If you’ve browsed any online forum for watches lately, it’s likely you’ve come across a modded watch or two.
What is a modded watch, exactly?
A modded watch is a watch that is altered from its original form in some way. This can include the addition of any parts from a third party manufacturer, or parts from other watches. A watch mod can also be as simple as changing as painting it, changing the bracelet, swapping the dial, hands, etc.
When it comes to watch mods, the sky is the limited. You’re only limited by your patience, knowledge, available parts, and of course, the tools that you’d need to get the job done. So, what are some of the best tools you need to start modding watches?
With that said, here’s a list of 22 of the watch modding tools you’ll want to consider before trying out your first watch mod.
1. Basic Watch Repair Kit
Depending on the amount of customization and modification you want to do to your watch, a basic watch repair kit might be enough to do the job.
I started with a relatively inexpensive watch repair kit off of Amazon, and I still find myself pulling it out regularly for various mods and adjustments. I just used it 5 minutes ago to remove and size the bracelet on my Seiko 5 SNXS79.
Many watch modders will steer you away from a watch repair kit, as generally the parts tend to be lower quality than if you were to spend a lot more money for each individual tool.
That is often true, however, a cheap watch repair kit that has a wide variety of tools can give you insight into what tools you need the most for the types of mods you like to do. And you can begin to upgrade those tools, one by one, as you see see fit.
In the meanwhile, a basic watch repair kit will serve most people’s watch modding needs just fine. A basic watch repair kit should allow you to perform simple mods, like changing and resizing watch bracelets and straps, tightening or removing any screws, opening the case back, and removing the bezel, should you ever need to.
While the exact contents of a watch repair kit varies from kit-to-kit, there are a few things you should look for, to make sure you have the absolute basics.
Make sure your watch repair kit includes at least a few of the following:
- Spring Bar Tool
- Caseback opener
- Movement holder
- Watch case holder
- Dust remover puffer
- Watch bracelet resizer
Sure, you could always just upgrade right off the bat and get a high-end professional grade Bergeon watch repair kit, as it’s one of the most highly regarded by professional watchmakers in the industry.
But I highly suggest starting with a cheaper watch repair kit to get a sense of what you need before investing into more quality tools. The money you save by buying more affordable tools, or buying tools one at a time can instead be put toward a new watch, and more mod parts.
2. Spring Bar Tool
A spring bar tool is the tool that allows you to remove the spring bars on a watch.
This allows you to quickly and easily remove any watch straps or bracelets, as well as adjust the sizing of watch buckles and clasps.
A cheap mini spring bar tool sometimes comes with watches or straps, and those will typically be fine and get the job done. However, considering it is likely one of the watch modding tools you will frequently use, especially if you’re someone who changes straps often, it might be worth considering an upgrade.
My favorite spring bar tool I own is the Bergeon 6767-F.
I love that it has removable tips, so if one end of the spring bar remover gets damaged or dull, you can always replace it with a spare.
The Bergeon spring bar tool also has a textured knurled grip on both sides, making it very comfortable to hold and easy to change watch straps or bracelets.
Bergeon is a highly regarded watch tool brand by some of the finest watchmakers in the world. So when you compare the quality of this springbar tool to the price, and how often you’d likely use it, it’s a pretty good deal.
How to Use Spring Bar Tool To Remove A Watch Band
The spring bar tool is typically double-sided. It often has a forked end, and a flat end, each with their own purpose.
The forked end is great for removing spring bars that are already in your watch, and the flat end is perfect for pushing in a springbar where there’s a drilled lug, or a hole, which you’ll often find on the buckle of many stainless steel bracelets.
To remove your springbar and watch bracelet, or strap, simply:
- Place your watch face-down on a cloth or other soft surface so you don’t scratch your watch.
- Wedge the forked end of the springbar tool between the lug and bracelet/strap.
- Push the springbar tool toward the opposite lug.
- Simultaneously pull the watch band or bracelet up, so as to dislodge and remove the spring bar from the spring bar socket at the same time.
- Repeat the same for the other side of the strap or bracelet.
Spring Bar Tool (Flat End Tip)
The round side of the spring bar tool is for removing springbars in clasps, or in watches with drilled lugs.
Basically, anywhere there is a spring bar in a hole that is drilled all the way through, this side of the spring bar tool makes it a breeze.
You just push the round and flat end of the spring bar tool into the drilled hole, and pushed far enough in, the springbar should pop right out.
Be careful to keep your hand covering the springbar, or else it could fly across the room. Then you’ll end up with spring bars all over your floor, just like me… Only to find it weeks later. True story.
3. Case Back Opener (Three Prong)
A case back opener does exactly what its name suggests – opens the case back of a watch.
This is necessary to remove the movement, change the battery, hands, date wheel, gain access to the crystal, and etc.
Basically, you need a case back opener to perform just about any type of mod.
It helps if you also have a watch holder to hold the watch into place while you use the caseback opener. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
Caseback openers often come with either two or three prongs. Most modern cases have enough ‘notches’ in the caseback for you to be able to use a three-pronged caseback opener, although some older vintage watches will only be have two.
A three-pronged caseback remover will have a better grip, and overall make it much easier for you to remove the caseback. A two-pronged remover might not have as strong of a grip, but might be necessary for some watches, especially vintage watches with older caseback designs, and only two notches.
If you’re dealing with modern watches such as the Seiko SKX and Sports Divers with stainless steel case backs, I highly suggest going for a three prong case back opener as opposed to two, as it will simply make your life that much easier.
4. Bezel remover
Some watches, most notably dive watches and GMT watches, typically include a rotating bezel.
This bezel can be removed with the right tool – a bezel remover.
You can also use a butter knife in a pinch, but I don’t recommend it, as it’ll have an increased likelihood of damaging your watch, or even worse – yourself.
How to remove a bezel using a bezel remover:
- Simply use a bit of masking tape or duct tape around the case of the watch. This is to protect the watch case from scratches.
- Insert the bezel remover underneath the bezel.
- With a bit of upward pressure and force, you should be able to pop the bezel off. If the bezel doesn’t pop off, don’t force it. Proceed to step 4.
- Insert the bezel remover from a different angle, again and again until the bezel is removed from all corners.
5. Movement Holder
A movement holder is pretty self-explanatory. It holds the movement in case you want to modify the watch in some way. Holding the movement in place is extremely helpful, as you’ll want to have both hands free to be able to carefully modify the movement, without having to hold it in place yourself.
Most movement holders are adjustable to fit a wide range of movements. I prefer plastic movement holders over stainless steel ones, as there will be less chance of scratching or damaging the movement in some way.
6. Leather Pad
A leather pad is simply a piece of foam padded with leather that is soft to the touch and allows you to put a watch or watch movement facedown, to work on the backside, without damaging it.
They can be had relatively cheaply.
7. Dust Puffer/Blower
These odd looking, rocket-shaped things are dust removers/blowers. A dust remover or puffer can be essential when working on the inner workings of a watch.
When modifying a watch, it’s possible you might get dust inside the crystal, on the dial, or even on the movement.
Wiping these parts with your fingers could cause oil from your skin, or worse yet, fingerprints, to get on the crystal or other parts of the watch.
So how do you remove dust from a watch without getting your greasy fingers all over it? The answer is a very simple and affordable dust remover puffer. With just a squeeze, the dust remover blows a puff of air and blows dust away.
- PRO TIP: Dust blowers made for cameras tend to be of higher quality than generics. They’re made to blow dust off of sensitive camera lenses and sensors, but can work just as well with watches. Just make sure not to hold the blower too close to any delicate parts.
8. Watch Holder
Similar to a movement holder, a watch holder holds an entire case of a watch in place.
This can be extremely useful to keep your watch from moving when trying to remove the case back.
I suggest you get a plastic one instead of metal, to help prevent scratching your precious watch case.
9. Hand Removers
Hand removers are necessary for, well, removing the hands on a watch.
There are different types of hand removers, some easier than others. There are some that work like “tongs” that you squeeze together to remove the hands. Others are two mini spatula-like blades that you use in conjunction to pop the hands-off.
The sign of a good hand remover is sharpness. The bevel at the end of the hands removers should come to a relatively thin and sharp edge, so it is able to get underneath the hands easily, without damaging the dial or the hands.
If a hand remover is too bulky or thick, it can create issues trying to squeeze underneath the hands, and potentially damage your dial.
10. Hand Press
After you remove a set of watch hands, you need a way to attach the replacement set of watch hands back on the watch’s dial. This is where a hand press comes in.
By simply centering it over your watch, and placing the hands over the center of the dial, typically you’ll just need to push the hand press down and bam!
Your new hands are set in place.
Be sure not to put too much pressure when installing new hands, or you could damage not only the handset, but also the dial or movement.
11. Crystal Press
A crystal press is typically used to install a brand new replacement crystal, but it has a few other uses as well.
- Install replacement bezel
- Install replacement crystal
- Install friction-based caseback
How to Remove or Install a Watch Crystal with a Crystal Press:
To remove or install a crystal, you want to ensure that you’re using the right size of acrylic mold that comes with the crystal press.
Typically, the crystal press comes with a few in various sizes, and you’ll need to choose the right one depending on the watch you’re modifying.
To remove a crystal:
- Place the watch in the properly fitted mold.
- IMPORTANT: Make sure the mold is the proper size, so it distributes pressure evenly across the crystal. Choosing the wrong size can cause the crystal to crack.
- Using the handle of the crystal press, press down and apply evenly distributed pressure throughout the crystal. It is friction-based and should pop out easily. If it doesn’t pop out right away, don’t force it, as you might damage the crystal. Simply rotate the watch and try again. Do this a few times until the crystal pops out without any excessive force.
Installing a crystal is the same process, just reversed. Use the watch mold to fit around the watch case and crystal, and press down on the crystal, fitted into the watch case, until it’s seated evenly. If the crystal is raised on one side or another, rotate the watch to that side, and press down on the crystal press once again.
12. Tweezers (Needlenose & Brass)
Tweezers are an important tool especially if you’re working with the inner workings of a watch movement. They become even more important once you start getting into repairing and servicing a watch movement.
Tweezers are basically an extension of your habnds, and how you’ll grab and move the tiniest of tiny watch movement parts.
While there are all different kinds of tweezers on the market, you’ll typically want a pair of needlenose tweezers for something as microscopic as watch movement parts. They have the sharpest tip, allowing you to grab and hold smaller objects easier. The sign of a good needle nose tweezer is one that closes all the way with no gap when you squeeze it together.
If there is even the tiniest of gaps, it might lead to dropped or misplaced watch movement parts. They’re so tiny, to begin with, you certainly wouldn’t want to lose one, or you’ll be on the floor for hours, with your loupe (which we’ll talk about later) looking for the part on the ground. Not fun.
Further, tweezers that are made of brass are typically a better idea than stainless steel for watch movements.
Brass is a softer material metal than stainless steel, so you are less likely to damage your stainless steel watch case or watch parts using a brass tweezer.
13. Watchmaker Screwdrivers
On a basic level, just about any cheap set of jeweler-sized screwdrivers will work for basic purposes, such as unscrewing battery compartments on certain quartz watches.
Jeweler screwdrivers are also needed to remove the links on some metal watch bracelets that are held together with screws.
Past this, however, the quality of the screwdriver absolutely does matter. For example: If you want to get involved with the movement of a watch, and watch movement servicing, a quality set of screwdrivers is just as important as the tweezers. You’ll need the screwdrivers to remove and install many different tiny components of the watch movement, and sometimes the screws can be just as small and fragile as the watch movement parts itself.
While a cheap set will get the job done, you’ll often find it will sometimes shave off some of the metal of the screw over time, and alter it’s shape.
In this instance, a quality set of jeweler’s screwdrivers such as a set from Bergeon will make your life a whole lot easier, ensuring fewer screws and parts are damaged.
14. Sharpening Stone / Whetstone
If you want to really get serious about learning how to service a watch, your screwdrivers need to be regularly maintained for sharpness and smoothness.
A set of uneven and chipped screwdrivers could potentially damage tiny watch movement parts and screws.
The sharpening stone will help bring the screwdrivers to an even edge so they work as intended and don’t damage watch parts or screws.
Start with a basic whetstone with around 1,000 grit, but eventually you will want to have a series of grits to be able to produce the best results.
15. Masking Tape
We all probably have some masking tape lying around in the junk drawer we never really open. Use this to tape around the case of the watch when trying to remove the bezel or the bracelet, and to protect the watch from scratches.
16. Finger Cots
Finger cots are inappropriate looking little rubber gloves that fit just the tips of your fingers. This prevents you from getting your fingerprints or oils from your skin on the watch or movement.
Finger cots also allow you more flexibility than watch gloves when working with intricate and small details of a watch. While it might seem like a bit overkill, nothing is worse than finishing up a watch mod and sealing up the case, only to realize you left a smudgey fingerprint on the inside of the crystal. Finger cots are the go-to for jewelers and watchmakers for good reason.
17. Jeweler Gloves
Sometimes, if you don’t plan on doing any fine work on the inside of the watch or movement, a set of general-purpose cotton jeweler’s gloves can get the job done even better than finger cots.
These are relatively affordable and often come in packs of 6 or 12. They can be used when you want to do some basic modifications to the outside of the watch, but want to avoid getting the oils of your skin or fingerprints on it.
It’s also useful for the “final touches” stage of watch modding if you plan on sending it off or selling it to someone else. You don’t want to send off a watch with fingerprints and oil all over it to your customer… Not a good look!
18. Microfiber Cloth
If you want to rid the watch of dust, dirt, etc, typically you want to give it a good cleaning with a microfiber cloth, specifically designed to prevent scratching on such a delicate item. Unless the watch is in terribly poor shape, typically just a bit of rubbing alcohol and a microfiber cloth can wipe away most grime or dust. I
19. Jeweler’s Loupe
Jewlers of all sorts, including watchmakers, often use what is called a Loupe to inspect details of the watch more closely.
The loupe is essentially a one-eyed magnifying glass that is held up to your eye to inspect the minor details of a watch that the human eye typically can’t see.
They come in varying levels of magnification depending on your preference, and some even come with a headband.
20. Work Mat / Watchmaker Tray
A work mat. A mat to work on. A mat for working. Do I really need to explain?
Really anything from an extended mouse mat to a self-healing cutting mat will do the job. Even a tabletop is fine, so long as you make sure to keep it clean. The entire point is you want to have a flat, clean, and neat work surface, regardless of what it is.
There are specific watchmaker work trays that have designated areas for specific parts of the movement to keep yourself organized, but that’s only necessary for those dissecting a movement.
Rodico is a form of putty that is used to remove little specs of dirt or fingerprints from the inside of a watch.
This is typically used on the inside of a watch crystal, as using your hands would likely just make even more dirt or fingerprints on the same crystal.
Rodico is like silly putty and can be folded over and over to be cleaned. It’s reusable almost indefinitely, so you only typically need to buy it once. One and done! And best of all, it’s super therapeutic.
22. Dial Protector
Sometimes when working on a dial or removing or installing a set of watch hands, you want to use a dial protector to avoid scratches or scuffs on your precious dial.
A dial protector fits around the center rotor of the watch, protecting the dial as you use your hand’s removers to pull the hands-off or install new ones.
Truth be told, a dial protector is often made up of a little piece of plastic with a notch in the center where you’d fit it around the watch hands. With that said, a piece of plastic wrap cut to shape could easily function just as well.
Some watch crystals, most notably those made of mineral and acrylic are very prone to scratching. (That’s why I love me some scratch-resistant sapphire!)
What do you do when your watch crystal scratches? Polywatch.
Polywatch is a bit of an abrasive cream that you dab on your watch crystal, and with either a toothbrush or microfiber cloth, work it into and around the scratches of the crystal. Before long, it should begin to even out the surface of the crystal, essentially removing the scratches altogether.
Removing scratches from a watch crystal can be one of the cheapest and easiest ways to bring an old, beat up watch back to life.
24. Plastic Calipers
Calipers are used to measure various dimensions of your watch, including the diameter, lug to lug, lug width and thickness.
Sure, you could use a ruler, and try to eyeball it, but calipers will give you the most accurate measurement.
Even though metal calipers are cooler and even look more aesthetically pleasing for the Instagram watch shots you’re inevitably going to shoot, plastic calipers, while cheaper, are ideal for watches, as they won’t scratch your watch as much as a metal caliper would.
25. Watch Bracelet Removal Tool
One of the most basic and useful tools when just getting into watch collecting is a watch bracelet push-pin resizer.
While most luxury watches will have bracelets with screws, and a jeweler’s screwdriver will work just fine, some more affordable watches have a different style of the pin that holds their bracelet together.
These pins are held in by friction, but can easily be removed even with the cheapest of watch bracelet resizer.
Simply lay the bracelet flat into the designated area and slowly rotate the resizer until it is inserted into the bracelet, pushing the pin out in the proper direction. Once the pin pops out, there you go! Repeat that for the other side of the watch bracelet link, reassemble the remaining links and you’re good to go!
Oh yeah, when removing a pushpin from your watch, you’re going to need a way to get that pin back in there.
Here’s where the mallet comes in.
They’re typically lined with rubber on the end so you’re able to hammer down the pushpins and fit the bracelet without damaging the stainless steel case of your watch. It’s also possible to use a mallet and the flat end of a spring bar remover tool to remove a watch link and resize it without the need for a dedicated resizer.
They sometimes come in a watch repair kit, or included with the previously mentioned watch bracelet remover, so you may not need to purchase a seperate one.
The Best Watch to Mod
You’ve got all the watch mod tools in the world, so now it’s time to start a mod. What watch should you start with?
One of the most popular examples of watches that are often used as a base for mods is the Seiko SKX.
Before the discontinuation of this legendary Seiko diver, it was discovered that the watch had parts that were easily compatible with many other Seiko divers, assuming you have the right tools.
Soon after, third-party companies started designing and producing compatible mod parts in addition, so they were able to create completely unique and original designs. Watch modding communities began to grow as enthusiasts dug deeper into the hobby.
Long story short, there is now nearly and endless amounts of modifications you can do to your Seiko SKX, with some third-party parts and tools available. Not to mention they were affordable enough that you didn’t have to stress too much if something were to go wrong.
I modded my SKX009 by bleaching the bezel to give it a bit of an older faded look.
While the Seiko SKX has since been discontinued by Seiko, you can still sometimes find it for purchase, as some retailers have a large stock available. Additionally, Seiko has since released a new lineup of Seiko 5 Sports Divers that essentially have the exact same case and dimensions as the Seiko SKX. Most, if not all, of the mod parts that were previously compatible with the Seiko SKX are also compatible with the new Seiko 5 Sports Divers.
The Seiko divers aren’t the only watch you can mod, however. It just happens to be one of the most notoriously convenient and easy with the amount of available compatible parts. Really, as long as you have the knowledge, patience, tools, and mod parts, any watch can be modded.
Choosing the right watch modding parts can be difficult. I highly suggest starting with a basic watch repair kit, as it should fill the needs for most basic mods. You can always continue to replace tools for better ones, and add additional tools to your watch modding arsenal as you need them.
Did I miss something? Need help with your next mod? Want to just chat about watches? Let me know in the comments below!
Last update on 2021-02-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API