Amazing mod turns Apple Watch into mechanical timepiece


What's old is new again? What's new is old again? Something like that. It's a mechanical Apple Watch.
What's old is new again? What's new is old again? Something like that. It's a mechanical Apple Watch.
Photo: NanoRobotGeek

I always had a thing for mechanical watches’ intricate machinery. But I gave up my Swiss timepiece for Apple Watch’s amazingly smart functionality.

And now someone has gone to the trouble of marrying the two on video. He replaced a nearly defunct Apple Watch’s circuitry with watch-movement technology first established more than 200 years ago.

And the end result is a gorgeous watch, if you dare try this sort of recycling project yourself.

Video: Apple Watch (1st generation) resurrected as fine mechanical timepiece

YouTube maker NanoRobotGeek’s demonstration video, below, shows his process. But he also talked about his motivation to replace digital circuitry with springs and gears, which involved a mixture of humor and a desire to deal with e-waste.

“I just think it’ll be sort of hilarious to have an Apple Watch with a mechanical watch movement,” he said.

He first thought of the idea when wanted to buy a new Apple Watch but doubted the wearable would last long. The battery might only last a couple of years and Apple support for the model would end at some point, as it does for all old versions.

“And that theory was confirmed by the amount of dead and broken Apple Watches that pop up on eBay,” he said.

Selecting a suitable old Apple Watch

Nearly done, he shows the Face and side of the new mechanical Apple Watch, with working crown and button.
Nearly done, he shows the face and side of the new mechanical Apple Watch, with working crown and button.

So NanoRobotGeek shifted gears and looked for older Apple Watches. He said he bought three, all 1st generation. Two he got for just $1 apiece and a third he bought for about $50. The pricier one still works, though its battery is only good for about 4 hours a day, he said.

But its waning functionality hardly mattered. He needed it for its case and screen materials, both desirable to a traditional watchmaker.

“This one was a little bit more expensive because I wanted one with the sapphire glass and stainless steel case,” he noted. Sapphire crystal is harder and more scratch-resistant than mineral crystal or plastic. A stainless steel care is more robust and fancier than an aluminum one.

But thinking up the idea and finding the right Apple Watch to “shove” a 24-jewel Seiko NH 38 mechanical watch movement into didn’t mean he was home free. Far from it.

“Now just because I could conceptualize this project does not mean that it was actually possible,” he pointed out. “And trying to get the movement into such a small space and trying to get the original button and crown to work really pushed my skills as a maker,” he said.

A fine and functional self-winding watch

Toward the end of the video, NanoRobotGeek showed off the working mechanical timepiece’s front and back.

On the dial (or Face in Apple Watch lingo), an “open-heart” skeleton window at 9 0’clock shows the movement’s escapement, where a delicate hairspring rotates on a balance wheel as the watch ticks.

And hour, minute and sweeping second hands work with an analog crown in place of the original digital one. The button beneath the crown advances the time.

The exhibition case back is gorgeous, allowing you to see the whole movement in action, complete with a swinging rotor with an Apple-logo cutout in it.

Project’s time and costs spiraled

In place of the Apple Watch's sensor is an exhibition casebook showing the mechanical movement, complete with Apple logo.
In place of the Apple Watch’s sensor is an exhibition case back showing the mechanical movement, complete with Apple logo.

But it almost didn’t happen, and certainly not in the time or for the low cost he imagined.

He said:

There was a point where I thought that I will be able to do this project for under about 100 US dollars and within a weekend. Oh boy, was I wrong. This took me about three months. In the end, you can probably tell by how much my hair has grown. Yeah, all up the project cost me maybe like three to four times as much as I expected.

“But I am beyond thrilled with how it came out,” he added.

Lot of compliments on the watch

NanoRobotGeek said he’s been wearing the watch for about a month.

“I do get a lot of compliments on it, but no one like no stranger has actually noticed it yet. Still waiting for that,” he said. “But all the friends who noticed that really love it and it’s just such a great conversation piece.”

Watch the video to follow his process in detail and get a few tips on how to make a mechanical Apple Watch yourself. He said you might actually be able to do it in a weekend for under $100 if you avoid some of his pitfalls.


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