What is it that makes something look real? That's the question I had to ask myself before attempting to create a photo-realistic vector graphic of a classic wrist watch, and as with all good projects this one started...
with some sketching! I stared at countless images of watches, chose one I liked for inspiration, and picked it apart on paper. I sketched each piece trying to visualize how I could recreate each element (highlights, shadows, texture, etc.) and why each of those elements looked the way it did in the first place. Once I felt that I had a pretty decent understanding of things, I got to work building my watch.
My beginning drafts were slow-moving, but very beneficial for adjusting my eye to be comfortable with the natural workings of things. It was difficult at times to not follow my gut instinct to blend the color values out nice and even. I found that it's those sharp, oddly-shaped elements with high value contrast that actually sell the "glossy finish" look.
After requesting critique on my drafts, I discovered a couple other new things as well. I learned that any movement of an object, no matter how small, can have a dramatic effect on the way light will reflect off of that object. Because of this, each and every hour mark piece within my watch case had to be entirely unique to its position. As you can see below, each had an entirely different set of shadows, highlights, gradients, and shapes to create its "look."
Yes, it took a surplus of mistakes, happy accidents, and self-educating (a.k.a. YouTube and Google) to put each piece together, but ultimately it was that attention to every minuscule detail that marks this project a success. I found that things can always be more perfect. Nothing is ever going to be as real as the real thing, but with time and effort, it can be pretty fun and extremely satisfying to test how close we can get.