Watches | October 8, 2020 8:51 am

Chaz Bono Spent Isolation Learning to Make Custom Watches, As You Do

The actor is now selling modded, bespoke Seikos via Zoom consultation

Chaz Bono
Chaz Bono and a whole lot of watches.
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Time is warped in isolation. It makes one think of those surreal, limply melting clocks from a Salvador Dalí landscape. And so we’ve been encouraged by the powers-that-be to pick up new hobbies and pursuits to while away the hours. Perhaps you’ve learned Spanish, or the banjo, or, as this writer did triumphantly last week, finally completed Dark Souls 2. Or — if you’re like actor, writer, musician and activist Chaz Bono — you’ve actually been making time. Literally. Bono has spent the better part of his isolation period at his home in Los Angeles crafting custom mod watches from scratch.

While Hollywood waits to re-open and his fellow actors collaborate on massacres to John Lennon’s legacy that we definitely did not ask for, Bono’s been using this time productively. And he might even be making a business out of it. “I’m a hobbyist by nature … But it has taken off in ways I couldn’t imagine,” Bono tells InsideHook. “This is the first that it’s likely to become a fully-fledged venture.”

After showcasing his custom-made watches on Instagram, people have flocked over to share support and love, and have started enquiring how to get one of their own bonafide Bono creations. Bono is toying with the idea of setting up a Kickstarter for a selection of boutique timepieces, and will film YouTube tutorials for budding horologists. For now, though, you can book a consultation for a bespoke watch with him over Zoom (surreal as it is discussing dial-materials and chapter-rings with Bono from your bedroom).

Custom watch
A custom watch in action.
Chaz Bono

Like a lot of the modding community, Bono currently customizes watches from the Japanese Seiko family using original NH35 or 36 movements. They’re easy to start with, able to take a beating, and affordable; the second-hand Seiko market is flooded with far-out designs from a growing subset of the watch community. 

He says his hobby began with that familiar isolation-induced mix of boredom and YouTube recommendations. After stumbling on one popular modding channel called Lume Shot (“one of the big mod guys,” he says), “I sent him an email asking if this was something anyone can do, or if I’d be out of my depth … He probably thought, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’”

Lume Shot didn’t respond, so Bono decided to give it a go himself. His first project took a few weeks to finish, but with practice, patience and a set of shiny new tools, he now has production down to around two-to-four hours each, and before long felt comfortable sharing his designs with friends online.

“An actor buddy of mine reached out one day and asked for one, so I said, ‘Why not?’” He never intended to make them for other people, “but then I began getting a load of requests, and well, look.” He presses his phone against the webcam. A video plays of a woman surprising her partner with one of Bono’s watches for her birthday. The reaction is wholesome and sweet — “the reason I do it,” he adds.

“I love the process — but seeing the joy in someone’s face never gets old. That couple is actually having another made!” 

Custom watch
A very classy custom watch.
Chaz Bono

You can tell not long after speaking with Bono that this is the biggest upside to his hobby. “I’m meeting so many new and interesting people I otherwise wouldn’t have,” he says. “Not only customers, but fellow enthusiasts, too, online.”

Customizing watches has helped foster new relationships under isolation, and as we withdraw further into our digital lives, it’s extremely valuable to have a network of friends removed from the temptations and tribalisms of your social-media accounts. Being busy is a good way for us all to shut out some noise — and that’s especially true for someone like Bono, who frequently keeps up with the news and political affairs, and will be on the Democrat campaign trail this year. With all his hobbies, he’s formed an online support system, and to this day, he keeps in touch with friends from communities dedicated to yo-yos (“I’m seriously immersed”), high-end knives and anodizing titanium — another skill he taught himself, simply because.

But watches are more personal. His Dad, Sonny, was “a big watch guy” with a serious collection, and timepieces have been a part of his life since he was a child. Like most kids (the writer included), his first love was a Casio. And like the rest of the modding community, the big attraction was applying his own aesthetic: “Obviously, I make them to the customer’s specs, but if there’s a personal mark, or something I’ve found myself doing most often, it’s that I pair chapter rings and hand colors, and use a trident part in place of one of the hands.” His watches look badass — maybe even a little outrageous — as if made by an inspired schoolkid with a harmless sense of mischief, fun and a lot of crayons. “I’m getting a kick from playing with unusual materials and color pairings,” he adds with a boyish smile, sharing a few examples he’s modding right now, the most striking of which includes a dial made from meteorite. 

Would he have started had it not been for coronavirus? “I guess not,” he admits, “and I’m not sure how it will fit in my future once we open up again, and I return to acting.”

For Bono, it’s still mostly a hobby: a way to pass the time, by literally crafting time, in a time when we have nothing but time. It’s easy to forget that celebrities experience the same periods of protracted boredom the rest of us do in isolation, that — like Bono — their lockdown is spent learning from the same community forums and tutorial videos we all do.

The effect is also the same. “It’s nice to see yourself improve,” Bono adds, admiring a watch dial. “It makes all the time spent mean something.”