simulated and verified several times. Then when every drawing is ready I begin to produce the watch parts for the first prototype. At this time I check out with which machine or tool is the best way to make the part. Often I need to build first the machine or a special tooling to make just one part. Once the machine is adjusted I make my parts. But it is a big error to make too many parts at one time. Why? It’s very simple, if you see, when you are working on the prototype it often comes to pass that a change must be made to a part so it will function better. If you have X number of parts in stock, well, you may be tempted to leave the functional, but inferior part as is. But if your stock is nearly empty it is much easier to re-begin to make the part. And, this is, once again, a reason why I don’t work with on stock parts; it is too easy to not make it better.

A pignon blank and a milled pignon, lying on a match.
Operations to do: heat treatment, polishing the leaves (front end and slots),
polishing the pivots and mounting together with the wheel.

This parts are for the new wristwatch, I'm working on.

Making from scratch also means to begin just from bars and plates of metal. So when I make, for example, a pinion I begin with a bar of 4mm “Sandvik 20AP” steel. If I want to make a plate or a bridge, I’ll use a disk of brass or German silver. It takes a lot of work to make a perfect part from scratch. To ensure the precision of every part, I use precise machines like a Hauser Jig-borer, 2 Schaublin lathes, a 4-axis CNC-mill and high precision control devices like the Hauser optical comparator.

Complicated toothed rim, with two different gears;
one is normal (Z30 m0.15), the other is beveled (20° Z32 m0.12).
Also lying on a match and made for the new wristwatch.

These and many more machines give me the possibility to make all needed parts for my watches, but also complicated parts like beveled gears. Once the prototype is really OK, I begin to make the real one. 

I have now been working for 2 Years, fulltime, from the first idea of my next wristwatch and I’m still making parts for the prototype! I’ll try to give you more information as soon as possible.

Andreas Strehler, the watchmaker

(With special thanks to Mr. Curtis Thomson, who helped me with editing.)

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Copyright December 2001 - Andreas Strehler and - all rights reserved