Is Seiko modding illegal? The Laws Behind Changing Watch Parts Part 1
We have all probably wondered at least once if taking apart Seiko watches and changing its parts is legal. Of course, the specific laws that govern anything like this vary from nation to nation, and no matter where you are, using mislabeled parts to pass off a watch as OEM is prohibited.
Generally, the parts used are bought as ‘aftermarket’ or upgrades. However, it is possible to use OEM parts from a watch and use them on another one. As it were, modding gives new life to old watches and can even be an approach to "upcycle" old parts from broken watches.
All of that said, some questions about legality remain. Let's jump into this subject in greater depth. Don't forget to read Part 2 of this mini-series for a greater understanding of this topic.
What is ‘watch modding’?
Source: Chronometer Check
The term "modding" is a short way of saying ‘modifying’, and is the process of altering something about your watch from its original state (from factory).
Someone may mod their watch if they are inspired to change an aspect of their timepiece to create a different style, to fix it or adapt it to their personal needs and taste.
Let's use as an example the typical mods to a watch that uses a Seiko 7S26 movement.
The 7S26 is capable, but not capable enough for some. Source: Pinterest
This is a powerful and well-respected movement, but it lacks the ability of being hand-wound and also does not allow hacking.
As a consequence, modders usually replace the original movement with an alternative compatible movement (like the NH36) so the watch can have hand-winding and hacking features.
As simple as it may sound, changing the strap of your watch is a common mod you may have done already. A strap change can totally shift the look of your watch, causing it to feel like an absolutely different timepiece.
Though, to be considered modding by most people, changing other parts like dials, hands and bezels is necessary.
For some people, watch modding is a way to use their imagination and can even be considered an expressive work of art! You can learn more about what we mean by typing the hashtag "#seikomod" on Instagram.
A Seiko watch can be any other watch. Source: Wired
A current mod that has found a lot of fans is the so-called Seiko Fifty-Five Fathoms. This piece is intended as an homage to the soul and spirit of the classic Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, however at a substantially lower price. The base for this piece is a Seiko 5 Diver which after its ‘makeover’ is practically unrecognizable.
So, would it be advisable for you to mod your watch?
The answer relies a great deal upon what the objective of your mod would be. There is a lot of information online devoted to all aspects of the modding system, so it very well may merit giving them a read prior to getting into the world of watch modding.
Modding in other industries
What was once a specialty leisure activity is currently a thriving business sector. By the last part of the '90s and mid '00s, enthusiastic sneakerheads started delivering their own varieties of shoes and re-posting them for sale.
Shoes authored by Bobbito Garcia. Source: Footwear News
An ‘influencer’ pioneer of the '80s and '90s is the famous Bobbito Garcia, who painted diverse shading swooshes on Bruce Kilgore's notable Air Force 1 and rocked it!
Garcia’s fame could be seen as a sneaker-market tipping point. Other pioneers are Methamphibian and SBTG who became known for hand-painting Nike Dunks to be resold as ‘by author’ unique shoes.
Another well known sneaker customizer is Raif Adelberg in the mid 2000s by hacking up the iconic Nike Air Force 1s, or later the groundbreaking JBF customizations utilizing extravagant materials; or the Shoe Surgeon known for making the most sophisticated customs ever seen.
Today, customized shoe wear has penetrated the sneaker industry inside and out, as end users seek for more features to uniquely identify themselves.
PC Games Intellectual Property
In the computer games industry, a player can access the basic code or structure of the game and implement changes.
These mods can go from straightforward details like changing the color of something, to a totally new game inside the original game platform. Modding the software for games has been around since the mid-80s and grew in popularity over time.
Modding is fun with a bit of chaos. Source: The Verge
Many PC game developers already include tools within their software for players to implement changes at their wish. This approach from many in the game industry is a way to enhance the gaming community by strengthening their customer-fidelity.
Gaming developers encourage gamers to become active participants in the design of their favorite game features.
Like anything else on the Internet, downloading files can be risky. Downloading mods from known online sources for gamers is typically best, as the fellow players will immediately inform others as to whether the mod contains spyware or other evil software.
You can't install just one mod, you have to keep going until your PC says "no more!" Source: Pinterest
Another downside to take in consideration when introducing a mod in a pc game is basically the possibility of "breaking" the original game, making it unplayable, implying therefore the need to uninstall and reinstall the whole game (losing the player’s scores among other hassles).
PC game Mods are additionally an extraordinary method to upgrade innovativeness in various manners, including craftsmanship and narrating.
In the event that your children are making mods, conversing with them about modding is a valid way for you to discover what they've been doing—and for you to become familiar a bit more with regards to games.
Modifying vehicles is another excellent example of end-user involvement in personalizing their well-loved wheels. Cars and other vehicles can be modified to enhance the vehicle’s performance, or to add a distinctive functional feature or to achieve an aesthetic or cosmetic personal need.
While performance’s modifications are related to boosting the engine’s power or fuel efficiency of a car; functional modifications are those that change or add certain functions to a vehicle which were not there from the factory (like air conditioning, navigation gear, roof rack, fog-lights, etc).
An Itasha supercar, only in Japan! Source: Youtube/SAMMIT
Now, changes made to the outer or interior appearance of the vehicle are deemed cosmetic mods.
Yet, certain body alterations give greater steadiness and prefer to change the design of a vehicle compared to the stock body (like front and back spoilers or side-skirts for security when driving at higher speeds).
There are advantages and disadvantages when modifying a car. The advantages are easy to understand in terms of efficiency, functional features and overall looks, but the disadvantages can become a real problem if these are not thoroughly studied in advance.
Parts from Wish.com. Source: Reddit
For example, a faulty installation, or adding poor quality parts can negatively affect your vehicle, and put your safety at risk when driving. Vehicle mods should be compatible with your car base capabilities so it's important to do proper research and to get help from experts.
Other disadvantages to consider is the car’s factory warranty which may be void after the mods. Your insurance policy is probably going higher because of the changes too – especially if you are adding power to your ride.
The Common Theme
In whatever industry, the purpose of modding has always been to change something that is mass-produced, into something that is unique and personal. The ‘mod’ enhances the experience and functionality from the original product and makes it something greater.
There may be a couple of disadvantages that come along with the process as well, such as the aforementioned voiding of warranty for automotives, and malicious software possible affecting your device. That said, the pros obviously outweigh the cons by a lot, even gaining the support of the manufacturers themselves by developing tools or parts to make modding easier.
Now, going back to watches.
Which watches can be modded?
Practically all watches can be modified depending on the availability of compatible mod parts. Seiko and Casio are the most popular mod platforms. Other brands like Citizen or even higher-end luxury watches like Rolex are also being modified in a much smaller scale compared to Seiko’s mod community (the largest by far).
Which parts can be modded?
Any part of a watch can be upgraded or modded. The dial, the hands, bezel insert, chapter ring, the crystal, or even the case (or caseback), the crown and the strap can all be swapped out, and with some Seiko models, there are a huge number of parts to choose from.
Modding the movement difficulty level: Expert. Source: Instructables
For those modders brave enough to start in on the movement, it’s also possible to upgrade the movement’s components or the whole movement. The parts that can be replaced are: the day wheel, date wheel, stem and rotor.
How to find mod parts?
You can source mod parts by either disassembling other watches or by purchasing them directly from mod part providers. Visit NamokiMODS to find our complete inventory of SKX007 mod parts as well as a wide variety of Seiko mod parts for your modding enjoyment.
It is worth mentioning that with the rise in popularity of both Seiko mods and the SKX007 mod – there are a lot of fake SKX007s out there, and also a thriving fake SKX007 parts industry.
As you may well know, the SKX007 wasn't a high-end watch, so fake Seiko mod parts that are offered as OEM parts may look and feel pretty close to the original. We want people to get what they pay for, which is why we make sure that any OEM Seiko parts or skx007 mod parts we sell are the real deal.
How to mod a watch?
Many people either mod their watch at home (this requires specific tools) or by tracking down an expert watch modder to do the job. DIY is the better way to go if what you’re after is a learning experience and possibly a fun and relaxing, new hobby, while asking for a modder’s help is the route to go if you’re just after a better-looking or better-functioning watch.
At namokiMODS you can stay updated on the latest on mod parts and also supply parts to some of the best modders out there. Like any industry, not all parts are created equal, but we deliver some of the best out there.
Does modding make a watch counterfeit?
Homage vs Replica vs Counterfeit
This is a common topic and usually ignites a heated discussion among watch collectors and the modding aficionados. The definitions for terms like ‘fake’, ‘homage’ and ‘replica’ usually vary from person to person and can also be interpreted differently depending on the context.
Source: E-Luxury Watches
A good place to start is by analyzing the definition of the word ‘replica’. What immediately comes to our minds is a watch that intends to look exactly as a specific watch but built from a different manufacturer. The idea is to ‘replicate’ closely, therefore the term ‘replica’.
However, these ‘replica’ watches may be intended to deceive buyers. Some sellers intentionally present them as the ‘real ones’ by even including the unlicensed logo on the dial of the replicated timepiece, making it a counterfeit product, in other words: fake!
The Office fans will get it. Source: Reddit
So, the term ‘counterfeit’ applies more accurately to the above-mentioned replica watches you may find on busy market streets in major cities or on various replica watch forums online. Now, If these fake timepieces are intended to defraud innocent buyers, what does the term ‘replica’ stand for?
Some classic wrist watch manufacturers have re-released historical timepieces as replica designs of original discontinued iconic models.
In these cases, it is the same manufacturer, owner of the original piece, making a new release with the same design. Examples of this are Hanhart, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Longines and Sea Gull who have re-issued watches based on their own previous iconic models.
The Hanhart 417 ES Reissue Pilot’s Chronograph. Source: Monochrome-Watches
In this scenario, the term ‘replica’ applies more logically since these are not deceitful products. So, if these are considered legal or official ‘replicas’, how can we understand the term ‘homage’ in the watch industry?
As expressed before, we are dealing with a semantic challenge.
The definition of the word ‘homage’ is associated with ‘respect or reverence rendered to something’.
In the world of watches, a ‘homage’ watch is a model that ‘pays respect’ to another iconic watch, not necessarily by replicating it faithfully but rather taking some design elements of the original piece.
Source: @fathertime_watches on Instagram
For instance, the Rolex Submariner is one of the watches mostly chosen to render homages of. Many well-known mainstream watch brands have used the Rolex Submariner’s looks and features to design their own watches.
As long as these brands are not claiming these as made under their own original design, the classic brands seemingly don’t bother to complain too much (just ask Invicta).
As with the Rolex Sub, classic watches like the Omega Seamaster or the Nav B-Uhr watch designed for WWII troops, are widely chosen by new brands as inspiration to design current timepieces.
Even if these are thought of as ethically questionable models by some or semi acceptable to others; these modern manufacturers are making available a watch that is very difficult to obtain by most people.
If we consider the totally fake Rolex watches and add them to those manufactured by Rolex but with several mods, then we can be assured there are far more Rolex fake watches on this planet than all the fake watches combined.
These large figures are the result of the policy the Swiss company uses to determine a counterfeit piece from an original one (the 1-max rule). Other big brands allow product alteration without losing the ‘authenticity’ status.
Based on this premise, Rolex filed a lawsuit against Vintage Watchmaker LLC and its owner Jensen Dinh.
For illustration purposes only. Source: The NY Times
Vintage Watchmaker is in the business of offering, “quality-made replacement parts for high end vintage watches and custom vintage watch builds.”
This includes providing spare parts and other merchandise that in some cases infringe Rolex’s trademark property by falsely advertising these as ‘Rolex watch parts’ to mislead customers.
From Rolex’s standpoint, Vintage Watchmaker flagrantly confused and deceived buyers by deliberately mislabeling aftermarket parts as OEM, with full knowledge of Rolex’s trademark rights.
Can you spot which one is fake? Source: Gentleman's Gazette
Rolex explained that Vintage Watchmaker’s strategy also presents disadvantages to consumers, by promoting that their counterfeit timepieces or spare parts are approved and guaranteed by Rolex, which is not the case.
The accusation is centered on the fact that Vintage Watchmakers is taking unfair advantage of the Swiss brand’s prestige and registered trademarks causing substantial damage to their customer base.
Many buyers may have inadvertently purchased spare parts for their Rolex timepieces, and consequently converted these from authentic to counterfeit watches unwittingly.
The Rolex lawyers who are working against Vintage Watchmaker are confident of winning the case and seek to obtain a monetary sum as fine, comparable to three times the value of Rolex’s losses, or three times the value of VW’s profits, whatever is larger.
Of course, the settlement will also imply that VW immediately ceases the use Rolex’s trademarks and brand properties.
Another relevant court case Rolex is involved with goes against the watchmaker laCalifornienne.
Pretty! And unlawful. Source: The Fashion Law
This US based watch builder offers custom Rolex and Cartier watches in appealing colorful versions. These watches are offered through LaCalifornienne’s website and can also be found in some major retail stores.
The Californian brand was founded in 2016 by a married couple and has gained attention primarily from female millenials. LaCalifornienne’s customized Rolex watches range from $6k to $10K USD.
Rolex’s lawyers against LaCalifornienne allege both counterfeit manufacture and infringement of Rolex’s trademarks by promoting sale and service of watches that are not authentic Rolex timepieces.
Rolex is known for maintaining tight control over their timepieces, including all of their individual components.
Rolex warranties are null and void for watches that have been modified or altered to include non-Rolex parts, as Rolex can no longer guarantee the quality or performance of such watches.
The company will also refuse to service such watches since it is unable to guarantee that they will perform to Rolex standards.
Does Seiko support modding?
The giant Japanese manufacturer Seiko does not openly express support to watch modding, but non-officially supports the activity by selling non-branded movements separately, and by designing their parts to be easily replaceable.
Seiko also allows third-party dials to be sold within their retail channels. To be sure, Seiko is a lot more accommodating of aftermarket mods for its watches than the Swiss brands, and this is probably a good idea.
Source: Seiko Instruments Inc. Website
The giant Swiss manufacturer Rolex is a lot more jealous than its Japanese counterpart in protecting their trademarks and product design. So much so, that it has gone after modders who don't even claim to be selling OEM Rolex parts.
Rolex specifically implements a 1-max modification policy, implying that if there are 2 (or more) mods applied to a Rolex piece, it's considered counterfeit and will be rejected from official servicing which is a mixed blessing if you dig into what Rolex thinks is ok to do to a watch you own.
Despite the company’s policy of 1-max and other anti-counterfeit efforts, among luxury brands, Rolex watches are often modded with aftermarket parts. Seiko and Casio also have massive modding communities, and if you look at our website – you will see the huge number of Seiko mod parts we offer!
In our Humble Opinion
Looking at the bigger picture, at modification in general, there are no grounds to say that modding a Seiko watch is illegal. While there is a fine line between what can be called a homage and what is counterfeit, the line is very clear: once you modify a watch with aftermarket parts or copies and claim it as an OEM watch ‘from the factory’, what you are doing is unethical and illegal.
An example would be a dial with the Seiko logo, produced in a factory that is in no way affiliated with Seiko. Putting this in a watch automatically makes that watch a fake one, and selling it off as genuine worsens the crime.
However, if you were to use a dial that looks exactly like an OEM Seiko dial but without their logo, then that is just an OEM-inspired piece that you can use for a homage build. If you plan on selling this build in the future, as long as you disclose the nature of the parts and the buyer fully understands what they are getting, it should be fine.
No matter what kinds of Seiko mods you are interested in, start at namokiMODS.
We offer SKX007 mod parts that are hard to beat, and some of the most attractive Seiko mod dials, hands, and cases in the market.
Seiko mod parts make or break a Seiko watch modding project, so when you think about skx007 mod parts, think about namokiMODS.
And if you want to know more about the legalities of watch modding, click here to read part 2 of this mini-series.