Engraving Watches

Copyright © 2003 by Davis Multimedia, Intl. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in June 2003, Volume 28, No. 12 of The Engravers Journal.

    We’ve all seen “What’s Hot & What’s Not” lists. Right now, Jennifer Lopez is hot. Kool and the Gang is not. Boot Cut jeans are hot and acid washed jeans are not. But what about watches? Ah, watches — a timeless (pun intended) item that never goes out of style.
    Watches are functional as well as beautiful, and for that reason, they are and will remain a mainstay in jewelry sales. In fact, watches are often considered one of the most important products in terms of overall jewelry sales, right up there with diamond jewelry, gold jewelry and loose diamonds.
    Watches are popular as gifts, awards and incentives. People buy watches for themselves and as gifts for holidays and special occasions, such as graduations, anniversaries and birthdays. Watches also make excellent corporate awards and business gifts. Presentation watches — watches given to commemorate years of service or retirement from a company — are a tradition in the business world.
    Whether a watch is given as a gift or as an award, engraving always adds a special touch. Personalizing a watch with a special message adds sentimental value to the item and, in the case of business gifts and incentives, can also serve to recognize individual achievements. From the retailer’s viewpoint, perhaps one of the most appealing features of selling engraved watches is that they are seldom, if ever, returned for exchange or refund. Once a watch has been engraved, it is considered un-returnable by both the customer and the retailer.
    Engraving on watches also presents another avenue for expanding your services and increasing profits, especially in the case of presentation watches. Many companies have ongoing programs in which employees are presented a watch after a certain number of years of service with the company. Offering watches and watch engraving services to these customers can mean high volume business on a regular basis.
    Honing up on your watch engraving skills can also provide the opportunity to work with area merchandisers. For example, a local jeweler or department store may sell watches but not provide engraving services, and you may offer engraving services but not watches. A marriage of these two services can mean lucrative business for both parties.
    Although the popularity of watches, in general, has remained constant over the years, styles have changed to keep up with the times. Today, watches are available in a wide range of prices and styles, from inexpensive sports watches to more elaborate, jewel-encrusted watches.
    This article focuses on pantograph engraving, which is still the most popular method used for engraving most jewelry items, including watches. Some shops engrave watches by computer, but many engravers still feel more comfortable engraving expensive jewelry items manually.
    Some of the newer watch styles are a little trickier to engrave due to their unusual shapes and different band styles. However, successfully engraving any watch only takes a little know-how and a few helpful hints and techniques, which this article will provide.
    Successfully engraving watches involves a few basic steps: selecting the message, selecting a typestyle, arranging the message (layout) on the watch back, holding the watch in the engraving machine, and engraving. Following these procedures makes watch engraving a simple and straightforward task. Interestingly all of these steps, except the actual engraving, are common to both manual and computerized engraving.
Selecting The Message
    The message to be engraved on the back of a watch typically depends on three factors: the available engraving space, the purpose of the watch (for example, is it a gift watch or a presentation watch?) and customer preference.
    Messages for presentation watches often consist of the company name or logo, the recipient’s name, and the date of retirement or the number of years of service to the company. A typical message for a presentation watch would read “Brown Mfg. Corp., 25 Years of Service, Cliff Clevenger.”
    Watches given as gifts often include the recipient’s name, the giver’s name, a descriptive message and a date. Typical messages that are engraved on watches could be “B.J.H., 10 Happy Years, K.L.H.,” “6-15-03, Cassandra, Sweet 16, Love Mom & Dad,” or “To Martin Stevenson on your retirement,” etc.
    Some watches are engraved for personalization purposes only, as a safeguard against loss or theft. Engraving the recipient’s name, initials or monogram is popular for this.
    The recipient’s name is the most important element of the message. Whenever possible, use the person’s entire name (first and last). If space permits, you can also use the person’s middle initial, e.g. Cliff D. Clevenger.
    Keep in mind, however, that the amount of engravable space on watches is limited, and this can impact the wording of the message. This is especially true of women’s watches, which are usually smaller than men’s watches. Many watches also have manufacturers’ markings stamped on the back, e.g. “stainless steel” or a serial or model number, which further limits the engraving area.
    Due to the limited engraving area on most watches, it is often necessary to abbreviate the message in order to make it fit. Remember that the clarity of the message is important, so avoid over abbreviating — that is, abbreviating to the point the message appears cryptic and loses its meaning.
    You have several options for shortening a person’s name to fit on the back of a watch. If the person’s name only needs to be shortened slightly to fit within the engravable area, first try dropping the middle initial. Some people also go by a shortened version of their given name; for example, Clifton may go by Cliff.

FIGURE 1: Common layout options for watch backs containing manufacturers’ markings. FIGURE 2: The round watch-holding surface on watch-holding jigs works well for holding most larger sized and men’s watches.

    If it’s necessary to abbreviate a person’s name, start by using the first two initials followed by the surname, e.g. C.D. Clevenger. Another option is to use the person’s three initials, e.g. C.D.C. When engraving initials, keep in mind that all three initials are engraved at the same size, and a period normally follows each character, although some engraving typestyles are designed to incorporate a star or similar design between the letters rather than periods after them.
    Dates are one of the easiest parts of the message to abbreviate without losing clarity. For example, January 1, 2003 can be abbreviated to read Jan. 1, 2003 or 1-1-03.
    Many other common words can be abbreviated in the interest of saving space. Words such as years, service and graduate can be shortened (yrs., ser., grad.) without detracting from the message.
    Whenever you’re faced with shortening a message to fit within a given area, keep in mind a few golden rules: Do not over abbreviate, always abbreviate for clarity, and always check with the customer first before changing the message.
    Monograms are another appealing watch engraving option. A monogram is a stylized arrangement of a person’s initials, usually including the first name initial, last name initial and middle name initial, in that order. The initial for the last name is normally larger than the other two. Monograms are not only an attractive method of personalization, but they are a good choice when space is a factor.
Selecting The Typestyle
    After selecting the message to be engraved, the next step is to choose an appropriate typestyle. In general, single and double-line typestyles work best for engraving messages containing complete words on watches due to the small engraving area. Three-line, four-line and ornate styles, such as Ornamental Block, often appear crowded and difficult to read when engraved at a small size.
    Typestyle selection depends primarily on customer preference and the recipient’s gender. For instance, plain block typestyles, such as Double-Line Century, are often preferred by men, whereas Script appears more delicate and is a frequent choice for women. Miniature typestyles, including single-line block and single-line script, are one of the most popular choices for watch engraving due to inherent space limitations.
    If the watch recipient is female and the engraving consists of her name, a date and the giver’s name, Double-Line Script or Miniature Script are common choices. If a female recipient’s initials are to be engraved, Upright Script is often a better alternative. An upright typestyle appears visually balanced within the engraving area as opposed to slanted fonts, which often give the illusion of being slightly off-center, particularly when used for engraving initials.
    Miniature Block or Double-Line Century are popular choices for engraving a male’s name on a watch. Descriptive messages are often engraved using block styles, such as Double-Line Century. Script is also frequently used for messages when the watch is being given as a gift to a man from a woman. Popular styles for engraving a man’s initials include various block letters or Old English.
    If you will be engraving a monogram on a watch, there are a variety of typestyles to choose from. Monogramming typesets are available that contain two or three character sizes in the same set, thereby eliminating the need to change the engraving ratio to accomplish the different letter sizes. Some of the monogramming typesets, such as New Hermes’ Circle and Diamond Monograms, also have distinct characters for the left, right and center initials. Circle Monogram, for example, includes distinct characters that create a monogram in the shape of a nearly perfect circle. Standard typestyles, such as Upright Script or Old English, can also be used for monograms by engraving outer letters a smaller size.
    Popular choices for engraving a monogram on a woman’s watch include Circle Monogram or Interlocking Script Monogram. Interlocking Script is an especially attractive choice, since this typestyle places the initials in an elaborate interlocked configuration. For engraving monograms on men’s watches, Circle Monogram or Old English are common choices.
    Presentation watches can present a somewhat different situation when it comes to choosing a typestyle. Customers purchasing presentation watches will typically order several watches at one time and the watches usually have a standard layout and a message which is repeated on each watch. Often, the only changing copy is the recipient’s name, years of service to the company and the year or the retirement date. In these situations, it can be very time-consuming to layout the message individually for engraving each watch.
    A custom master template is a real time-saver for engraving presentation watches. These templates, which contain all of the standard, repetitive information, are relatively easy to create in-house and can be well worth the extra effort. Besides saving layout and setup time, a master template also helps to ensure uniformity and reduce errors.
    After you have selected the message and the typestyle to be engraved, the next step is to position the engraving on the watch back. As discussed earlier, many watch backs contain manufacturer markings which you need to fit the message around. Figure 1 shows a few layout options to be examined in the section that follows.

FIGURE 3: The flat bracelet-holding surface on watch-holding jigs works well for holding most smaller sized and women’s watches.  

    If the marks appear in the middle of the watch back, one option is to circular (arc) engrave (Fig. 1A). Using this technique, the message can be read from beginning to end without interruption and the overall layout is very attractive. In fact, many customers might actually prefer this decorative layout regardless of the space available.
If the manufacturer’s marks extend from left to right across the watch back, leaving little room around the edges for arc lettering, the common practice is to engrave in between the marks (Fig. 1B). For the most appealing layout, always engrave the message parallel to and in the same direction as the existing marks, even when they appear diagonally across the watch back (Fig. 1C).
Holding Techniques
    Success in engraving any jewelry item lies in appropriate holding techniques. If you can properly hold a watch in the engraving machine, you should have no difficulty engraving it. The goal is to hold the watch securely without applying pressure to the crown or function buttons, denting the watch case, causing the crystal to break or pop out or otherwise damaging the watch.
    Watches are typically held from side to side in the engraving machine with the crown pointing to the left. And, as just mentioned, the engraving should be aligned with any existing markings on the watch back. The most convenient and foolproof holding method can be achieved by rotating the work holder 90 degrees (sideways) and locking it in that position. If existing markings are oriented diagonally on the watch back, you may need to rotate the work holder slightly more or less than 90 degrees in order to align the engraving.
    Gravograph-New Hermes’ watch-holding jigs work well for holding a variety of different watches. These jigs feature a round watch-holding surface and a flat bracelet-holding surface. The watch side of the jigs contains several notches to accommodate various crowns and function buttons without placing pressure on them. This side of the jigs is well suited for holding many styles of men’s watches (Fig. 2) and pendant watches (watches suspended from a chain worn around the neck).
    The bracelet side of the jigs has a shallower holding surface and can be used for holding men’s square or rectangular watches and a variety of women’s watches (Fig. 3) that have a relatively flat face. This side of the jigs can also be used for clamping more unusual watch shapes, e.g. oblong or hexagonal.
    As noted at the beginning of this article, watches are available in a variety of sizes, shapes and styles, some of which may present some tricky holding situations. Special attention must be given to watches with asymmetrical or odd shapes, multiple or oddly-placed crowns or function buttons, thick or faceted crystals, or unusual bezels. You may have noted that a number of today’s popular watches defy safe holding with any of the normal watch-holding jigs.
    Gravograph-New Hermes’ multi-purpose holding jigs can be used for many of these problem watches. These jigs contain a series of brass gripper fingers which individually adjust to fit the contours of the watch. If you use these jigs, remember that the metal gripper fingers can scratch the metal watch case. To avoid damage, try applying several layers of masking tape to the edges of the watch so that there is no direct metal-to-metal contact.
    Another possible holding solution is to use silhouette holding jigs. These aluminum jigs contain a series of holes and include a set of positioning pins. To use these jigs, you place the watch face down on the jigs and position the pins in the various holes to surround the watch and hold it securely (Fig. 4). Here again, it’s a good idea to cover the crystal and the sides of the watch with masking tape to avoid scratches.
    In some cases, the standard pins included with the silhouette jigs may be too short to securely clamp certain watches. They are also made of steel, so they tend to mark soft gold cases. To solve this problem, you can make a set of longer pins using a 1/8" diameter brazing rod.
    A brazing rod is a type of welding rod but it is made of brass instead of steel. Brass rod is generally sold by welding equipment suppliers in pre-cut, 36" lengths for around $5 to $6 per pound. Many welding shops, however, will supply you with a single length for little or no cost. You can then use a hack saw or bolt cutter to cut the welding rod into lengths which will accommodate thicker watches.
    If none of the options mentioned work for holding a particular watch, you may prefer to remove the back from the watch and hold it separately. (Note: We do not recommend this technique unless you are well-versed in watch repair.) Gravograph-New Hermes’ jewelry-holding jigs often work well for this purpose. This should eliminate nearly all of the holding problems associated with some of the new watch styles.
    In addition to holding different shapes and styles of watches, you might encounter a few problems with certain styles of watch bands. Some bands will simply hang over the ends of the work holder and out of the way, while others will interfere with the graver. Bangles and some bracelet (metal) bands often will not lay flat enough for the graver to clear. In these instances, you can remove the bands by depressing one end of the pin which holds the band to the lugs (the metal appendages extending from the watch case) until it clears the lug from the inside. You can then slip the band out. A spring bar tool is available specifically for this purpose and can be purchased from a jewelers’ supply company.
    Clasp-type watches, where the watch and band form one continuous loop, can also present holding problems. This type of band can be separated at the clasp by depressing the adjustment pin with a spring bar tool and slipping the clasp end of the band out. This will allow each end of the band to hang over the work holder and out of the way.

FIGURE 4: Silhouette holding jigs can be used to hold a variety of watches. Brass brazing rod can be cut into lengths to accommodate thick or unusually-shaped watches.

    Some watches have an expansion band that can be wrapped around the jigs and held clear of the graver. If the band is too short or too inflexible, you can remove one end of the band and let it hang over the opposite end of the work holder.
Pendant watch chains usually do not pose holding problems, but because they are quite long, there is the possibility that they can become entangled in the work holder mechanism. This can be avoided by either draping the chain around the jigs and out of the way, or by removing the chain entirely.
    Once the watch is held securely in the engraving machine for manual engraving, the next step is to select an engraving ratio. A visual chart of popular styles and sizes can be found in most type catalogs and can be a helpful aid in selecting an appropriate ratio. Simply compare the available engraving space to the type sizes shown in the chart. This can be accomplished visually or by using a pair of machinist’s dividers.
    After selecting the ratio, position the work holder and double-check the placement of the engraving. A popular technique for doing this is to use the cellophane tape method. Cover the watch back with several layers of cellophane tape, then use the graver to lightly engrave a dot in the tape at the outer extremities of the message. Make any necessary adjustments and check the positioning again, if necessary.
    Before proceeding to engrave, double-check the message. Make sure you’re using the proper wording, that the names are spelled correctly and that the dates are correct. When you are ready to engrave, use light, constant engraving pressure and make several passes instead of one heavy pass for the best results.
    After engraving each line, check for missing letter strokes and uneven engraving depths and correct any problems before moving the work holder or removing the watch from the jigs. It is virtually impossible to reposition the graver, work holder, etc., to re-engrave the watch once any part of the setup has been changed.
    Arc engraving on a watch requires a different approach. To simplify the process, Gravograph-New Hermes offers a circular engraving fixture for engraving circular layouts with a pantograph. This fixture fits into the copyslide and features a two-sided movable dial which has characters positioned around the perimeter. The characters on one side of the dial are used for engraving the top half of the message, and the characters on the opposite side are used for engraving the bottom half.
    Circular messages are usually engraved in two parts: one to read clockwise around the top half of the watch back and one to read counterclockwise around the bottom half. To engrave the top half of the message, push the dial release and turn the dial until the first letter to be engraved is in the proper position. Engrave that character, and then repeat the procedure until the top half is complete. Engrave the bottom half of the message following the same procedures, but use the characters on the opposite side of the dial.
    When the complete message has been engraved, remove the watch from the jigs and prepare it for delivery. Remove any tape and adhesive residue, reattach the band or chain and clean off any fingerprints. A rouge-impregnated jewelers’ cloth is handy for wiping and polishing small engraved items such as watches.
    Watches make up a large portion of jewelry sales. They are purchased every day for a variety of reasons. And, in spite of the occasional problem watch, they are easy to engrave. Offering this personalization service is one more way to watch your profits grow!