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Guidance for Microbrands and Watch Builders

A Comprehensive Guide from Sketch to Wrist: The Journey of Designing a Custom Microbrand Watch

In the world of horology, designing a custom watch is a fascinating journey that combines creativity, engineering, and craftsmanship. At Horology Hub, we understand that each timepiece is a reflection of a microbrand’s unique vision, which is not only our passion but also enjoyable and rewarding when we create a series that the public finds appealing. In this article, we will go through the intricate process of taking a watch design from a simple sketch to a wrist-worthy masterpiece.

1. Conceptualization and Ideation

The journey begins with a spark of inspiration. As a rule, we suggest you nurture your creativity. Whether it’s a distinct aesthetic, a unique complication, or a tribute to a specific theme, the initial idea sets the tone for the entire design process.

Below is a list of tactics that can help you harvest your best ideas.

Idea Generation:

Encourage brainstorming sessions where team members can freely share their thoughts and ideas. Research current watch trends, historical designs, and cultural influences to gather inspiration. Explore other art forms, such as architecture, fashion, and nature, for potential design cues.

Define the Concept:

Narrow down the pool of ideas to select the most compelling concept that aligns with your brand identity. Clearly define the purpose and story behind the chosen concept. Is it a luxury piece, a sporty watch, or a limited-edition collector’s item?  Is it geared towards divers?  Business people?  Military?

Mood Board Creation:

Create a mood board that combines images, colors, textures, and materials that resonate with the chosen concept. Include elements that reflect the distinct aesthetic, unique complication, or theme being considered.  And believe it or not, this can be fun.  We’ve taken other brands and looked deep at their marketing impact.  We were (as we usually are) surprised that some microbrands are demographically successful.  What this means is that their success can be based on a location, particular town, favorite sports team colors, etc.  So dig deep and be ready to see things you wouldn’t have if you didn’t ask!

Sketching and Visual Exploration:

Begin sketching rough design concepts based on the defined concept and mood board.

Explore different shapes, layouts, and proportions to visualize the initial ideas.

Experiment with different watch complications that could enhance the watch’s functionality and aesthetics.  And no need to hire a graphic designer just yet. Even if you’re horrible at drawing, the practice will help you achieve your overall vision.  Just think of the Tesla pickup truck.  Or don’t if it hurts your brain.

Digital Prototyping:

Transfer the most promising sketches into digital design software for more accurate visualization. Experiment with different case shapes, dial designs, and hands using 3D modeling tools. Use digital prototyping to quickly iterate and refine the design before moving to physical prototypes.  And yes, this may obviously be outside of your scope of talents, but hit us up via and we can help.

Technical Feasibility:

Collaborate with watch engineers and technical experts to assess the feasibility of the design.

Ensure that the chosen complications, materials, and dimensions are achievable within the watch’s construction.  This is one of the more challenging pieces, especially if you decide to have your parts manufactured in a different company in a different country.  Just make sure you do your very best to communicate properly ALL of your ideas, concerns and challenges.

Note: If you’d like to have us hook you up with a manufacturer, just let us know and we’ll see what we can do for you.

Material and Component Selection:

Based on the finalized design, select materials for the case, dial, hands, and strap that align with the concept’s aesthetics and functionality. Choose materials that offer durability, comfort, and visual appeal.  The good news is that most of the “materials” won’t be a big issue.  You’ll want to make sure your timepieces stand up to the elements, but based on your budget you will most likely be using stainless steel for most of the externals, and whatever makes the most sense for the internals.

Feedback and Refinement:

As mentioned above, present the digital and/or physical prototype to a focus group or internal team to gather feedback. You want HONEST feedback from people who BUY WATCHES. Additionally, you can incorporate constructive feedback to refine and enhance the design while maintaining the original concept.  So NO FAMILY!

Physical Prototyping:

Create physical prototypes (with your manufacturer) of the watch based on the refined digital design. Evaluate the ergonomics, wearability, and proportions of the physical prototype. Make sure it doesn’t sit too high on the wrist, or uses a crown that’s too small or too big.  Look for the readability of the dial and so on.

Testing and Validation:

Test the functionality of any chosen complications to ensure they work as intended. Conduct quality control checks to identify any potential issues that need to be addressed.  These are, once again, things that Horology Hub offers through our partners and clients.  You need to make absolute CERTAIN that your QC is in alignment with what you require your timepieces to be.

Finalization and Production Preparation:

Make final adjustments to the design, incorporating any last-minute refinements.

Prepare detailed specifications and documentation for the production team.

Production and Launch:

Collaborate with manufacturers and artisans to begin the production process.

Plan a strategic marketing campaign to introduce the new custom watch design to the market.

2. Sketching and Visualization

Once the concept is established, it’s time to translate it into sketches. These initial drawings capture the essence of the design. At this stage, microbrands have the freedom to experiment with shapes, proportions, and key features. These sketches serve as a blueprint for the future timepiece.

Here’s a list to help you achieve this important section of putting your timepieces into traction. At the very least, this list will give you topics to discuss with your designer.

Concept Clarity:

Begin by revisiting the defined concept in detail. Ensure that everyone involved has a clear understanding of the watch’s intended aesthetics, features, and overall story.

Gather Visual References:

Collect visual references that align with the chosen concept. These references could be images, art pieces, nature elements, or anything that encapsulates the essence of the design.

Mood Board Refinement:

Refine the mood board created earlier by adding specific elements that you want to incorporate into the design. Include color palettes, textures, and design motifs that capture the spirit of the concept.

Sketching Tools and Materials:

Gather the necessary tools and materials for sketching, which may include sketchbooks, pencils, pens, markers, and digital drawing tablets.

Explorative Sketching:

Start with exploratory sketches that capture the key ideas and visual elements you want to incorporate. Don’t worry about perfection at this stage; focus on capturing the essence.

Shape and Proportion Experimentation:

Experiment with different case shapes, sizes, and proportions. Consider how these elements align with the mood board and concept.

Sketch various scenarios to understand how changes in proportions can affect the overall aesthetics.

Dial Design Exploration:

Dedicate sketches to experimenting with dial layouts, including the arrangement of hour markers, subdials, and other design elements.

Explore different font styles for numerals and text on the dial.

Hands and Complication Integration:

Incorporate sketches of different hand styles and configurations. Consider how they interact with the dial’s layout and ensure readability.

If the watch includes complications, sketch their placements and visual integration.

Strap and Case Details:

Devote sketches to the watch strap and case back. Explore different strap styles, materials, and case back designs that align with the concept.

Iterative Process:

Remember that sketching is an iterative process. Refine and revise your sketches as you experiment and explore various design possibilities.

Feedback and Collaboration:

Share your initial sketches with your team or collaborators for feedback. Consider incorporating their insights and suggestions into the design.

Multiple Variations:

Create multiple sketch variations that explore different interpretations of the concept. This helps to refine your understanding of what truly resonates.

Digital Translation:

Once you have a collection of hand-drawn sketches, consider digitizing them using design software. This can allow for easier manipulation and sharing.

Sketch Organization:

Organize your sketches in a logical order that allows you to see the progression from initial exploration to refined design.

Selection of Final Sketches:

Based on the feedback received and your own assessment, select a few sketches that best capture the essence of the concept.

Annotation and Notes:

Accompany your sketches with annotations and notes that explain your design decisions. This will help communicate your vision to others involved in the process.

Blueprint for Production:
The selected sketches serve as a blueprint for the future timepiece. They guide subsequent stages of design, prototyping, and production.

3. Digital Prototyping

In the digital age, watch design often involves 3D modeling and prototyping. Digital tools allow microbrands to visualize the watch in three dimensions, enabling them to assess the aesthetics, proportions, and ergonomic aspects of the design. Adjustments can be made before moving to the physical prototype.

Here is another detailed list to help you get going. Even if you’re not the one doing this, again, this will help you to organize specific questions for those you bring on or hire.

Software Selection:

Choose a suitable 3D modeling software that’s tailored to watch design. Consider software like SolidWorks, Rhino, or specialized watch design software.

Importing Reference Images:

Begin by importing reference images, mood boards, and sketches that were created during the earlier stages. These references will guide your digital modeling process.

Creating the Watch Case:

Start by creating a 3D model of the watch case. Use the sketch or sketches that best capture the desired case shape, proportions, and design elements.

Defining Dimensions:

Input precise dimensions based on the design’s requirements. Ensure that the proportions, sizes, and angles match your initial concept.

Dial and Hands Integration:

Integrate the dial and hands into the 3D model. Position them accurately within the case to ensure readability and alignment with your design vision.

Exploring Complications:

If your design includes complications, such as chronographs or moon phases, digitally model these elements and incorporate them into the watch’s layout.

Digital Materials and Finishes:

Apply digital materials and finishes to simulate the appearance of different components. Experiment with finishes like polished, brushed, or matte surfaces.

Strap and Clasp Design:

Create a 3D model of the watch strap, including the clasp mechanism. Ensure that the strap complements the overall design and fits seamlessly with the case.

Texture and Detailing:

Add texture and detailing to the 3D model to simulate real-world aesthetics. This could include textures for leather straps, engraved patterns, or dial textures.

Lighting and Rendering:

Set up lighting and render the 3D model to generate realistic images. This step helps evaluate the design’s appearance under different lighting conditions.

Virtual Assessment:

Examine the digital prototype from various angles to assess its aesthetics, proportions, and visual appeal. Pay attention to details and ensure accuracy.

Ergonomic Considerations:

Analyze the watch’s ergonomic aspects. Consider how it will fit on the wrist, the comfort of wearing, and the visibility of the dial and hands.

Feedback and Iteration:

Share the digital prototype with your team and collaborators for feedback. Use their insights to iterate and refine the design further.

Adjustments and Optimization:

Based on feedback, make necessary adjustments to the digital prototype. This could involve tweaking proportions, refining details, or altering materials.

Exporting Files:

Once you’re satisfied with the digital prototype, export the 3D files in formats that can be used for 3D printing or other manufacturing processes.

Collaboration with Manufacturers:

Collaborate with manufacturers and artisans to ensure that the digital prototype aligns with their capabilities and production methods.

Preparation for Physical Prototype:

The refined digital prototype serves as the foundation for creating a physical prototype. It guides the production of the initial tangible model.

4. Crafting the Prototype

The transition from digital to physical is a pivotal step. A physical prototype brings the design to life and allows microbrands to feel the watch in their hands. It’s a crucial moment for evaluating the comfort, proportions, and details of the watch.

Here is a detailed list on the process.

Prototyping Method Selection:

Decide on the method of physical prototyping, which could involve 3D printing, CNC machining, or traditional handcrafting.

Selection of Prototype Materials:

Choose materials for the physical prototype that closely resemble the intended final materials. This helps simulate the actual feel and aesthetics of the watch.

Manufacturing Collaboration:

Collaborate closely with manufacturers, artisans, and skilled craftsmen who specialize in watchmaking and prototyping.

3D Printing:

If using 3D printing, send the exported 3D files to a 3D printing service that can create a tangible model of the watch case, dial, and other components.

CNC Machining:

For CNC machining, work with experts to translate the digital design into physical components by precision milling and machining.

Handcrafting and Assembly:

If handcrafting is involved, artisans assemble the physical prototype by meticulously crafting each component, from the case to the hands.

Realistic Surface Finishes:

Ensure that the prototype’s surface finishes accurately represent the design. This includes polished, brushed, and textured surfaces.

Detailing and Fine Tuning:

Pay attention to every detail, including engraved patterns, dial textures, and hand finishing. Refine these elements to match the intended aesthetics.

Movement Integration:

Integrate a movement into the prototype to replicate the watch’s actual functionality. This could involve inserting a working movement or a simulation.

Hands-On Evaluation:

Once the physical prototype is complete, microbrands have the opportunity to hold and examine the watch in their hands.

Evaluating Comfort and Fit:
Assess the comfort of wearing the prototype on the wrist. Test how the watch conforms to different wrist sizes and shapes.

Proportion Assessment:

Compare the proportions of the physical prototype with the initial digital design. Ensure that the actual dimensions match the intended aesthetics.

Visibility and Legibility:

Evaluate the legibility of the dial and hands under various lighting conditions. Check if the design elements are easy to read and interpret.

Real-world Interaction:

Interact with the prototype as a user would. Adjust the crown, activate complications, and observe how the watch responds.

Feedback Gathering:

Share the physical prototype with team members, collaborators, and potential customers to gather feedback on its appearance and functionality.

Refinement and Iteration:

Based on the insights and feedback received, make necessary refinements to the physical prototype. This could involve adjustments to comfort, proportions, or details.

Documentation and Production Planning:

Document the final prototype with detailed notes, images, and specifications. Use this documentation for seamless communication with manufacturers during production.

Production Readiness:

Once the physical prototype meets the desired standards, it serves as the reference for the production team to create the final series of watches.

5. Technical Refinement

Beyond aesthetics, a watch must function flawlessly. Horology Hub specializes in guiding microbrands through technical refinements. This involves ensuring that the movement, complications, and case construction align harmoniously. Our experts collaborate closely to troubleshoot and optimize the watch’s performance.

Here is more detail.

Collaborative Expertise:

Assemble a team of experts, including watch engineers, watchmakers, and technical specialists, who possess in-depth knowledge of horology.

Comprehensive Evaluation:

Begin by evaluating the technical specifications of the watch’s movement, complications, and case construction. Ensure that they are aligned with the intended design and functionality.

Movement Analysis:

Analyze the movement’s specifications, including its accuracy, power reserve, and the complications it houses. Determine if it meets the desired performance criteria.

Complication Integration:

If the watch includes complications like chronographs or moon phases, verify their seamless integration and their impact on the overall movement’s performance.

Case and Movement Compatibility:

Ensure that the selected movement fits harmoniously within the watch case. Verify that the dimensions and layout align with the intended design.

Prototype Testing:

Test the movement and complications within the physical prototype. This involves examining how they interact, ensuring smooth functionality and proper alignment.

Performance Optimization:

Collaborate with watch engineers to optimize the movement’s accuracy, stability, and power consumption. Fine-tune the movement to ensure it meets high standards.

Complication Calibration:

If complications are involved, calibrate each complication to operate precisely according to their intended functions. This could involve adjusting hands, scales, or subdials.

Materials and Durability:

Evaluate the chosen materials for the watch case, hands, and other components for their durability and compatibility with the movement’s performance.

Mechanical Efficiency:
Assess the efficiency of the movement’s energy transmission, ensuring that power is utilized effectively to enhance accuracy and power reserve.

Vibration and Shock Resistance:

Verify that the movement can withstand vibrations and shocks commonly encountered in daily wear. Consider the watch’s resilience against impacts.

Water Resistance Testing:
Conduct water resistance testing to ensure that the case construction and seals are effective in protecting the movement from moisture and dust.

Quality Control Checks:

Implement rigorous quality control checks to identify any irregularities, misalignments, or defects that could affect the watch’s functionality.

Temperature Testing:

Subject the watch to temperature variations to assess its performance in different environmental conditions, ensuring accuracy and stability.

Collaborative Troubleshooting:

If any technical challenges arise, collaborate closely with the team to troubleshoot and address issues that affect the watch’s performance.

Final Evaluation:

Once technical refinements are made, conduct a final evaluation of the watch’s performance, functionality, and aesthetics to ensure alignment.

Documentation and Reporting:

Document the technical refinements, adjustments, and optimizations made during this process. Create detailed reports for future reference.

Preparation for Production:

The refined and optimized prototype serves as the reference for production. Ensure seamless communication with manufacturers to replicate the prototype’s performance in the final series of watches.

6. Materials Selection

The choice of materials for the case, dial, hands, and strap profoundly impacts the watch’s final appearance and character. Microbrands are encouraged to explore different materials that resonate with their brand identity and design theme. Each material choice should enhance the watch’s overall story.

7. Detailing and Finishing

Details make all the difference in watchmaking. From hand-engraved case backs to intricately textured dials, Horology Hub emphasizes the significance of impeccable detailing. It’s these fine touches that elevate a watch from a functional accessory to a work of art.

8. Testing and Quality Assurance

Before a watch reaches the wrists of enthusiasts, it must undergo rigorous testing. Quality assurance ensures that the watch meets the highest standards in terms of accuracy, durability, and water resistance. Every microbrand should prioritize the integrity of their creations.

9. Launch and Celebration

The culmination of the journey is the launch of the custom watch. This moment marks the realization of a microbrand’s creative vision. At Horology Hub, we advocate for celebrating this achievement and sharing the story behind the watch with the world.

10. Ongoing Evolution

The journey doesn’t end with the launch. Microbrands can continually evolve their designs based on feedback, market trends, and their own growth. The iterative process ensures that each subsequent creation becomes more refined and resonates even more deeply with enthusiasts.

Note: If you’re ready to get your microbrand out there, use the contact form on Horology Hub and we’ll do our best to help get you going!