The American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (also known by the acronym “AWCI”) is the premier organization which teaches and certifies CW21 and CWM21 master watchmakers within the US, comparable to WOSTEP in Europe. They teach all levels of watchmaking education, both in permanent physical locations, temporary locations, and soon their 8-person mobile classroom will allow classes to be taught virtually anywhere in the continental United States.

Instructors looking checking the room for anyone needing help
Three watchmaking instructors and guest (the owner of Grand Central Time)

AWCI Watchmaking Class

One of the courses they teach is an entry-level class called “Build-A-Watch” which is essentially their Watch 101. The class is designed for anyone interested in watchmaking, but to be clear this is a comprehensive all-day class, not a one hour workshop. You assemble the movement and the entire watch, from start to finish, over the course of 9+ hours. No easy feat to complete, or to teach, especially to non-watchmakers.

AWCI President Aaron Recksiek working on a watch movement
AWCI President Aaron Recksiek working on a watch movement

The Watchmakers

In December 2018, on behalf of Professional Watches, I attended one of the Build-A-Watch watchmaking course in New York City, taught by three certified watchmakers: the AWCI Executive Director – Jordan Ficklin, the AWCI President – Aaron Recksiek (owner of Mt. Olympus Clock Shop), and Justin Harell (owner of The Watchmaker’s Shop). Below I will walk through the process of assembling a watch and movement, step-by-step, as well as commentary about the nuances of the process. This article goes pretty far in-depth, and you can get a very good understanding of the class, however, to really learn on a cerebral level, the only way is to actually take the class in-person.

Brass and nickel watchmaking tweezers, soft enough not to damage most of the metal components
Brass and nickel watchmaking tweezers, soft enough not to damage most of the metal components, for watch hands you must use even softer wooden tipped tweezers
Watchmaking tools
Watchmaking tools at beginning of course

Preparing Tools/Components/First Step

First, before you even begin doing an assembly, you have to check your screwdrivers and tweezers, under a loupe, to make sure the heads are flat. Then make sure all the parts are ready, nothing is missing, and your area is clean. You must also take care to understand how to handle the soft metal tweezers so as not to scratch components, it’s about how you hold the components, where you place the teeth, and so forth. Same with the screwdrivers, a certain level of dexterity is required. Even the hand press, which appears to be a simple press, requires considerable finesse. Once all this is accounted for, you then you begin a watchmaking journey that requires over 45 intricate steps that, crucially, must be done correctly, and in proper order, or your watch will not work at the end. There’s some margin for error, but not much, and that’s one reason there is a 1:3 watchmaker-to-student ratio.

Install escape wheel in ETA 6497-1 baseplate
Install escape wheel in ETA 6497-1 baseplate
Aaron Recksiek demonstrating process to students
Aaron Recksiek demonstrating a process to students
Oiled center wheel pinion
Oiled 4th wheel

Gear Train Wheels

1- Remove balance assembly from the mainplate of the ETA 6497-1, place inside movement holder and secure, 2- Install Escape wheel with tweezers, 3- Install 3rd wheel tweezers, 4- oil the 4th wheel’s pivot (before installing on the movement side of the mainplate), 5- Install the 4th wheel with tweezers, 6- Oil the center wheel, 7- Install the center wheel with tweezers

Partially assembled ETA 6497
Partially assembled ETA 6497
Gear train bridge installed
Gear train bridge installed

Installing First Bridge

8- Loosely place train bridge on top of escape, 3rd, and 4th wheels, partially covering the center wheel, 9- tighten 2 screws on train bridge – pink screwdriver (just snug them the width of the slot more), 10- using plastic stick rotate the center wheel and ensure the other wheels are all moving correctly (spinning freely)

Jordan Ficklin explaining how to oil mainspring barrel pivots
Jordan Ficklin explaining how to oil mainspring barrel pivots

Mainspring Barrel

11- oil both sides of the barrel (1st wheel) pivots, 12- install barrel (slides under the center wheel), 13- Put barrel bridge in place (using the set pin to align), tighten 3 screws

Justin Harell oiling a watch jewel
Justin Harell oiling a watch jewel

Crown Assembly

14- install ratchet wheel, 15- screw down ratchet wheel (hold ratchet in place with wooden tool while doing it), 16- place crown wheel ring on crown wheel, 17- place small drop of oil on vertical center of crown wheel ring, 18- install crown wheel (recessed finished side up), 19- screw down crown wheel using the blue screwdriver

Three different viscosities of watchmaking oil
Three different viscosities of watchmaking oil
Jordan Ficklin
Jordan Ficklin making some adjustments with tweezers
Pallet fork and jewels
Pallet fork and jewels
ETA caliber 6497
ETA caliber 6497
Close-Up of escape wheel and pallet fork
Close-up of escape wheel and pallet fork

Oil Gear Train/Install Pallet/Balance/Oscillation Test

20- oil gear train w/ a few different viscosities of oil (differentiated by color), 21- install pallet fork, 22- install pallet bridge (make sure pivot is in the correct position), 23- screw down two pallet bridge screws, 24- install balance bridge, nudge with tweezers and get balance wheel going, if is starts going smoothly it’s installed correctly (short video on Instagram), 25- screw down balance bridge if it oscillate properly

Pallet bridge installed
Pallet bridge installed
Preparing to screw down balance bridge
Preparing to screw down balance bridge
Movement side fully assembled
Movement side fully assembled
Almost completed movement
Almost completed movement

Dial side assembly

26- Remove movement from movement holder, flip over to dial side, secure, 27- lubricate inside of cannon pinion, 28- install cannon pinion on center wheel pivot, 29- demagnetize movement with demagnetization machine 30- make rate adjustments/testing on Witschi machine prior to casing up, 31- oil cannon pinion

Close-up of cannon pinion
Close-up of cannon pinion
Watch hands prior to installation
Watch hands prior to installation
Preparing to install dial and hands on dial side of ETA 6497
Preparing to install dial and hands on the dial side of ETA 6497

Install hour wheel and dial

32- install hour wheel, 33- place washer (foil) facing upwards on hour wheel, 34- mount dial to the movement/align with crown/fit dial feet to holes, 35- screw down two screws on bridge side to secure dial

Watch dial before mounting to movement
Watch dial before mounting to movement
Watch hands securely installed using Bergeon hand press
Watch hands securely installed using Bergeon hand press

Install Hands

36- install small seconds hand using wooden tweezers, then press each one down with Bergeon hand setter (hand press), 37- install hour hand at any hour marker (press w/press), install minute hand (make sure hour hands is at 9 o’clock), minute hand (at 12), use Bergeon press, test alignment hour changeover by advancing the hand using the crown, test alignment between hour and minute hands (vertically), if hands are touching they need to be bent slightly so they do not touch, 38- remove set lever screw, remove temporary crown stem, place watch dial up on casing cushion

Bergeon Swiss hand press, installed small second hand
Bergeon Swiss hand press after installing small second hand
Watch hands installed on dial
Watch hands installed on dial
Watch movement and dial on case cushion in preparation to case up
Watch movement and dial on case cushion in preparation to case up
Casing up the ETA 6497 prior to clamping down
Casing up the ETA 6497 prior to clamping down

Case Up Movement

39- drop movement onto case, 40- install movement ring w/movement, 41- install the casing clamps, install casing clamp screws, 42- place waterproof gasket on back, 43- hand tighten caseback, 44- use caseback tightening tool and tighten all the way, 45- test waterproofness using watch waterproof testing machine

Witschi timing machine to test amplitude, beat rate, and beat rate error
Witschi timing machine to test amplitude, beat rate, and beat rate error

Re-Test/Finish

46- Retest using Witschi machine. 47- If the test results are good, wear your watch and enjoy!

Build-A-Watch completed watch wristwatch
Build-A-Watch completed watch wristwatch

Summary

The amount of knowledge you acquire by assembling the watch from scratch is essential to understanding the mechanics of watchmaking at an advanced level. And that’s why this course is not only designed for the watch lover, but also for those who want to pursue a career as a watchmaker. This class is just the first of many offered by the AWCI year-round. The class was truly an incredible experience that I highly recommend!

Learn more at AWCI.

Group Wristshot at end of AWCI Build-A-Watch December 2018
Group Wristshot at end of AWCI Build-A-Watch December 2018
Jason Pitsch
Posted by:Jason Pitsch

Editor, writer, and photographer. View his portfolio here.