Somewhat curious about the whole Rolex Submariner thing, and rather impressed at how neat the real thing looks in the window of one of the posher jewelers in York, I thought it might be fun to try to make a budget Sub, along the lines of the poor man’s pilot, posted below.
The starting point with these sort of projects is always the case. The market appears chocabloc with cheap Rolex fakes of hugely variable quality, Sub homages and numerous dodgy branded sub-a-likes. I wanted mine to house a decent movement and to be well finished but was not expecting it to be properly water resistant. After some considerable time (months actually) the only properly water resistant cases I could find deviated rather too far from the classic Submariner shape and, in any case, at the time I was looking, were not actually available for sale. The next best thing were some cases which I think were ‘seconds’ from a small Australian boutique watchmaker in Australia. The cases he had for sale were, unusually, compatible with ETA 2824 movements, but were advertised as dress watch cases with probably no better than 50m water resistance. He also sold Seagull ST2130 movements, which are ETA 2824-2 clones and so I ended up buying one of his cases and one of his movements. Here’s a photo of the case from the eBay auction:
As you can see, the case is fitted with a ceramic insert, which was, and remains very much not to my taste, and a flat sapphire crystal. I was planning to replace the insert and crystal but when I received the case I discovered the former would not be quite so easy and the latter required a lot of experimentation. The problem with the insert is that the ceramic insert had a diameter of about 38mm whilst the largest Rolex insert is about 37.5mm. I tried in vain to find an aluminium insert of the correct size (and ended up buying 2 or 3 in the process) but the only insert I could find that fitted properly one intended for the Seiko SKX031 – not a bad option but not what I was after (at least for this first run through). So, compromise beckoned and I fitted one bought from Cousins, with a small gap evident between the edge of the insert and the bezel. Not a big deal actually and not noticeable on the wrist.
Next up the crystal. The sapphire is pressed into a nylon gasket and stays in place simply through the tightness of the fit. Here are the crystal and gasket removed from the case:
What I wanted was a domed acrylic but the acrylic crystal I tried of the correct diameter would not fit tightly enough. After much experimentation (I think I bought perhaps 4 or 5 crystals and 3 or 4 gaskets) I hit upon the right combination of gasket and crystal size. The crystal I fitted was a simple Sternkreuz HH domed acrylic of 30.6mm diameter:
This fitted nice and tightly into the new gasket and I had confidence that it would not be easily dislodged (the eventual buyer of this watch still has it two years later and no problems so far reported!). On to the movement.
This was my first experience tinkering with ETA (yes I know it’s a Seagull but it is more or less identical to the 2824-2) and I have to say I was not especially impressed with some aspects of the design. In particular, the keyless works is a monumental pain in the neck. Removal of the stem requires the utmost care, requiring the crown release button to be depressed ever so carefully, with the crown pulled out to the date position, just to the point where you feel the stem starting to ease out at which point you release the button (or not as is invariably the case) and remove the crown and stem. More of this shortly.
The dial I bought from Hong Kong although it claims to be Swiss Made. This particular date dial is actually very nicely done, with gilt ladder minute markers.
The hands I bought off eBay but of exceptionally nice quality. Next, I wanted a white on black date wheel rather than the rather cheap looking black on white wheel fitted to the Seagull. Having bought one from Cousins, I managed to replace the existing wheel without incident. Although in the event, I performed this operation probably 7 or 8 times because of the keyless works. Each time I was ready to fit the movement into the case, I would dutifully depress the crown release button, ease the stem back into the movement, release the button, jiggle it about a bit and discover that in fact the setting lever had not re-seated properly, the stem was not secured and did not perform its function. The only solution is to remove the movement hands and dial, remove the date wheel, dismantle the setting lever, return bar and return bar spring, refit the whole lot, and start again. This nightmare repeated itself over and over. I could find no way of getting the stem re-seated correctly. In the end, I resorted to ordering a set of parts from Cousins and systematically replacing each bit until I could get it to work. The solution required only the substitution of the setting lever in the end, coupled with the avoidance of its depression when reinserting the stem.
Here is the little bugger:
So, onto the home straight. One detail left to deal with. The lume on the dial is greenish in hue whilst that on the hands white. My tinting method, which I discovered after a chance purchase in Barnetts in York of some transparent glass colouring lacquer, involves immersing the hands in a solution of GlassArt lacquer dissolved in lighter fluid. The correct shade in this case was obtained by first immersing the hands in the green lacquer solution and then in the yellow. Once the hands have dried you need to clean off the metal parts but the result is pretty much spot on.
With the new date wheel, dial and hands fitted, the movement dropped into the case, the brass movement ring in place, the case clamps (bought from Cousins (they have done really well out of this project by the way)) screwed down,
and the insert glued into place, we are finished.
and to finish, one on the bracelet:
Wearing mine as I write this, what a nice watch this is!
If I’m not mistaken, this is in fact your watch, so I’m glad you still like it!
Andy Black said:
Cool post. I was working on a similar project using a generic sub case and Seagull movement. You are right the keyless works is a major pain….
I was wondering, did you have to shorten the stock stem to get it to fit the case? The standard stem (16mm I believe) didn’t fit and I ended up shortening it but now I’m having trouble with the crown coming off the stem.
The stem I used came with the movement and not with the case and so I had to trim it to fit. You just need to make sure it’s on good and tight or as an extra precaution, use some lock-tite glue to keep it from coming undone.
Martin, I wanted to try a project similar to yours. I wanted to take my beat-up Seiko SKX031 and swap the dial and movement into a case similar to the one above. As far as I know the dial dimensions are similar but I am unsure about the movement, etc.
This is my first project. Any input you could share would be very helpful.
In order to swap movements/dials between cases, you need to consider at least three parameters: movement diameter; movement height and stem height. I am afraid that your 7S26 falls at the first hurdle on that front at it is 1.4mm wider and therefore simply won’t fit a case designed for ETA 2824 without a different, probably bespoke, movement spacer. If you were able to get it to fit on that front, you’d then be faced with matching the stem height: here they are much more closely matched, 1.8mm on the ETA playing 1.75 on the Seiko but that is still large enough for it not to work without a shim between the movement and dial on the Seiko to increase the effective stem height. Having done that you then need to consider whether your hands then sit too low with respect to the dial. Even if you were able to solve all of the problems on that front, you’d then need to worry about the dial diameter and whether that was a correct match to the dial aperture on the case you wanted to transplant to.
To be honest, I think you would be better off sticking with your existing case (or at least buying a replacement) and modifying it to resemble the Submariner style. There are bezel inserts available, and you ought to be able to fit an acrylic crystal in the same way I did with my sub-a-like. There are even dials and handsets available which fit the 7S26 and which mimic the Submariner or even Tudor Snowflake look.
I have built first one then another in this style. I also had problems with the keyless works but after a bit of fiddling the ST2130 works very well. I found a case with aluminium bezel insert, and due to the keyless works, ended up putting an ISA quartz in it (need to get a .20mm second hand) and its ticking away on my wrist now. The second watch has the fixed seagull movement in it and a case with a display back. I am experimenting with dials and hands on that, and the next job is to sign the dial, so it is my own brand. That will be a challenge I’m sure.
Great job dude! I’ve been looking everywhere for someone to write up something like this! It looks awesome and I think I might try it myself