Have you ever wanted a unique watch? Or perhaps just a few small changes to one you have or are considering? Once you dive into the world of horology, sooner or later you'll start having strong opinions about what you like and dislike, and will probably start wondering what it'd take to make Your Perfect Wristwatch.
If you're wealthy, it's quite simple. Simply call Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin or many others, and they'll be delighted to create a custom watch for you. For the rest of us, it's a bit harder, but perhaps this post will help you get started.
Let's start with the companies that exist to solve this precise problem.
Dwatch creates dive watches with a cushion-case design. As far as I know, they only have one case right now, but if you want a diver that's a good place to look.
121 Time offers more choices, with quartz or mechanical movements. More cases, more looks, good reputation.
Moving up the cost scale, Golay-Spierer makes custom watches and the results are pretty impressive. In the USA, RGM Watches are an American company with their own in-house movement and a first-rate reputation for engine turning. On the opposite coast, KPM Watches is a custom-only shop in Oregon; his pictures look quite impressive. In Canada, Archer Watches has some classical-design pieces that I quite like as well.
For even more high-end vendors, see this list.
If you want to try making a production run of watches, as opposed to a single watch, there are companies for that too. Watchmaking is tricky, in that there are zillions of single-purpose companies that you as a watchmaker need to deal with, coordinate and so on. Hand makers, dials, casemakers, movements, testing, Q&A, designers, CAD software, lume vendors... quite a lot of work, and there are many pitfalls. To help you out, these ODM companies have a network of partner companies they work with to coordinate the work for you.
Of the ODMs, I want to highlight two that have made watches that I own. I'm not able to be specific, as neither wants to go public with their source, but in both cases I can recommend the results.
On the Asian side, Giovino Watch Company is best known as the makers of the quite-nice Praesto line. Not as fancy or expensive, their minimum order quantity is 300 watches and my contacts with them have been quite professional.
On the Swiss side, if you want to have the coveted 'Swiss Made' on the dial, then check out Palladium AG. Really good watches, and priced quite well to boot - the ones I have are retail under $1,000USD and the quality is much higher than I'd expect for that cost.
121 Time also offers an ODM service; I've not seen the results and would be curious.
For German made, Ickler does private label work as well, I've not seen any of these but would fully expect them to be excellent based on their other brands.
If you want to assemble your own watch by hand, just to see what it's like, then I recommend the TimeZone Watch School. $200 in tuition, plus around $400 in parts, and at the end you have an ETA-based handwind watch you built yourself.
This is, of course, an incomplete list, so please feel free to add other suggestions in the comments. Let us know if you've made your own!
By Paul Hubbard