The Time Hack:Lessons learned from a bad watch mod experience

When my favorite Marathon TSAR is not getting wrist time, I wear a modified Seiko SKX007 that is a truly one-off piece.  I do not possess the patience or dexterity to try my hand at modding a watch, so I sent it out to a custom, one-man outfit for what I thought would be a simple and brief handset replacement and adjustment of the movement (it was losing time).  The entire process took 18 months, and I learned a few lessons along the way that could be valuable to anyone looking to send their watch out for mod work.

The name of the outfit is irrelevant at this point, and I wish him well in getting his business model squared away.  If you do a cursory browse of his FB page (research you should conduct on any watch guy/gal for that matter) and cross-reference posts on numerous watch community pages, you’ll see the litany of complaints over a lack of communication, shifting timelines, and ultimately, failure to deliver the goods in many cases, despite months of delay.

I first ran across him when he was active on a tactical forum that had a very long-running thread on watches.  He shared the results of his mod work, using dazzling photography.  The situation was blurred by the fact that he had multiple positive reviews (although most admitted the design and modification process took a long time), and he is capable of beautiful work with innovative materials and techniques. 

One of the mitigating factors was the fact that he only billed once the work was completed.  Money did not exchange hands when I sent the 007 in, and when it proved impossible to regulate, he had to put a new movement in during the reassembly. 

I thought my odyssey was over when I received the watch via priority mail, but the relief was short-lived.  Barely a day passed with it on my wrist before the pawl lever and reduction wheel broke away from the movement and I shipped it back for remedy.  I have no reason to believe it was broken when he sent it out, but it certainly added to my mounting frustration.

DO YOUR RESEARCH: My first mistake was falling in love with the images of watches others had sent in to this guy.  I did not do my due diligence to read up on any negative comments across the online watch world until it was too late.  I also never asked for references.

UNDERSTAND THE ENVIRONMENT: My second mistake was not taking into account the fact that his modding business was starting to take off, but it was not his primary occupation.  He still put in full day’s work at a primary job and tinkered with watches at night.

INSIST ON CLEAR COMMUNICATION: When I politely requested an update on where we were in the process, I often received fairly plausible explanations (e.g. my kids are sick, work at my day job just picked up and I’ve been really busy, I’ve been out of town on a family vacation, etc.) and I gave him the benefit of the doubt and tried to stay off of his back so he could proceed.  By giving him that space and not pushing the issue, I likely enabled him to allow his own self-imposed deadlines to slip, causing my watch to fall further back in his queue.  It seems he used this breathing room to finish watches for other folks who were better at being a squeaky wheel.

REQUEST A REALISTIC SCHEDULE: When I did get updates, he was always right on the cusp of hitting a good milestone (e.g. “the new lume on the hands is finished”), but lengthy periods of zero communication would follow.  I should have pinned him down for a current work plan and delivery schedule, and held him to it as soon as it slipped.

CHOOSE TRANSPARENCY: I never asked where my watch was in his work queue and I had no idea of the number of watches in front of, or behind mine.  Looking back, it seems prudent to go with someone who has a clearly stated policy of accepting only a small number of work orders at a time, and will not allow owners to send in watches until they can effectively meet forecasted delivery dates.  

There are amazing and talented modders out there who can create spectacular watches, but it requires homework to find the right one who hits the intersection of reasonable cost, timeliness and style.  Good luck.