Why We Mod #10: Ron (@red5watchworks)
It's been a while since we've had our modder interviews, and in the tenth edition of our Why We Mod series, we had the pleasure of talking with Ron (@red5watchworks on Instagram), a well-known modder in the space. His work involves custom self-made dials, and a quick scroll through his profile will show you his sharp talent for the craft.
Glen: Hi Ron! Brief introduction about who you are for anyone who might not be familiar with you?
Ron: I’m Ron Elkins, the guy behind Red 5 Watch Works. My interest in watches started as a little boy, I still have my first watch. I’ve had a 30+ year fascination with mechanical watches that pushed me into the modding/building scene. In late 2000/early 2001, I started buying affordable mechanical watches to tinker with. I’d sand, buff, polish, and reshape cases to make something familiar a little more unique.
That transitioned to building my own watches - mostly kits or pocket watches repurposed into a wrist watch. I made several Flieger type watches from kits sold online. I lost some interest in watches when our kids were born, but once the quality and quantity of modding/building parts became more accessible to people, I was hooked again.
I enjoy the custom watch scene. I get so much pleasure out of wearing something that was once a thought in my head. It’s such a rewarding hobby and I’ve met some wonderful people from across the globe. I hope to visit many of them someday.
Glen: What’s the story behind the name “Red 5” Watch Works?
Ron: I’m a child of the 1970s, so Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood. It stuck with me. Red 5 was Luke Skywalker’s call sign in “A New Hope” when piloting his X-Wing in the Battle of Yavin.
Glen: What was the very first watch that got you hooked on the hobby?
Ron: The SKX007. I used to buy 007s and file the crown guards and polish the cases, but in the early 2000s, a small selection of mod parts became available for the 007 from a man named Bill Yao, now MKII Watches. I credit him for my interest in the Seiko mod scene.
So this was my first mod. Bill did the initial dial, hands, and chapter ring upgrades. I later swapped the parts around to a different case.
I took this photo around December of 2000, before digital cameras were very accessible. This watch went through a few revisions. I decided to change the chapter ring, and this was the final form and completion of my first mod:
I sold this watch many years ago. I’d love to find it and buy it back.
Glen: What was your first experience with watch modding like?
Ron: It was swapping around parts on the watch above and was not the greatest feeling. My wife and I were freshly married and had new jobs and there I was potentially damaging something we’d spent money on. Finding a crystal gasket wasn’t really an option back then.
I was worried about it, YouTube wasn't a thing yet, so I was kind of on my own. I recall we had dial up internet so I’d fire up the modem and search Timezone.com for tips. I wanted to try the OEM hands with the Yao dial, so I pressed the hands with the tube of a ballpoint pen.
It wasn’t perfect, but it worked and I was elated.
Glen: You’re pushing out some really dope custom stuff. What’s the creative process like here? Curious on your inspiration, direction, material choice, etc.
Ron: My main motivation/inspiration is trying to be different. There’s so many talented people in the Seiko mods community, and I try to set myself apart.
I have a tablet I sketch ideas on frequently. I keep notes on my phone. I’m constantly thinking of ways to try to make something different. I have more failed ideas than successes. A lot of times a build starts like this with a rudimentary drawing:
Then morphs to this:
I draw a lot with Inkscape and sometimes Adobe Illustrator. I’ll cut dial designs out of thin sheet metal and see if they might be viable options. I experiment a lot with different paints and textures. Most dials I cut are aluminum or brass. Mostly aluminum as it’s easier to cut with a laser. I’ve been experimenting a lot with titanium lately and will hopefully soon have some unique titanium finishes on dials a fellow modder taught me, like this skeleton dial I heat blued and dipped in acid.
Most of the time I have a theme in mind for a watch or a series and run with that notion. Lately it’s been pilot style builds with the square Namoki cases. I’ve drawn dials to represent the traditional 6 pack of airplane gauges, I plan to make them all. So far I’ve completed the Attitude and Heading gauges. I have big wrists, I love that case, so it has my attention now.
I use a lot of skulls in my designs. I’m fascinated with the symbolism and notion of Memento Mori, Latin for “remember that you have to die”. Not in a morbid way, but in a sense that we have a limited time on Earth, life is a precious gift and blessing, don’t waste it.
..we have a limited time on Earth, life is a precious gift and blessing, don’t waste it.
Glen: Do you have any custom watch parts that you’re happy with that are only for yourself - something you want the world to see but will never be for sale?
Ron: Not really, but I’ve given away a few ideas for parts and tools I wouldn’t sell, like movement holders. For example:
I’ve printed prototypes of this movement holder and hand press I designed. I wouldn’t sell them because they take too long to print since supports are required.
If I perfect it, I’ll probably give the file away for other people to print on their own. This is a holder for the NH series of movements. The top hole aligns with the cannon pinion on the NH series and allows popular hand setting tools to be perfectly centered for easier hand alignment and pressing.
Glen: Do you have any other hobbies that involve tinkering?
Ron: Too many. I have several 3D printers. I try to print functional things we can use around the house. They’ve also helped me make watch parts or tools that have proven useful in building. I’ve designed and printed my own movements holders and parts storage.
I do lots of things with my fiber laser other than watch related items. It’s my favorite tool I’ve owned. I make golf ball markers, engrave knives, jewelry, etc….
I enjoy drone photography, as well. I’ve been a tinkerer my whole life. I’ve dismantled things for years just to see how they work. I love the creative process.
I’ve dismantled things for years just to see how they work. I love the creative process.
Glen: On the topic of 3D Printing, any interesting knick knacks/widgets that you’ve 3D printed that you’d like to share?
Ron: Here’s a few functional items I printed that I use a lot. I use Horotec hand pressing tools, an Opinel number 6 blade for bezel removal, and a Bergeon lens/crystal cleaning pen. Their home is this resin printed skull. I store bezel inserts on the gold resin dragon. The postage printer in the background sits on a custom 3D printed shelf to reduce its footprint.
Some of my watches are stored on these:
My son is fascinated with dinosaurs, so we have a few of these around, too.
Glen: Is it possible to 3D print an entire watch, and would that be something you’ve tried or will attempt in the future?
Ron: It’s absolutely possible. I’ve designed a 3d model of a case that accepts NH movements and 28.5mm dials, but since there’s no way I can make it sufficiently water resistant, it’s not something I’ve put a lot of time into.
Prices of 3d printing metal are dropping, so it’s something I’m definitely interested in. I think a 3d printed watch from aluminum isn’t too far off from being a possibility for hobbyists, but we’re a long way from the quality of CNC machined steel.
I have made several 3D printed dials and chapter rings. The dials I’ve not been satisfied with, but I’ve made some chapter rings that I’ve used. Here’s the first prototype I made for a Namoki turtle case. Printed from carbon fiber filament.
I refined this process with a filler putty and paint and made several chapter rings for difficult to fit cases, like this one that has a thin adapter ring that was 3D printed.
Glen: Smart watches - what are your thoughts on these? Are you a fan/user?
Ron: I’m a fan of smart watches and think there’s absolutely a place for them. I prefer a mechanical watch, but I do own an Apple Watch. I wear it when playing golf or when I’ll be very busy at work so I can easily check messages.
I also think they’re a valuable tool for physical fitness because of all the health metrics and data that can be tracked. I enjoy cycling, and the Apple Watch is a useful tool for both data and communication when cycling. They do not have the feel of a mechanical watch, however, and I much prefer something made with some craftsmanship over the cold stare of a digital box on my wrist.
Glen: What’s your favorite watch build/mod to date, and why?
Ron: This is a tough question. I have a little love for them all, but really enjoy the ones that are really custom or unique. I was asked by someone to create a unique piece with an industrial look that I’d pick if forced to choose. I can’t put it in to words why, but this watch makes me happy:
Glen: You have ONE watch that you can wear for the rest of your life. What would it be?
Ron: My SBDX001 Marinemaster. My favorite watch I’ve ever owned. It’s superbly made. Other than mine I’ve seen 2 ever in my lifetime in the wild. One is my cousin’s, so I don’t count that one.
It’s understated. Most people think it’s “just a Seiko”. It’s large but wears so comfortably. It has a legendary history. It looks great on any strap you put on it. It’s an incredible value when compared to other luxury dive watches that cost several thousand more.
True watch enthusiasts know exactly what it is. It’d be all I’d need. Of course it had to be modded with a gold second hand, though.
Glen: 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?
Ron: I’d start by telling people what a great community it is. Most fellow builders/modders are so helpful and enjoyable to talk to. We share the same passion, for the most part. There’s several that do incredible work that I respect and really enjoy talking to. I have friends I regularly talk to in Norway, Ukraine, USA, UK, Singapore, and more. We bounce ideas off each other, it’s such a creative community.
I’d let them know there’s lots of great resources to learn from, like Nathan from 4:44pm’s videos, Seiko Mod Facebook groups, Reddit, Instagram, etc… and that building a watch is something they can absolutely do with some patience and research. I really love what Wilson Foo is doing in Singapore with his S13 Bespoke workshops.
I’d let them know how rewarding it is to make a daily use item that you can look at and say “I made that”. With the vast availability of parts now, you can truly make a piece that’s the only one on Earth. Seiko based pieces are so reliable and serviceable, they can be passed along to the next generation.
Everyone needs a hobby. It might as well be useful.
Everyone needs a hobby. It might as well be useful.
Glen: Plug yourself - here’s your chance to reach out to potential customers.
Ron: If you want to see what I’m up to, I mainly post my work on my Instagram, Red5watchworks. I do take commissions, have lots of experience, and enjoy making custom and challenging pieces.
Feel free to message me. I’m excited to see where the modding community is heading, and I want to be a part of it for a long time. Thanks Namoki for this opportunity, it’s much appreciated.
Thank you Ron for for this very meaty interview!
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Happy modding, modfam!