The business of watch modding is not about creating parts, but replacing them. In other words, the watch was already completed and working before watch modder Nick Harris’s work started — just not to his specifications. By its very nature, modding relies on the modularity of lower-priced watches, usually Asian, especially the Japanese brand Seiko, which are affordable and equipped with hearty mechanical movements. Modders use preexisting watches, removing their dials, hands and bezels (and sometimes more) and replacing them with other parts to create new aesthetics atop the same base structure. The mod is based around the movement and the case, which are often the only constants in the exercise. To put it in auto terms, it’s the careful application of a custom body kit without altering the frame and drivetrain.
Harris modded this Seiko SNK809 — “one of the better automatics you can get” from Seiko at around $60 — in around an hour and a half, changing its look almost entirely thanks to a new “Cali” dial, hands and a domed crystal. The result is a custom watch that looks like it’s worth far more than it actually is.
Step 1: Clean the work area, the watch and your hands.
Harris lays out all the tools he needs, washes his hands and rolls small plastic “cots” over his fingers to ensure no oils get on the watch or its movement. “The smallest pieces of dust are generally a no-no. It’s really important to keep everything super clean”, he says. He even allows the watch’s power reserve to run out, and he sets the hands to noon and removes the strap.
Step 2: Remove the case back.
Secure the watch in a case holder, then use a use a case back remover tool to turn the case back and remove it. Sizing the case back remover is key here — a slip could damage the case.
Step 3: Remove the crown, stem and movement from the case.
With carbon tweezers (they’re less dense and therefore less likely to damage the case or movement), Harris depresses a tab below the crown, moving it fully to the “0” position. (Trying to remove it in the “1” or “2” position will damage the watch.) With the tab depressed, he pulls the crown/stem straight out of the watch with his fingers. Then, using his tweezers, he carefully removes the entire movement from the case.
Step 4: Replace the crystal.
“Crystal presses — don’t get the cheap ones. They’re horrible”, Harris says. Uniform pressure is vital. With the right-sized plastic die, the press should remove the original crystal and press the new one in with ease. (For some reason with this watch, evenly adding the new crystal proves difficult, though Harris eventually triumphs.) For this watch, Harris replaces the original crystal with a domed mineral one, because “the way they reflect light, and generally look, is pretty great.” Before adding in the new crystal, Harris blows off dust with a small rubber squezee.
Step 5: Remove the hands.
Using two collet levers, which look like miniature eating utensils, Harris gently pries off the hands. Harris says protecting the dial here is key; he uses a piece of a plastic bag to keep from scratching or otherwise damaging the dial.
Step 6: Remove the dial and replace it with the new one.
Applying even pressure with his fingers, Harris pries out the dial, which is held in by its “feet”. The new dial can simply be pressed in.
Step7: Apply the new hands.
This requires a press tool, which gently tamps the hands into place. The new hands need to be applied hour first, then minute; both need be set to noon so they’ll advance uniformly. Harris reinserts the crown/stem (the tab doesn’t need to be pressed — just push the stem in straight and firm) so that he can check that the hands advance properly for a full 24 hours. If they do, he presses on the seconds hand, also using the press.
Step 8: Remove the stem and reinsert the movement into the case (or into a new case).
It needs to be lined up so that the stem can be reinserted correctly. Once the stem is inserted and the case back has been replaced, the mod is complete.
About Our Expert
Though still in his twenties, Nick Harris is already in the limelight among the watch modding community for his unique style and passion for the craft. His latest project is with men’s boutique website Go and Behold. Called the Field Standard, it combines military looks and an antique aesthetic.