From WWII on, the US government wrote specifications for wrist watches to be worn by pilots and soldiers. Great American companies like Hamilton, Elgin, Waltham, and Benrus made mechanical watches at scale for decades to be supplied to GIs.
The following image is from a military specification for a field watch from the early 60s:
Hamilton and others continue to make mechanical watches that follow this spec, but I don’t have the budget at the moment to buy one of those. So I decided to do a watch mod project aimed at producing a milspec watch.
The Seiko SKX is the watch with the most options in terms of available crystals, hands, bezels, etc. for modding, but at around $200 it’s pricey to get started on. Starting as low as $55, the SNK presents the cheapest way to get a decent mechanical with a fair number of mod options — so that’s where I decided to start.
I ordered the SNK from Amazon. Since the the key thing I was going to change was the dial, I purchased the cheapest color option, which was the green dial.
And of course all the tools!
I bought a watch repair kit that included case opener, a bunch of small screwdrivers, tweezers, pry tools, etc.
I bought the dial press and the pump duster separately, as well as a hands puller and hands press (not shown).
Lastly, I bought the 7S26 military-style dial from Dagaz.
When it finally arrived it was time to get started.
First, I removed the strap and put the watch in to the case holder.
I used the case opener to unscrew the display back.
To remove the crown, use a screwdriver or similar tool to press down on the little indentation on the lever just to the right of the crown, and gently pull the crown out.
With the crown out, removing the movement was pretty easy. I used a screwdriver to gently pry up a bit and the movement popped out.
The hands puller made removing the hands a snap. I put a piece of plastic over the entire dial, and used to the puller through the plastic.
There are two dial feet near the the 3 and the 9 that hold the dial against the movement. I used a screwdriver to gently pry up around the dial and worked it up until it came off, exposing the day/date wheel.
I hadn’t actually opened the Dagaz dial until this point — here it is inside a nice plastic case with Dagaz-logo tape on it. I put a glass ramekin over the movement to keep dust out while I wasn’t working directly on it.
The dial was perfect! Printed beautifully, exactly as ordered.
Applying the dial was easy–just a matter of aligning the dial feet with the holes in the movement near 3 and 9, and apply gently even pressure to put the dial into place against the movement.
But here is where things took a turn.
The next step was to replace the hands — first the hour hand, then the minute hand, and lastly the second hand.
I used the tweezers to gently set the hour hand on the post at the center of the dial, then used the hands press to secure it into place.
Next I set the minute hand on the post. It’s key to align the hour and minute hand so that when the hour hand is pointing directly at an hour marker, the minute hand is pointing directly at the 12 marker.
As I used the hand press to secure the hands into place, the watch slipped inside the press, and I mashed the hands down onto the dial.
Both the hour and minute hands were bent pretty badly.
At first, I thought the project was doomed, at least until I got some replacement hands. But I decided I had nothing to lose by trying to straighten the hands and make them usable again.
I wrapped the ends of some needle-nose pliers in tape to avoid scratching the hands, and used the pliers and tweezers to bend the hands as close as I could to normal. Then I applied the hands back to the watch. I put the crown back in so I could advance the hands around the dial to see if they would run into each other. I had to do this several times as I continued to tweak the hands back into the right shape.
Eventually (this took at least a hour), I got the hands applied and advancing ok.
You can see here the minute hand was still pointing kind of high.
Next I applied the second hand, which I immediately found could not advance past the minute hand which was aiming too high. The movement was running at this point, and I couldn’t stop the second hand since the 7S26 movement is not hacking. So I had to advance the minute hand around the dial to give my self 45-50 seconds to tweak it further using the tweezers (I wrapped the ends of the tweezers with tape so they did not scratch the hands or the dial). This took at least another 30 minutes., but I was eventually successful in getting each of the hands straightened out so they could each advance around the dial with no problem.
To avoid the problem I had with the hands press, I would probably use the case holder or a movement holder to keep the watch steady as pressure is applied strictly to the mounting rings at the end of the hands and the post.
Having apparently repaired the hands and avoided complete and total disaster, I felt like a master watchmaker at that moment! Or at least I was glad that I didn’t ruin the project.
Next I replaced the movement into the front case. Now I could see what the watch was going to look like — exactly what I was going for!
Lastly I replaced the crown, screwed the back of the case on., and put the straps back on.
I probably never would have selected these straps out of a lineup for the watch, but for now I’m happy with them. I may get some 18mm NATOs to try on the watch.
I charged up the watch with the frisbee motion, and let it run over night. First thing the next morning, I checked the watch…..not only was it still running, it had kept good time! I managed to replace the dial without permanently damaging anything!
I absolutely love the result. It has that 60’s US military specification watch aesthetic I was going for.
Ideally it would have syringe hands, but I have not been able to locate that style of hands for the 7S26 movement.
So now the question is…. what will my next watch mod project be? ?