Exploring the world of watches on a budget

How to Make a Watch Dial – The Moflake Returns.

Article and photos by Guest Bum, John Zanatta

Sequels. Rarely do they live up to the excitement and gusto of the original. There are of course a few exceptions to this (see Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight, and Godfather Part II). Sadly, for the most part, you’re left disappointed (see Spiderman 3, Batman and Robin, and Godfather Part III). A successful sequel requires a special twist to out-shine the original; something to make it not just an extension of the original but a stand-alone event.  Welcome to How to Modify a Watch – The Moflake Returns.

As some of you may remember, the Time Bum graciously invited me to his space on the interwebs to share how anyone can modify a watch using common household items. The Moflake was born. 

Now 2 years older and 2 years “wiser,” the world has continued to evolve. Chris/DocVail, the Moflake’s original owner, has continued to make new watches, and he even launched a second brand (see http://www.janistrading.com/ for all of Chris’s watches). The TimeBum is marching on. He’s continued to delivering relevant content in the affordable watch world. Me?  I’ve upgraded my tools, taken on many crazy projects, and a little over a year ago I decided to challenge myself to make my own dials. And not just any dial, but gilt-relief dials; the likes found in many vintage watches (including vintage Rolex Submariners) and the modern MKII Kingston and Key West. The beauty of a gilt-relief dial is that they don’t use ink to print the text and markers. A negative space is left in the dial paint allowing the bare brass from the dial plate to show through. Not only is it a beautiful gold color, but it reflects light too.

It’s pretty easy to start doing this at home. It requires only a few items. You will need Testors clear waterslide decals, Testors setting solution, Q Tips, an ink-jet printer, some computer software (I use MS Paint and Photoshop), cardboard, clear spray paint, an Xacto knife, finger cots (or rubber gloves), and an old dial to be your willing sacrifice.

First, decide on what style of watch you’re making. With the Moflake already being established, I only want to make a modest update. A good friend, DH (@dirtyharrie on Instagram) hunted down a beautiful Canadian Tudor Milsub. Instead of the traditional square markers paired with snowflake hands, it has the more traditional Submariner dial layout. This is the direction I’m going to take the Moflake. Use your choice of software to layout your design. Use white for the details where you want the brass plate to show through. This is the negative-relief. Ink-jet printers don’t print white. The white spaces will allow the brass dial plate to show through the decal.

Print out several dials. I print at 1200 dpi which is basically the max most inkjet printers can achieve. You will want multiple dials in case one misprints, gets damaged, or you want to start over. WUS user Svorkoetter is a person I consulted with on how to best make water-slide decal dials. He made himself one using a Vostok as a project base. I’ll be using the same, 2 layer method he does. Once your dials are printed, use the Xacto knife to cut them out of the decal sheet. I cut mine out in squares leaving room around the actual dial. This is done so you can clear coat the dials without sealing the decal to the paper backing. I use Krylon Clear Glaze to seal the ink to the decal.

Now that the decals are prepped, let’s begin prepping the dial. Find a donor dial that you will be using. Put small drops of paint on the dial feet, and touch the dial feet to a piece of cardboard. Now punch pin holes in the cardboard. Set the dial feet into the pin holes. This will hold your dial in place. Make 2 of these cardboard holders. Mark 3-6-9 and 12 o'clock for your reference points on one of the pieces. This will be your template for applying the dial. The second holder will be used to keep the dial in place while you sand off the printing. I use 300 grit paper to remove all the paint and printing. Then I use 500, 1000, and 1500 to polish the plate. I then polish the dial with Brasso to remove any dust. Once you have your shiny dial plate, you will want to seal it with a thin layer of clear coat just like the decals. Brass can tarnish, and this will prevent you from having troubles with your dial in the future.

Let your dial and decals cure overnight. The next day you can begin to cut the dials out for application (scissors are fine). Be very careful not to touch the dial face with your skin. I wear finger cots, but rubber gloves (non-powdered) will also work. You don’t want a fingerprint on your beautiful new dial.

Place your polished dial into your template marked with 3-6-9-12. You will need a small cup of water, Q tip, paper towel, setting solution and one of your decals.

Dip the decal into the water. Let it sit in the water for 5 seconds. Remove it and set it face up on the paper towel. After approximately 30 seconds, quickly dip the decal one more time. You should then be able to slide it around on the paper backing. Set it back down on the paper towel, and dip the top of your Q tip into the setting solution. Wipe a thin layer of solution on the polished dial. Now begin to slip the decal off the backing and onto the dial. I start at 3, hold the dial in place with one hand, and slide the backing off with the other. Align the dial with the markings on your cardboard template. Now use a damp Q tip to push any bubbles underneath the decal out so the decal is smooth. Place this dial into a covered container and let cure for a minimum of 1 hour. Once it has cured, repeat this process with the second decal layer right on top of the first.

Once you have both layers applied and cured, you can choose to add another layer of clear coat. Please keep in mind that every layer of decal and clear coat adds thickness. I find making no date dials works best because you can remove the date disk and dial spacer to allow for the slightly thicker dial. After you choose to clear coat again or not, test fit the dial in your case. Then, using the Xacto knife, cut out the hole in the center of the dial where the hands fit.

Now that your dial has cured, you will need to lume it. I’m not going to do a step by step process on this, but here are a few pointers. 1) Use magnification. 2) A medium oiler is good size for lume application. 3) Practice on junk dials first. There are several videos online about luming dials. They’re well worth the time to review.

The dial is complete and lumed along with the hands. What’s left? Now you put it all back together, and wear the heck out of it. Roll credits… ◆

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