Custom Engraved Rolex

Modern estate boutique carves niche in custom engraved watches

There are two types of watch lovers. There are the purists, who hear the word “original” and think of a timepiece absolutely true to the form in which it left its maker’s hands. Then there are those who hear the word “original” and think of a piece that is truly the only one of its kind.

Brian McCall, owner of the modern estate boutique Midwest Jewelry & Estate Buyers, is unquestionably one of the latter—which is how he ended up with an hand-engraved Rolex Submariner that’s equal parts timepiece and work of art.

McCall spent two years planning the intricate marine landscape that is now engraved into his Rolex Submariner’s band and clasp. Much of that time was spent searching for an artist who would be willing to collaborate with him on a design that would be breaking every rule in the book.

“If you want to do something different, you have to break the rules,” he said.

Engraving is relatively rare with watches, partially because the jury is still out on whether it increases the value of the watch. Those artists who do engrave watches (Rolex and Patek Philippe are the preferred canvases, for their wide bands) tend to use very regimented designs, with floral patterns and stylized whorls know as scrollwork confined within borders on each link of the band.

McCall was not interested in putting his passion in a box. Inspired by tattoo art and murals, he envisioned the scene flowing seamlessly from one link to another.

The artist for the job, he found, was Jared Eason of Laurel, Mississippi.

Eason is a self-taught engraving artist who’s been working with wood and metal for the last six years. He takes commissions on everything from knives to gun stocks to axe handles, but had never engraved a watch before McCall and his Rolex came along.

Eason engraves in the style called bulino, which uses a lot of tiny cuts and dots to create texture in a design. Most bulino artists use either line bulino or dot bulino, but Eason likes to use both.

“Once you do it, you have to cover the entire surface with tiny cuts or you’ll have dull flat spots. Everything has to have texture,” he said.

Eason had been studying and experimenting with the borderless style McCall wanted – what he calls infinity edges – for some time, so he was excited for the chance to use it on a commissioned project.

“Being someone who’s always broke the rules through my entire life, I don’t see any reason why you have to follow that rule,” Eason said on the longstanding tradition of engraving within borders. “If you can make it look good and it’s what the customer wants, and it works, there’s no reason to limit yourself to what you can do.”

Eason said he was also attracted to the Submariner engraving because he could tell that he would enjoy having McCall as a client.

“He was straightforward with it. Wasn’t iffy. He knew what he wanted,” he recalled. “I liked his attitude from the start…it was like talking to a person, not a business. I felt a connection.”

The underwater theme was a no-brainer for the Submariner’s nautical roots, combined with McCall’s long-standing fascination with saltwater reefs.

“They’re colorful, interesting, and full of life and beauty,” said McCall, who has a tank featuring just such a reef in the center of his Zionsville showroom.

That life comes to light in the engraving through rose gold and yellow gold inlays on the figures of a lionfish and copper banded butterfly on one side of the band and an octopus embracing the Rolex logo on the clasp. Eason also blended his own green gold for inlays on the seaweed between the fish.

Eason said the inlays were intense because the metal of the watch band links – and especially the clasp – is so thin. The most challenging element, though, was the stunningly detailed rendering of the moon at the zenith of the marine scene.

“It was the the last thing I engraved on the watch because I knew it would be intensive to get the detail of the craters and the blast lines of the craters,” Eason said, noting that he drew everything on this watch freehand, because the curved surfaces and infinity edges prevented the transfer images hand-engravers typically use to guide their work.

Was McCall nervous during the three months his Submariner spent on the engraving bench?

“Oh, the whole time,” he said. “I was either ruining or enhancing it. There were times I thought, ‘Well I’d better like it, because I might not be able to sell it.’”

Now, McCall is excited to share this passion and the knowledge he gained from the experience with watch enthusiasts who share his appetite for the truly unique by commissioning more custom engraved watches.

It’s a rare opportunity to take something that is important to you and render it in metal to create an art piece that is both timeless and truly original. Commemorate a trip you took, a historical event that holds particular significance for you, or perhaps a favorite sport or hobby. McCall’s next vision is a design based on one of the Masters, like Van Gogh or Dali. Eason has his eye  on a nautical map design.

The more complex the concept, the more McCall and Eason relish the artistic potential. Each piece will be signed by the artist and numbered, and no two alike—ever.

“There’s an opportunity here to wear something that’s special and unique and individual,” McCall said. “Why would you do something that everyone else has? Break some rules.”

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