This project demonstrates a rather simple case production in a classic ‘antique’ design, and shows how we reconstruct the traditional manual wristwatch case creation process of the early 1900’s.
Old Swiss Movement
A noble little movement is ready to be a new watch. This one was produced in the 1890’s by Ulysse Nardin manufacturing, based on the LeCoultre & Co ‘Ebauche’ movement blank. The small movement was originally produced as a lady’s gold pendant watch… but that case went to scrap gold a long time ago. Our plan is to rehouse it in a new gold wristwatch case.
The movement is in great condition for an antique – the condition of the gold plating is good, with only some faint natural marks. The words ‘ULYSSE NARDIN – LOCLE’ are stamped on the mainplate.
Our goal is to rehouse the orphaned movement in an elegant wristwatch suitable for daily use. The body of the watch must not interfere with or detract focus from the dial.
Making the Custom Gold Case
The dimension of the movement’s mainplate is 27.5 mm, meaning that the minimum external diameter of the main body should be 30 mm.
The first stage of the process is about sizing and drawing. The drawing is always constructed individually for every particular movement.
We start the manufacturing process with ring-blanks made of 14K gold. The rings are made of thick gold strips and are soldered.
The machining is performed strictly according to the drawings. As a result, we’ve got an accurate set of three ring-blanks.
The body size of the case is adjusted to the snap-on bezels. Little by little the right shape is forming…
Next, we machine ‘olive’ pieces for the lugs. This classic ‘antique’ shape is based on the first wristwatch cases of the early 1910’s.
Note, one ‘olive’ has a casting defect. This sometimes happens with gold casting, meaning that some case parts will need to be machined twice.
The next step is soldering the ‘olives’ to the case body.
At this stage, we’ve got a lot of gold shavings to be used for future parts.
Some gold particles will get lost in the process of making the case, as it’s impossible to catch all of the chips when machining and melting. Forced losses constitute about 4 – 5% of the case’s total weight.
Movement Fitting and Parts Machining
It is now time to fit the movement into the case. It looks good!
The dial is original with the signature ‘Ulysse Nardin Locle’ in early-type sprawling. The enamel is perfectly preserved and untouched. Now it only takes a short time to replace the hands.
It is time to use the gold chips. We melt and cast the gold cuttings into a solid rod in order to make the stem-setting button. The button is created in just a few simple steps using the lathe, as shown below.
The button is fitted opposite the setting lever and riveted from inside to secure it in the hole.
A vintage old-stock gold crown is fitted, the rose gold colour corresponding to the other case parts. A long gold setting pin is machined and adjusted to fit – the final piece in this watch assembly.
The next step is to make wire lugs, and gold chips are again used. The wire is a thick 1 mm in diameter and looks solid and well-shaped.
The case is then polished, the movement is fitted, and the glass crystal affixed using modern UV glue. It’s looking good!
Our work on the case is now complete. The new gold case looks graceful, is of moderate thickness, and is the perfect size to fit on a lady’s wrist.
Here, we have reconstructed a work originally constructed in the workshops of the early 1910’s – 1920’s. These workshops created custom to-order cases to replace the old-fashioned pocket watches, and satisfy the demand for new fashionable wristwatches. This case is water resistant, but still has a true vintage appearance, though it may be a little shinier, and more solid when compared to true vintage examples.
The only really modern feature used is the glazed caseback, as the fascinating ticking movement should be visible to a gratifying eye.
The movement runs well, with good timekeeping for a 120-year-old machine.
A classic genuine leather strap is then fitted, and the watch is complete and ready to wear!
The old traditional case creation technology is very suitable for making individual cases, but is rather more complicated when attempted for mass-production. The product has harmonious dimensions, moderate gold content, and keeps to a pleasant modern/vintage design ratio.
The next project is to make a bigger version for gents, with dimensions of 45 – 46 mm.
Hope you liked it, any comments and questions are appreciated! 🙂