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Making a Watchmaker - modding an SKX.

May 05, 2019 • 8 min read

modding an seiko skx

For those of you who know me from my work at Gyroscope, this may come as a surprise - I don’t always wear my Apple Watch.2

Last winter, some friends introduced me to “old school” watches. Ever since, I’ve gotten into horology and started to appreciate watches for their ingenuity, elegance, and intricate movements. As I like to build things, I naturally progressed into watchmaking1

In this post, I talk about how I fell in love with the iconic Seiko SKX, a rite of passage for anyone daring to call themselves a “watch guy” - and how I discovered the watch’s utility and versatility through modding.

Anatomy of a Watch

Let’s start by learning about (incase you don’t know) the different parts that make a watch. Here’s a lovely illustration that helped me out when I was getting started and ordering the parts for my mods.

parts of watch

  • Dial You can think of this as the background of the watch and traditionally where the hour markings go.

  • Bezel Certain types of watches may not have this. Bezels, usually rotating ones, are most popular in “diving” watches.

  • Hands These mark the current time - hours, minutes and seconds (some watches may not have a seconds hand).

  • Subdial This is mostly there for aesthetics. Also known as internal bezel.

  • Case The outer shell that contains the watch movement.

  • Lugs These are the places where the watch’s bracelet is attached. Different watches have different “lug sizes” (i.e. space between the lugs). It affects the sizing of the bracelets or straps that a watch uses.

  • Case back Back of the watch. These often have markings from the watch’s creator and information on what movement is inside. Sometimes, the case back is transparent, allowing you to see the watch’s movement and inner workings directly.

  • Crown This is used to set the watch, it has various position to change time, date, and day.

  • Pushers These are buttons used to activate or trigger an internal function in a watch. They are mostly found in chronographs.

  • Strap This helps keep the watch on your wrist STOOPID.

Little About the Famous Seiko SKX

Seiko SKX 007 Original SKX 007 in all its glory

The SKX line is most popular for its quality, value for money, and versatility. It was originally built as a diving watch - for scuba divers and seamen. Its sturdy yet stylish build was meant for a lot more.

The great thing about the SKX - it is infinitely moddable and repairable. You can replace everything from the glass protecting the dial, to its hands, all the way down to the crown itself.

It also comes with water resistance rating of 200 meters for those of you who actually may go scuba diving with it.

Seiko SKX 007 Macro


Parts

Sourcing the parts and tools required for modding the watch was easy (the Seiko-modding community is huge and always keen to help). What took the most time (and money) was the watch itself - SKX 171. The SKX comes in several models (007, 009, 171, 173, etc.), each with subtle variations in color and size of the dials and bezels. You’ll typically find lots of 007s and 009s in the market, both new and used, at any time. The 171 is an older, harder-to-find version. I wanted the 171 for its black day/date window, so that it would look better with the overall look once my mod was done.

So here is the base we started out with and all the tools needed to get the job done.

Seiko SKX 171 Stock Not the most appealing look starting out.

Item Cost
Bezel Insert $50
Cerakoting $35
Watch Press $25
Double Dome Crystal $45
Watch Hand Remover $28
Blows Dust Debris Lint Dirt $8
SKX 171 $350
Total $461

Not exactly cheap, but it’s something that can last you a lifetime (if properly looked after) and even pass down to your children.

press Watch press to remove crystal from watch body

The best part about looking for the watch is exploring the various combinations of what the watch could turn into. The second best is sourcing the parts from all over the world and (at times frustrating) trying to get the best price possible. As I said earlier, the base of this mod, the 171, has been discontinued since the late 90s and grew quite popular in the early 2010s. It was challenging to source.

press Hand removal and press tool

After losing quite a few eBay auctions (it’s rough out there), I finally managed to snag one in decent condition that wasn’t overpriced.

Cerakoting

As you can see, the original watch was mostly stainless steel, and the final result is coated black. You dont know that yet.

This process is known as cerakoting. It grew popular with outdoorsy people trying to protect and customize knives and guns.

Cerakote is a proprietary finish, made by a company called Cerakote. The name is a portmanteau with the word "coat" changed to "kote," because misspelling things is cool. (Though some cynical miscreants disagree on that point.)

Anyway, the finish uses ceramic (hence "cera") particles in the solution. This creates a hard surface that resists scratching and other abrasion.

So we dismantled the watches and sent them off to be coated. We took apart the entire watch and removed the movements, crystals and bezels.

pre-cera Here are all the parts before they were sent off to the Cerakoter

post-cera This is the result of the bezel, body and crowns

back-cera We decided to give the back of the watch a little flair and went with titanium grey.

Now that all the parts are back from the Cerakoter. Let the modding begin!

All Together Again

This part is tricky. The important thing here is to make sure everything is clean and that you don’t smudge the glass and/or internal parts. You may have to undo all your work in that case.

So find yourself a clean surface, some gloves and little bit of patience to get it all going.

Bezel

clean All the parts as we begin our journey

Now that we have the bezel back from the Cerakoter, let’s install the bezel insert. We’re going to be using some contact cement and a toothpick to get this to work.

You will need to clean both the surfaces of the bezel and the insert before starting this process. Once that is complete, you’ll need to gently apply the cement to the toothpick, and across the bezel, and firmly place the bezel insert on top of it.

I clearly did a bad job here but the good thing about contact cement is that you can remove extra bits after it has dried.

Here is what the finish product looked like before cleaning the extra contact cement.

insert Not the best looking – but like Embiid said - trust the process and don’t cry.

Hands

While that dries, let’s look into removing the hands and installing new ones. This was the part I was most nervous about. Hands can be very easily bent and ruined with the slight pressure in the wrong spot. So be careful.

hands_bef Here is the watch making at peak stress

I used the clampy thing - that looks like a torture tool - to remove the old hands. The new hands are installed using the press with a simple attachment (as you can see below). It’s important here to make sure the hands line up correctly so your watch is in sync. When the hands come off, it’s very easy to get out of sync with the movement which could result in issues, like the day turning over at 3am instead of midnight.

hands_mid After we got the hour hand insert!

Best way to ensure that doesn’t happen is: first, wind the watch until it is precisely at midnight, and then, stop the watch as soon as the date flips in the window.

Then, remove the crown and make sure the watch is completely still. Since this is an automatic watch, any physical movement charges the watch - and with the second hand no longer there - you won’t know what’s happening.

If a few seconds go by, that’s not the end of the world. But anything more and you will have the date changing few minutes after midnight which isn’t ideal.

You don’t want your friends calling you an amateur. (They will. It hurts.)

hands_after Here is what the finished result looked like, we install the crown to make sure when they day turned over the hands were exactly at midnight

This was shot after everything was set to make sure the hands could all move freely and wouldn’t jam one another.

Crystal

This part required a bit of pressing but it’s fairly straightforward. The hardest task is not greasing up the inside of the crystal with your hands. Here is a shot of the new crystal installed in the watch.

crystal Double dome crystal is designed to make the inside of your watch just pop!

Now to put it all together! We need to place all the gaskets so the watch keeps its pressure rating - one for each of the crystal, the case back, and crown.

back The case back looking as fiiiiine as I thought it would

We’re almost there now, simply tighten the case back. Voila!

together everything together in all its glory!

Now a post about a watch cannot be complete without a wristshot and a lumeshot!

lume luuuummmmeeeee

flex flexing, paired with a black nato strap

I hope you learned a little something and are excited to get going for yourself! Considering my following, they might just say that’s a lot of work for something inferior to an Apple Watch.

Either way, reach out and share with me what’s on your wrist - Apple Watch or not!


  1. I’m clearly being facetious about being a watchmaker. Watchmakers apprentice and practice for years to create and assemble movements from scratch. The most I have done with movements is simply swap one out.

  2. Thanks to @talmirza for righteous the edit! As well as my friend Akram for joining me in the assembly journey.

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Mahdi Yusuf

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