Can You Engrave an Automatic Watch? Dos and Don’Ts

Engraving watches can be a beautiful thing. It can be used to keep memories close to you, or it can be used to enhance or change the aesthetics of the overall watch. It is not uncommon to see a watch with a custom engraved case, case back, or even bracelet. There are different types of engravings. Typically a case back is milled or engraved with information of water resistance, serial number, etc. from the manufacture.

It’s absolutely possible to engrave an automatic watch. Any watch made of steel can get engraved. A commonly engraved place on a watch is on the backside, called the case back. A lot of people like to get memories, such as the date of marriage engraved on their watch.

While some exclusive brands have engravings on their watches, it is rarely seen outside the movement of the watch. A typical place the watch is engraved with stunning details is the rotor. So what do you do if you want some custom engravings on your watch, and can it even do done?

Should You Engrave Your Watch?

Customizing watches is nothing new. Customizations such as different straps is not uncommon. Typically when you are purchasing a high-end watch, there are 2 and somethings 3 different straps included. It is not uncommon that you customize your watch by buying straps in different materials and colors. It is a cheap option, which makes a big impact on the whole perception of the watch.

However, engraving is a lot more committing that just a strap replacement. Engraving means permanently changing the appearance of the watch. It can’t be undone or altered back to normal. There is a lot to think about before engraving your watch.

Engraving a watch is a permanent commitment that can’t be undone. However, if the objective is to keep something of sentimental value close, it can be very worth it. However, you will void any warranties, and the overall value of the watch will decline.

It very comes down to whether you are ready to give up the value of your watch in order to make it into a style you like. Having a fully engraved case and bracelet can look very cool. In fact, there are companies specializing in engraving luxury watches. If you have a very special connection to a watch, or simply wish another style, engraving a watch is perfectly fine.

The Watch’s Value

If you were to purchase a watch yourself, would you like to have someone else’s wedding day engraved in the watch? Would you want partial rust on the case and bracelet of the watch? I don’t think so. Therefore, the value of a watch will also vary depending on the customized aspects and interventions made to the watch.

The value of the watch will in 90 percent of the time, decrease when being engraved. When you engrave a watch (no matter which style), you have made a general product into a highly personal product. A very commonly customized watch is Rolex.

Rolex is stringent, and just by modifying their watch, they will not service the watch ever again. This means that the many beautiful Rolex’s you have seen with engravings can’t be serviced from authorized service centers of Rolex.

Despite being unable to service the watch from authorized service centers, there is a high risk of rust. Without getting too technical, stainless steel can actually rust. In a broad aspect, stainless steel is made of iron, carbon, and chromium.

Chromium is what makes the steel rust-resistant. If the outer layer contains less than 12% chromium, the chromium cant protect thee steel from rust. As we know, when engraving, you put variable grooves into the watch, all over the watch. Somewhere you will be unfortunate to have a low concentration of rust.

Rust is mostly not that bad, because it can easily be fixed with polishing/scraping of the rust and thorough cleaning with dissolvents. However, polishing and scraping will mean that you will disrupt the engravings in the watch. So there is a risk of rust which could potentially remove parts or grooves from the engraving when removing the rust.


Personalization is one of the biggest trends in 2010-2020. Everything is made as a one-of-a-kind, limited edition, or customized by the customer itself. Engraving is a perfect way to practice the personalization trend. The personalization of luxury accessories has been used for centuries. Think of your wedding rings. They typically have the date of marriage or names engraved. The same applies to watches. There are a lot of people getting engravings on the case back from their loved once.

A lot of engraving companies will market their engraved watches as “1-of-a-kind”. While it’s true in essence, no one will be able to replicate the engraving 1 to 1, there are several of the same watches.

The price from the engraving companies will typically also be higher than the retail price of the watch. There is a very good reason for the increased price. The engraving company has to purchase the watch, pay labor, and make a profit from the sale. Therefore, it is perfectly fine to pay more for a fully custom engraved watch.

Rolex Milgauss Engraved
Rolex Milgauss Engraved (Credit: Wrist Aficionado)

However, in contrast, you shouldn’t expect to have them be a collector item, which will go for several million down the line. You will, however, get a watch specifically as you want it for you to enjoy. And of course, show off. When talking about some of the custom engraved Rolex watches, you can easily account for a doubling in the purchase price compared to a watch that isn’t engraved. They are piece-unique, and they are spectacular. The average buyer wouldn’t be willing to pay the additional price, while a buyer with the right style might.


The price of engraving varies a great deal. Fully custom watch engravings range from about $5,000-$25,000. It is rare even to find a price list from the engravers. However, thorough searching can give a price estimate. The $5,000 to $25,000 depends on the size of the project. Obviously, the bigger, the more expensive. These full engravings of a watch can span over months, and the engravers, therefore, also need decent pay for the job.

A simple date or sentence can cost as little as $30. A $30 engraving is the cost you pay for initials or a small sentence on the base side of your watch. The price will increase as the complexity increases. Therefore engravings on the outer edge of the case back will cost additionally.

Return Policies and Guarantees

When buying a watch, you get a warranty. Whether the warranty is 1 or 5 years, engraving can void the warranty of the watch. One thing is for sure if you get your initials engraved on the case back, the 14-day return policy is gone.

In the event you plan to engrave a watch before giving it to your spouse, you might want to rethink the idea in case the watch is not his/her style. Regardless of the price of the watch, you are stuck with the watch as it cant be returned.

Different Types of Engraving

There are many different styles of engraving. One method is precise and fast, another method is damaging but cheap. When it comes to the engraving of a watch, you have some quite serious considerations to make before permanently damaging your watch. Stamping grooves into the watch can be highly damaging, whereas hand engraving can turn out very ugly.

When getting a watch engraved, you should always choose laser engraving. Stamping can destroy the watch, and hand engraving can turn out ugly. However, hand engraving can also better than laser engraving if the craftsman is skilled.

The rule of thumb is:

  • Stay away from stamping.
  • Choose laser engraving over anything else.
  • If going for a fully customized engraved watch, pick a highly skilled hand engraver (preview some of their past work, have them do some tests before starting on your watch).

These 3 rules of thumb should be an excellent baseline to avoid a bad experience with engraving on an automatic watch.

1. Punching/Stamping

Stamping is a method that literally punches a letter into some metal. When using stamping, the machine or engraver has an array of letters. One-by-one the engraver or machine takes a letter and a hammer and hammers the letter into the metal. Such hits would badly damage most automatic watches. Actually, not because the movement is fragile, but rather because the case back would bend on 99% of automatic watches.

When a case back bends, it can no longer move the rotor as the rotor is very close to the case back. The tolerance is very tight, so just stamping initials can be enough to bend the case back to an extend where the rotor can no longer freely move.

Stamping is very commonly used in the production industry. Steel beams are marked with their batch number and other relevant information. Since the steel beams don’t have tight tolerances, this is no problem. However, on your jewelry, you should be running very fast if they offer to stamp whatever you want to be engraved.

2. Hand Engraving

Hand engraving can be stunning when executed correctly. However, if you find a novice engraver, you could end up being very disappointed. That is not to say that hand engraving cant is done. Actually, when going for custom engravings on both the watch and the bracelet, a hand engraver can, for the most part, do a better job than a laser engraver.

Hand engraving allows the engraver to determine the depth of the grooves which can add a lot more detail. Using a hand engraver will be a lot more expensive compared to both stamping and laser engravings. However, if the engraver has done impressive work in the past, they can produce unique pieces that don’t look computerized like the laser engravers. It can give the watch a more vintage or antique feel, even if the watch is very modern.

Hand engravings is best when going for a fully customized watch and bracelet engraving.

3. Laser Engraving

Laser engraving is the perfect middle ground and provides very precise engravings with relatively low costs. Laser engravings are done through a machine, and a human is not intervening in the process. First, the engraving is designed on a computer. Here the details is adjusted, such as the depth of the grooves and the details of the print.

When the design has been drawn on the computer, it is uploaded to a machine that will engrave the watch with a laser. The real benefit of a laser engraver is that it is highly accurate. Hence very fine designs can easily be printed using a laser engraver.

In terms of costs, most engravers using a laser engraver would require a lot less than doing it all by hand. However, it can also be very difficult to engrave on watch cases and bracelets where there is not flat surfaces. Any angle or dent in the case or bracelet can lead to inconsistency in the engraving.

Can You Engrave the Back of a Watch?

It’s often discussed whether or not you should get your watch engraved. However, if you finally reach the decision of getting the watch engraved, where should the engraving be?

It’s only your imagination that puts a limit to where you can engrave the watch. There is a caseback, two sides, and a bracelet.

Engraving the back of a watch is the standard. The surface on the back of a watch is flat and easy to engrave. The back of a watch is a good location for both easy and complex engravings. However, it’s possible to have engravings in other places on the watch.

Engraving the back of a watch is usually the best option. There is both the aspect of the price of the engraving and the value of your watch. If the watch is engraved on the back, it’s possible to acquire a new caseback to “remove” the engraving.

If the engraving is done to the entire case and bracelet, it will be much more expensive to make the watch back it’s retail form. Therefore, also decreasing its potential resell value. It would be best if you thought about your future plans for the watch before committing to a full-blown engraving.

What Should You Engrave on a Watch?

Essentially, engrave what you want. It is your timepiece and no one can tell you watch to do with it. However, I will say that engraving a watch is not a very good idea for reselling value. Therefore if you have any plans of selling the watch down the line you should heavily reconsider the engraving.

Regardless of the engraving method, you will have to heavily polish the watch, and most collectors are very against polishing watches. If you have a more “cheap” watch, which is in the category of “not worth collecting” such as Daniel Wellington, MVMT, and alike trend watches, engraving the watch can be perfectly fine. You will most likely be the only owner of the watch.

Engravings should be a personal preference that will bring joy when looking at the engraving. It is a form of personalization, and therefore if you plan to sell it eventually, you can’t expect other people to pay what the watch is worth because you have modified it to your personal preferences.

Engraving is an excellent way to have meaningful poesy or personal events close by. However, it is also a big commitment. Therefore, it should be on a watch you have no attention of selling, and it should be something you are satisfied with.

Will Rolex Engrave Your Watch?

Rolex is a very reputable company with some amazing watches. Rolex is also known for having a blank case back, which will also divide the waters when talking with Rolex enthusiasts. Some argue that the blank case back is made for personal engravings. Others argue that it is a part of the clean looks.

Rolex will not engrave your personal watch. Getting a custom engraving to a Rolex watch can be enough where Rolex will no longer service the watch. Rolex has engraved a few watches too long time employees or Rolex sponsored events.

Rolex has become a brand which many engravers have started to use for their engraving business. A lot of people want their watches to be unique, and naturally, with a watch with so much blank space as a Rolex is a good option for some artistic expression.

Can Engravings be Removed From a Watch?

Wonder whether the engraving is a good idea or not? In essence, it is very difficult to remove engravings. This can obviously be a pro or a con depending on your personal view.

regardsless of how the watch is engraved it is very diffucult to fully remove engravings from a wattch. If the engraving is done by hand it is even more diffucult as the grooves tend to be depther compared to laser engraving.

It is a good idea to have the engraving if you are not planning to sell the watch as some later point. As previously discussed, collectors and casual watch lovers are not interested in getting your wedding date on their new wristwatch.

Jonas Henriksen

AllInWatches is founded by Jonas, who has a great interest in mechanical watches. All aspects of manual and automatic (mechanical) watches is a big interest and have been a passion since 2015, where the first automatic watch was purchased. Seeing the transparent case back and discovering the heritage of watchmaking piqued an interest in horology.

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