What one fool can do, another can. -- Silvanus Thomson.
This page contains descriptions of tools and procedures of
interest to watchmakers. Because I want to make a watch, I hope to
attract comments and advice from others who are ahead of me and
perhaps supply motivation to those who want to get started. I'm also
always trying to buy tools and books!
Tool Pictures and Descriptions
I've always enjoyed working with small mechanical devices. When I
was 11 years old, I started making steam engines with a file and an
electric drill clamped into a vice for a lathe.. When I was 13, I
made a clock with a wooden movement. About 30 years ago, a friend
sent me a copy of Saunier's Watchmaker's Handbook. This book
was especially motivating for me. It described the procedures and
methods of watchmaking from an era when many tools and parts were
made by the craftsman from raw materials.
The watershed moment came a few years later at a wedding party. A
retired gentleman who sold watchmaker's supplies was telling me all
about the "good old days." I mentioned somewhat
casually that I'd like to make a watch someday myself. He said:
"...You mean assemble a watch from parts?"
"No," I replied. "I mean from metal. Like steel
rods and sheets of brass."
He stepped back a pace or two,
eyed me up from head to toe, and sputtered:
"No one...", he paused to draw his breath. Then with eyes
widening with something close to indignation pronounced:
"NOBODY could make a watch from scratch!"
So here I
am, 30 years into the project. Still no watch, but I've
learned to make most of the parts by doing lots of repairs. I took
many jobs that were not economically feasible for a commercial
repairer because I wanted to learn the techniques. Now I've
evolved to look forward to "it's not worth fixing" projects.
I'm hardly qualified to give anyone advice, but these
are ideas that I learned over many years. Perhaps
they'll get you going faster.
- Learn general machine shop methods. Make a steam
engine or something of comparable complexity on a
model engineering scale. The tools you acquire to
do this will remain very useful in watchmaking.
Toolmaking and repairing require larger machines.
Buy a large quantity of broken pocket watches. These
can be found on eBay and in most antique shops. Buy
the tools and books you need to get all of them running.
Buy parts when you can, but make those you can't. You're
not trying to make money, so don't give up. The "basket
cases" will teach you the most. If you expect to make a
watch, there's no such thing as a watch you can't fix.
To fix watches, you'll have to form a relationship with
a local parts supply company. (Called a "material house.")
Find one that stocks antique parts. Learn to deal with them
in a professional manner. (Hint: They're not an educational
establishment.) Some material houses have a "junk room."
Schmooze your way into browsing this on a regular basis.
When you've fixed a few good watches, find local collectors
and sell your watches slightly below the going market price.
The collectors will always be glad to see you and eventually
you'll get a chance to work on the kind of watch you couldn't
afford to buy. Don't let the repair work get out of hand: You'll
know when you've graduated because it will feel more like a job
than an interesting challenge. Then it's time to move on to
your own projects.
Join one or more professional or collector's organizations
and try to find local chapters that have "swap meets" and
- The American Watchmaker's Institute
- The British Horlogical Institute
- The National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors
- The Antiquarian Horology Society
- The American Watchmaker's Institute
The greatest value of getting involved with these organizations
is social networking. It isn't practical for most would-be watchmakers
to purchase a shop full of new tools. You need to buy, sell, trade,
and huckster your way toward acquiring equipment. You'll
also meet other madmen who can help you on your way.
Beyond the social networking and trading resources described above,
there are many resources on the web. You should be
searching eBay daily using the key
"watchmakers." Another favorite of mine is
Tom Mister's site.
Used industrial machine tool dealers will
have measuring instruments, microscopes, and sometimes small
mills and lathes. You don't want the sort of place where everyone
wears a suit and the showroom is full of glossy white CNC machines.
for one of the dirt-enhanced places in the disadvantaged part of town
that has cavernous dark halls full of huge machines.
Become a regular and get to know the owners. In time, you'll meet
other creatures like yourself haunting the aisles.
Tool collectors are an eccentric breed and machine tool collectors
are eccentric enough to be called "cams". Nevertheless they
are your friends and you should cultivate as many as you can.
Take care that you don't become one of them.
There are many excellent trade schools where you can spend
pleasant years learning to install plastic crystals, put in
fresh batteries, and even replace those difficult-to-remove
If you actually want to make a watch, the following books
have helped me with theory, technique, and motivation.
Learning as much as possible about general machine shop
tools and methods has helped me at least as much as all
the watchmaking books.
I get a few letters from people who want to know "the best
book" to buy on watchmaking. This is without doubt the
George Daniels book.
A good place to find out of print books is
For books in print try Amazon.
Watchmaking, Revised Edition,
Phillip Wilson 1999.
The Art of Breguet,
George Daniels and Cecil Clutton,
Viking Press 1965.
Drehganguhren (Tourbillons and Karusselluhren),
Deutsch Uhrmacher-Zeitung, Berlin 1927.
Touhrbillon Uber Mein Passion,
Privately Printed, ISBN 3-00-007198-9, 2001.
The Watchmaker and his Lathe,
Edition Scriptar SA, Lausanne 1982.
Engine Turning 1680-1980,
Privately Printed, 1984?
Callwey, Munchen 1993.
J. C. Nicolet,
From Hand to Machine,
Editions Scriptar SA, Lausanne, 1999.
J. C. Nicolet,
Turning and Milling in Horology,
Bergeon & Cie, Le Locle 1995?
Horological Shop Tools – 1700 to 1900,
Privately Printed, Hawthorn Florida, 1980.
Horological and Other Shop Tools 1700 to 1900,
Privately Printed, Hawthorn Florida 1987.
Horological Wheel Cutting Engines – 1700 to 1900,
Privately Printed, Gainsville Florida 1970.
W. O. Davis,
Gears for Small Mechanisms, 2nd Edition,
Tee Publishing, Leicestershire 1993.
The Watchmaker's Lathe,
Hazlitt & Walker, Chicago 1903.
Goodrich & Stanley,
Accurate Tool Work,
Hill Publishing 1908, Reprint by Lindsay Books, 1988.
Louis & Samuel Levin,
Practical Benchwork for Horologists, Eighth Edition,
Louis Levin & Son, Los Angeles 1950.
The Science of Clocks and Watches, Third Edition
British Horological Institute, Upton UK 1993.
The Modern Watchmaker's Lathe and How to Use It
American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute, 2003.
A Treatise of Modern Horology,
Crosby, Lockwood and Company, London 1887.
Crosby, Lockwood and Son, London, 1924.
N. B. Sherwood,
Watch and Chronometer Jeweling,
George Hazlitt, Chicago 1892.
The Mechanism of the Watch,
N.A.G Press, London 1950.
J. Malcolm Wild,
Clock Wheel and Pinion Cutting,
Arlington Book Co. 1988.
J. Malcolm Wild,
Wheel and Pinion Cutting in Horology,
Crownwood Press 2001.