Why We Mod #001: Andy Mayer (@watchbuilds)
While we thoroughly enjoy seeing all your beautiful photos of completed mods and builds, what's even more gratifying is hearing the stories behind them. We're kickstarting a series of interviews where we speak with modders in the community and try to figure out the answer to the question - why do we mod?
First up is Andy Mayer, winner of our recent #mynamokimod giveaway.
Can you tell us more about yourself and how you got started with modding/building watches?
I only started the hobby this year, and so I am very new to the modding scene. I’m from a small city in the north of England called Sheffield. I’ve spent all my life as a software developer working with computers and digital technologies - following in my father’s footsteps who was a mathematician and radar engineer in the 1960s cold war.
"I’ve never been into mechanical watches and have always been satisfied with wearing cheap and functional Casio quartz watches."
The truth is, I’ve never been into mechanical watches and have always been satisfied with wearing cheap and functional Casio quartz watches. In fact, I was more interested in the interchangeable NATO straps than the watch itself! But when my father died last year all that changed. I didn’t feel like I really had anything special to remember him by. And that got me thinking about his love of Seiko watches and that I should perhaps buy one of my own in memory of him.
What is the first watch that got you interested in watches as a hobby, and what made it so special?
When I was a kid in the 1970s I remember my father acquired a chunky Seiko 4006-7020 27 Jewels Bell-Matic with an alarm complication. He got it imported to England by a friend working in Saudi Arabia and I’d never seen anything like it before. I was at an impressionable age and the watch made a big impression on me.
Above: A Seiko 4006-7020 27 Jewels Bell-Matic (Credit: https://thewatchspotblog.com/?p=166)
"The automatic movement and alarm fascinated me as it was advanced for its time."
It had a very thick crystal which was typical of the time. The case was also thick and heavy. The automatic movement and alarm fascinated me as it was advanced for its time. My Dad loved new technology and gadgets and so this watch was very him. Sadly I don’t know where this watch is now as he replaced it eventually. :-(
But every time I see a chunky Seiko and the red “Sunday” date I think about him. And so I started to consider treating myself to a brand new Seiko to remember him by. Then a friend told me about the SKX modding scene, and that got me thinking about building a homage to the Bellmatic in memory of my father.
Above: A Seiko SNXS79 (Credit: https://medium.com/watchyourfront/seiko-snxs79-review-the-affordable-datejust-alternative-d07611097ad)
I discovered that the beautiful silver sunburst dial from an SNXS79 had the same aesthetic and that a pilot bezel would give the watch a chunky look similar to my Dad’s 1970s watch.
Above: Mod in progresss! SNXS79 dial (Credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/B_-V1IMFKq_/)
So I had a plan. And a couple of months later, I had finished my first build. I couldn’t believe how amazing this brand new watch looked on my wrist! I was very happy with the results and also pleased that I didn’t break anything during this learning process. But the hobby is addictive and as soon as I put the watch on, I was already planning build number #2. I’m pretty sure my father, if he was alive today, would have been fascinated with the whole process.
Above: Andy's first build - an homage to his father's Seiko Bellmatic (Credit: https://medium.com/watchyourfront/seiko-snxs79-review-the-affordable-datejust-alternative-d07611097ad)
What is your philosophy when modding a watch? Do you go for a certain look? Or do you like to look for inspiration from other builds?
I always go for a certain look based on already existing classic designs. I’m definitely inspired by other watches, so I guess you could call my builds “homage watches”. For my second build, I decided to build my ideal everyday watch, something practical that I could wear every day that would be easy to use – and not too flashy looking. And so I chose to be inspired by the German Sinn 857s.
Above: Inspiration for build number 2 - the beautiful Sinn 857s (Credit: https://www.sinn.de/de/Modell/857_S.htm)
Like most pilot watches, it is a functional watch designed for clarity. I particularly like that it’s designed for legibility in the tradition of cockpit navigation clocks.
I chose the components by looking closely at Sinn 857s photos and selecting parts to match the design as closely as possible. I used a variety of suppliers to get the exact look – such as eBay for the long second hand, One Second Closer in Poland for the standard bezel insert and Dagaz in the USA for the dial with a decent lume. The Namoki NMK904 PVD matte black watch case was a perfect base for and I’m very happy with the results:
Above: Andy's Sinn-inspired Seiko mod (Credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/CCnjqFXnZ55/)
For you, what is the hardest part in the process of modding a watch and why? Is it the designing stage, or is it technical-related, etc?
I have found the hardest part in the process to be the design stage, and deciding what to actually build! The great thing about watch modding is that there are infinite possibilities; you can literally change the design of any part of the watch. But that means you can easily make some bad decisions and create something ugly too!
Above: Parts for the Bellmatic mod (Credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/CCnjqFXnZ55/)
Because I am usually inspired by other watch designs, it takes me ages to find the right components that closely match the design I am looking for. Being based in Europe there is also shipping costs to consider if I spread purchases across multiple suppliers. Often I will find the right component, only to find the supplier is out of stock!
"The enjoyment for me is the journey of modding and poring over the tiny details."
My secret to avoiding technical issues is to go very slowly. If you rush then you end up knocking things and damaging the delicate parts. So I’ve made this into a really slow hobby by photographing every little stage and writing about it on Instagram. It makes me appreciate the art more. I have found the process to be very therapeutic too in a mindful kind of way. The enjoyment for me is the journey of modding and poring over the tiny details – and so documenting and presenting each step on my Instagram is a key part.
If money is no object and you can design your dream mod, can you walk us through what that would look and feel like?
For my 50th birthday, that is exactly what I did! I ended up with a homage to the Sinn 857s. To be honest, I can’t think of a watch that I would like better at the moment. I totally love the design and practicality of this pilot watch and wear it every day! My only regret is that I wish I had built it with a regulated movement for better accuracy.
Inspiration for this watch comes from the history of aviation and the military specifications that accompany it. The case is PVD matte black, with a 3 o’clock crown. The crown is chunky – also matte black made from HQ surgical grade stainless steel 316L. For the bezel, again PVD matte black with deep scallops submariner-style and smooth minute ratcheting that is quiet but snappy. A semi-matte black aluminium insert with a high luminous dot at 12 o’clock that is tough, functional and understated.
Above: Andy documenting his Sinn-inspired build (Credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/CBaut-4HRl2/)
The bezel also needs to be bi-directional, not like the function of a diving watch, but one that permits the wearer to quickly move it backwards and forwards to measure or check set time intervals. A luminous triangle serves as the 0 / 60 minute mark. Everything about this watch screams purpose. It’s for somebody on a mission!
The dial is also semi-matte black with large numerals at 12, 3, 6 and 9 designed for optimal legibility. Concorde-style hands that have large lumed tips sit boldy. An extra-long lumed second-hand sweeps across the 28.5 mm dial. A perfect timeless size. Not too big and not too small.
Above: The critical lume shot. (Credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/CCRXCTfnH-W/)
As a functional watch, the lume is also very important. So multi-layered Swiss Superluminova, 95% C1 with 5% C3 mixed for added brightness.
The chapter ring is glossy black to provide subtle reflections. I don’t want the design to be too busy and so the minute markers are laser etched rather than white. As the only glossy part, the chapter ring twinkles ever so slightly behind the double-domed sapphire crystal with inner blue AR. Sweet!
Above: PVD Matte Black Chapter Ring with Markers (Credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/CBWhyvTnaWb/)
For the strap, I like to have options so that I can accessorise. So a NATO in Army Green with Black PVD is perfect for every day. I’m a big fan of NATO straps as they are very comfortable against the skin and cheap to buy in multiple colours.
And for special occasions a bespoke cowhide strap in vintage-style with a decorative black seam. I was fortunate enough to connect with Niko from @kokosinleathercraft in Finland and he offered to make me a beautiful bespoke custom strap using Swedish bull leather from Tärnsjö Garveri, hand-dyed in earth-brown using vegetable dyes.
And so the dream has become a reality! The challenge now is to think of what I could build next...
Do you have a grail watch - and if you do, what is it?
For me, my grail watch would be an Omega Seamaster 300 as worn by Daniel Craig in the movie Spectre. It’s a modern watch that alludes to a predecessor from the 1960s. And of course, it looks fantastic on a black-and-grey NATO strap. Hmmm… maybe my next build should be inspired by this watch?
Above: The beautiful Omega Seamaster 300 (Credit: https://timeandtidewatches.com/my-month-with-a-beaten-up-omega-seamaster-300/)
What's something that you wish people who are not into watches/modding knew about our hobby? If you were to convince them to try modding, how would you do it?
"Working on a mechanical watch with its tiny precious parts feels like a welcome escape from our clumsy fast-paced modern world of mass-produced rubbish and busy schedules/"
It’s a great international community! This hobby has helped me connect with amazing people from all over the world that share the same interest. When I first struggled to fit hands on my first build, I was able to get help and advice from /r/SeikoMods on Reddit which helped prevent me from totally wrecking the watch. There’s also a thriving community on YouTube with helpful tutorials and many interesting videos to learn from. And there’s lots of design inspiration on Instagram.
Above: Hand installation - Success! (Credit: https://www.instagram.com/p/CAIqEa6l6ho/)
"For me, taking time out to slowly tinker with my watches helps me unwind, relax and put life into perspective."
But when I saw the movement come to life in my first watch, and beat like a tiny little heart, it was magical. I couldn’t believe I had done it! Working on a mechanical watch with its tiny precious parts feels like a welcome escape from our clumsy fast-paced modern world of mass-produced rubbish and busy schedules. A mechanical watch is something special and unique to cherish and enjoy. This simple technology is a piece of history from generations before. For me, taking time out to slowly tinker with my watches helps me unwind, relax and put life into perspective.
Thank you Andy for taking the time to share this with us! You can follow his watch modding journey over on his Instagram page: @watchbuilds.
If you'd like to be a part of this series, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.